I haven’t written any blog posts for a really long time. I’ve had a good excuse. I had to pee.
I mean it. I’ve really had to pee. Multiple sclerosis causes my bladder to be both overactive—so much so that I rarely go ninety minutes without rushing to the bathroom—and under-active—so much so I have to use a catheter to completely empty.
Unrelenting runs to the bathroom have been not so good for my sleep patterns, not so good for my clarity of thought, and not so good for my travel plans. But that didn’t stop me from making travel plans. My son lives and works with his girlfriend, MC, on the other side of the planet. When this adorable couple invited my husband and me to stay with them in Beijing, there was no way we wouldn’t go. I love my son more than all the pee in China.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, every time I announced, “I’m going to China,” I’d feel mildly surprised I wasn’t asked, “How the hell will you manage that?”
Twenty five years of living with MS has made me pretty good at bluffing good health, but even I can’t bluff my way through frequent bathroom runs.
Hadn’t my friends noticed I rarely can get through a whole movie without excusing myself to run to the bathroom? Hadn’t my workshop students noticed me having to take bathroom breaks in the middle of ninety-minute sessions?
My anxiety about my bladder permeated all of my travel preparations. When I switched my language of choice on my Duolingo app from Spanish to Chinese, the first word to pop up on the app consisted two figures: the figure on the left looked to me like a distressed lady crossing her legs because she has to pee, obviously—whereas the figure on the right had its arms outstretched, blocking the distressed lady’s way. Yes, I have the magical power of turning a language app into an ink blot test.
The distressing ideogram was paired with a sound. My American ears heard the word: “how.”
I wondered how I was ever going to travel through China—not to mention to China—when I always have to pee?
The flight to China would be an overnighter. On ordinary nights, I get up four to six times to pee. I kept picturing myself seated in the middle of a long row, squeezing past passenger after passenger after passenger, disturbing their sleep—“Excuse me, Excuse me, Excuse me”—every 90 minutes.
And that’s what I could expect if conditions were optimal.
The sad truth is, I’ve been getting UTIs on a monthly, sometimes bi-monthly basis. For those of you who have never had a UTI: congratulations. UTI stand for urinary tract infection, or Unrelenting Torturing Incontinence. To add agony to the inconvenience, every time you pee with a UTI, it stings.
Chances of my getting a UTI during a two week trip? Between 50-100%.
Air travel with a UTI? Been there. Agony.
And even if I did make it through the overnight flight, how exactly would I make it through China? Our son wanted us to explore a few cities while we were there.
What would the public restrooms be like in China?
Our son warned us most public restrooms featured squat toilets. He advised us to practice squatting. I practiced. Our son mentioned most facilities were BYOTP—Bring Your Own Toilet Paper.
My husband had to talk me out of packing a roll.
I called my capable mother to air my anxieties. She has answers for everything. Worried about a UTI? Get antibiotics. Worried about having to pee? Get diapers. “They make diapers differently now,” she said. “More comfortable.” More comfortable than the ones she’d pinned on me in 1967? And possibly—ahem—larger?
Gentle reader, I got myself the antibiotics. When I ran out of time to procrastinate further, I drove out of town—out of state—to buy myself adult diapers. For double protection, I picked out overnight pads as well. I reminded myself that astronauts wore diapers. Who looks down on an astronaut? Nobody. Diapers could be seen as elite-wear for the long distance traveler. As I approached the check-out counter, I noticed I was the only customer. The cashier had no one to focus on but me, and those diapers, and those pads. My astronaut justification started to wobble. Wasn’t there some crazy astronaut lady who wore an adult diaper on a cross country drive to avenge a love spurned? Everybody looked down on that astronaut. I silently reminded myself that I had a longer trip ahead of me, and a better motive: a mother’s love.
As I set the items on the belt, I forced myself to make eye contact as I returned the cashier’s greeting. I hoped the cashier didn’t see a middle aged nervous wreck with MS buying diapers and overnight pads for herself, but rather a high strung, healthy woman performing the duties of middle age—buying pads for herself and diapers for her fragile old mother—a fiction that could only hold with a cashier who has never met my mother, who is generally the most robust woman in any room. The cashier conveyed absolutely zero shock or pity, enabling me to maintain my dignity. So I got through that purchase. How would I get through China?
I’ll tell you. China was nothing like I thought it would be. Let’s start with the meaning of that first character that popped up on my Duolingo app, the character that sounded like the English word H-O-W. It happened I would meet a friendly native speaker at a Beijing art gallery who would tell me the actual meaning of the word “Hāo.” As you may have guessed, the word has nothing to do with a distressed lady being blocked from accessing the bathroom by an obstinate man with outstretched arms. Hāo, she assured me, means “good.” Hão was also a part of her name.
Was my ink-blot interpretation of the figures in that ideogram something other than an instance of preternatural second sight?
Not so fast. Gentle readers, on my journey I would indeed meet an obstinate man who would physically block my way to the bathroom when I was in acute distress and had to pee. But I wouldn’t meet this imposing figure in China. I would meet him in the Toronto Airport.
- to be continued