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May 4, 2013

As Time Goes By: Dealing with side effect of pills can really be a pain

The Daily Star

---- — At age 76, I find myself incontinent. Actually the problem started well before that date but now it has gone beyond “a problem,” to “holy smoke the dam broke.”

This does not surprise me. The other day I started to read all the disclaimers that come with the pills I take to keep me alive. If I had read them first, I would have never taken the pills.

I have one pill that’s supposed to give me diarrhea, but that has been a failure, so you have got to take the disclaimers with a grain of salt.

There are others that can give you the “heartbreak of psoriasis,” loss of bone density, goiter, knee-joint pain, hair loss, clogged nasal passages, nail fungus, earlobe rot, root rot, “iron-poor blood,” watery blood, no-clot blood and blood so thick you can cut it with a knife. That’s only the first pill. There are 32 more to go, and the potential side effects get worse!

Now, when I take these pills over a staggered period four times per day, combinations of pills compete for water so they can dissolve and be brought into my blood stream, which may be “runny” or “thick.” This competition for “a dive into the pool” can get so chaotic that there are times when my stomach churns so much I think they are holding the Olympics.

There is one thing I take that binds all problems into one simple fact: If you take 80 milligrams of Lasix, you better drink a lot of water, because the Lasix will dry you out more than a catcher’s mitt lying in the hot sun.

The water is no problem because my daughter Katie enjoys fetching me another jug of tap water 10 times a day or more. I drink like a desert camel.

You may ask how I know that I am incontinent. When you get the urge “to go,” and you are running for the bathroom and your leg starts feeling wet, you are incontinent. When leaving the bathroom, if one or both of your shoes squish, you’re incontinent. On a cold winter’s day, if the front of your pants looks like you have worked up a sweat, you’re incontinent. If your wife comments that the bathroom floor has a puddle before the toilet, you are incontinent.

My problem was exacerbated by the fact I couldn’t feel when I was “going.” Ergo, wet floor, wet leg, and “I don’t know how that happened” was a lame excuse.

We tried to find a diaper that I could wear. When I told the salesman at the diaper emporium my size, he laughed for about five minutes and ushered me out the door. I could get a diaper but it would only fit on one leg.

My wife Diane (the seamstress) designed a belt that could be attached to a pad with buttons. It worked great in handling the intense impulses of “gotta, go, gotta go.” If you hadn’t reached the bathroom by then, the microfibers in the pad would be overwhelmed and things would “feel damp.”

Now I had the problem of changing the pad. I always got the front buttons confused with the back buttons and after I pulled the belt up all I could do was walk sideways.

During my stay in the hospital down in Myrtle Beach, we tried to put on an “external catheter.” (Hold onto your sides.)

An external catheter is pulled over the “member,” which wasn’t easy. We finally got it on and I settled down to a nice long relaxing rest. 

I was doing great until about 3 a.m. when the “urge” hit me. I smiled, knowing that my external catheter was going handle everything.

Wrong! With the first onslaught of fluid, similar to the first blast of water from a fire-hose, the pressure built so much that I blew the catheter across the room. I could have floated a boat in the water in my bed. I called the nurse and said, “I’ve had an accident.” After that, the nurses drew straws to see who would help me.

Finally I answered an ad in the newspaper which was for an external catheter “that really works.” It was, I was told the marvel of the century and I would no longer have to leave halfway through the homily in church. (Rats!)

The apparatus arrived by UPS and consisted of three large brown boxes. We reviewed the instructions and called the help line where I was told that things would be dicey at first but would improve with each additional installation.

The apparatus consisted of a plastic “flower” which was “glued” to the member using a readily dissolved adhesive that washed off with warm water. The apparatus was hooked to a “pouch” that held the fluid. It looked good in principle.

The first hour was relaxing. I painted with my watercolors safe in the knowledge that I would not be jumping up — any problems I might have were “in the bag.”

About this time, I started itching where the “flower” and adhesive met the “member.” The itching turned into outright pain. Suddenly I had to go. I got to the bathroom and blew the plastic “flower” into the next county.

Where the “flower” had been attached was now a very red irritated series of sores. We decided right then and there to forget “the marvel of the century” and decided to send the boxes back.

We called the company and spoke to a representative, who advised us not to send the materials back but just “throw them away.”

Being a child of The Depression, I could not do this, so if anyone wants three unopened boxes of the “marvel of the century,” send me a note.

As time goes by, at least I will not hear the drip, drip of the faucet at night.

Henry Geerken is a three-time NYSUT award-winner writing humorous articles addressing retiree and senior citizen concerns. Geerken also writes for Sail-World, World Cruising Newsletter, regarding his many humorous sailing episodes through the years. He can be reached by email at ‘Senior Scene’ columns can be found at