Vitals and Bits #5: The Penis
I walked into my patient’s room, shaking slightly and perspiring liberally. In one hand I held a urinary catheter. In my other hand, a worn version of the King James Bible.
“Pray with me?” I asked my patient. He looked at me solemnly and nodded. I placed the Bible on the bed between us and reached for his hand. He closed his eyes and gripped my sweaty palm with surprising strength.
“Dear Lord,” I began, “in mere moments, I will be inserting a urinary catheter into this innocent man’s penis. I have never done this before, and I am praying that you will guide my hand with steady resolve. May this humble little catheter find its righteous path into my patient’s bladder, thus relieving him of his persistent and painful urinary retention. Amen.”
“Amen,” my patient echoed.
OK, that didn’t really happen. Here’s the real story: I walked into my patient’s room, shaking slightly and perspiring liberally. In one hand I held a urinary catheter. My other hand was empty.
“Mr. Patient, the doctor wants you to have a urinary catheter placed to help relieve your urinary retention. This will also give us an accurate measurement of your urine output.”
Mr. Patient eyed me suspiciously.
“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” he asked.
“Oh yes,” I lied through my teeth. “A million times.”
After opening the catheter kit and preparing all the various components, I lifted the man’s gown and located his penis. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term penis, it is used to refer to a semi-mythical organ that has eluded scientists and philosophers for centuries. But I, a brand new nurse only seconds out of nursing school, managed to find it all by myself.
“OK, I’m going to talk you through this,” I said to my patient. “First, you will feel my hand on your penis.”
The man snorted. “My lucky day,” he replied.
“Next,” I continued, pretending that I wasn’t flustered, “you’re going to feel some pressure at the opening of your penis.” It was at this point that I introduced the catheter, which I had coated with copious amounts of medical-grade KY lubricant, into his urethra. My patient winced.
“You’ll feel me advancing the catheter past your prostate,” I said. The man winced again and uttered some creative profanity when the catheter met resistance. The prostate, which nearly wraps around the urethra just below the bladder, can obstruct the urethra if it’s enlarged. Nearly all men have some prostate enlargement as they age.
I pointed my patient’s penis towards the ceiling and slowly lowered it as I tried to advance the catheter further. This maneuver sometimes allows the catheter to slip past. Aha! I was in luck. The catheter began to advance easily again, and soon the bag attached to it began to fill with urine. This is a sign that the catheter is indeed in the bladder, where it should be. Accurate placement of the catheter was confirmed by the man’s face, which filled with relief as the painful distention of his bladder began to ease.
“We got it!” I exclaimed, unable to hide my happiness at successfully inserting my very first urinary catheter into a penis. I secured the catheter in place and turned to the man, beaming.
The man raised his eyebrow.
“Judging by your excitement,” he said, “I’d say that it was better for you than it was for me.”
If you’re a man reading this story, you might have a horrified expression and a protective hand guarding your crotch right about now. Your penis wasn’t meant to be penetrated, right? In fact, quite the opposite. So how could my patient tolerate such a violation of his manhood? And why on earth would I write about it?
We all know that the penis is a timeless icon of human power and virility. A whole culture of male lore surrounds this famous appendage. It is the stuff of poetry, of architecture, of war and civilization, of life and death. The penis, in all of its symbolic might, is a fundamental feature of human existence. This is because of its vital role in sex, which is something I hear people like to do from time to time.
And yet, at the end of the day, when you’re old and fighting the inevitable physical decline of age, you’ll be reminded of that other penile function, the one that doesn’t involve the grit and glory of male sexuality. When you’re standing over the toilet, straining with that characteristic “stop and go” urinary hesitancy that so many men suffer, you’ll develop a greater appreciation for your little guy’s role in urination. You may even wake up one day and find that you’ve become more concerned with passing urine than with sex. And no one would blame you. Because, let’s face it, no man wants to have a trembling young nurse shove a rubber tube up his penis just so he can relieve his bladder.