The Day the Question Finally Came

I knew the day would come. After years of working in after-school child care, tutoring, teaching and speaking to students of various ages, I knew my niece and nephew would eventually ask how I go to the bathroom. I had spoken with my brother and sister-in-law about how much “information” they wanted the kids to have when the time came.

The funny thing is, I think because they see me simply as “Aunt Jenny,” the question came much later than I expected.

On a recent visit to my brother’s house, I excused myself from the main family room and went into the kids’ toy room. My brother’s house doesn’t have an accessible bathroom, so having a BARD TOUCHLESS® Plus catheter with a collection bag works well in situations like this. I have had a bladder augmentation, so I simply catheterize through a stoma in my belly.

Everyone seemed interested in the new gift my niece had received for her birthday, so I left them in the family room. No one noticed, except the dog. As I got the catheter out, Addie was intently looking at me. I shooed her away. A few seconds later as I was getting ready to insert the catheter, I “felt” someone looking at me from behind. I was about to tell Addie to go away again, but when I looked over my shoulder, it was my five-year-old nephew with eyes wide open in surprise. “What are you doing Aunt Jenny?”

I explained that I had to use a little tube to be able to go to the bathroom since my muscles don’t work. I asked him to give me a moment alone, then I would come and talk with him.

We all headed outside and I heard my nephew tell my brother, “Aunt Jenny was putting something down here to go to the bathroom.”(You can picture where “down here” is!) I decided to pull out a new catheter and show it to him. “The pee goes in here? And then what do you do with it?” I responded that I empty it into the toilet. He replied, “Or you can take it home with you.” Well, yes, I guess that’s an option, too!

When “the question” comes, I have always found it best to make sure it is age-appropriate. Much of life with a spinal cord injury is spent being an educator on various topics: physiology, accessibility, “how do you…” questions. I try to be ready with an answer and know that I only need to answer with what I feel comfortable with. At this point in life, I’m an open book and don’t mind questions. You may not be ready for that – and that is okay. I feel the important thing is to make kids (and adults) know we simply have a different way of doing things and that it is not “wrong” or “bad.”

When I’m speaking to a group of elementary school aged kids, I keep my answers general: “Some people with spinal cord injuries can use those muscles and go to the bathroom just like you; other people can’t use those muscles and use a tube called a catheter that goes into their bladder to empty it.” As the age of the students increases, so does my explanation of anatomy and physiology, if appropriate.


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