In my younger days, I never paid attention to any of this. I slept through the night without waking to go to the bathroom. I could fly from coast to coast — in a middle seat — and never get up to use the lavatory. Not that I mean to boast, but I simply had no problem in that department. Until I became a quinquagenarian, that is.
Yes, by my 50s, I had early signs that the times, they were a-changing. I tried to ignore them for a good long while, but then I started getting up once, then twice in a night “to go.” Eventually I realized I had a problem and made sure to pee before bed.
Soon enough, I’d be certain “to go” before driving to work (or driving just about anywhere); right before the curtain at the theater; and twice, if possible, before wheels-up on a flight (cutting down on my preflight caffeine intake helped, as did handing over a few extra dollars for an aisle seat). I started paying attention to those “60 miles to the next rest stop” road signs on the interstate; if it were more than 20 minutes away, I would stop even if I didn’t feel the urge yet.
Then came the day when I miscalculated. Driving from the Mojave Desert to Los Angeles International Airport on Interstate 10, a distance of about 150 miles, I decided to skip my mid-trip “safety pee” because, thanks to lane closures and car crashes, I was running way late. In bumper-to-bumper traffic, I crept toward LAX. I could feel my bladder first start to bulge, then crest like a river on the verge of a breach. I focused on all the perineum- strengthening exercises I’d learned in yoga — basically Kegels to strengthen the pelvic floor. I’d count, “one, two, three, four, five” and squeeze my pelvic muscles. Then, I’d release, also to a count of five. I had barely finished the second set when I knew I needed a better way.
I reached for my now empty water bottle (Why did I drink so much? I berated myself) to use as a makeshift “pee cup.” Let me just say this, for the record: It is not easy to resort to a narrow-mouthed plastic bottle while driving a car in stop-and-go traffic. Not easy.
I wish I’d read the very helpful WikiHow’s step-by-step guide, “How to Pee in a Bottle,” before that day. Among the necessary and basic advice:
●“Remember: It’s better for a bottle to be too big than too small.”
●“Sports drink bottles like Gatorade and Powerade tend to have a wider mouth.”
●“You want to avoid being seen, as it is both embarrassing and illegal to expose yourself to others.”
When I confessed about my driving nightmare to my Facebook friends, many were quick to share all the times and places they make sure to plan ahead. I was relieved, so to speak, to hear that many of my aging contemporaries — and not just men — felt the same need to urinate more frequently.
Let’s be clear: As an aging man, you never know when a potential leak lurks. As I learned, it might be on I-10. Or, as others recounted: in the middle seat of a plane. On a subway. In a movie theater. At a play. During a worship service. On the way home from work, when the drawbridge is unexpectedly up.
That’s why a music conductor I know always double-checks with himself just before he hears “maestro to the pit” and must head to the podium to conduct an opera.
Fortunately, the Internet is now chock-full of DIY solutions for this very problem. Not all entirely effective. One fellow designed an emergency system that consists of a gallon water jug, five feet of rubber tubing, a roll of duct tape and some baby wipes. Apparently, his system worked in early clinical trials but failed in real-life situations. As he wrote, “It’s not really super comfortable to wear or use.”
Still, if a problem persists, or worsens, it’s probably time to consult a urologist to figure out what’s causing your frequent urination. Brant Inman, the co-director of Duke University’s Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers, told me there are several questions he’d normally ask a patient:
“Are you making more urine than usual?” Certain medications, such as diuretics, increase urine production (and are used for a large number of medical conditions such as kidney failure, heart failure and high blood pressure). “Other conditions that cause increased urine production,” said Inman, “include hormonal imbalances, ingestion of caffeine and alcohol, electrolyte imbalances and diabetes.” To determine how much you are urinating he recommends keeping a “bladder diary,” where you include the time and volume (from a special jug).
“Are you peeing more at night?” Normal is getting up to pee zero to one times at night. “More than that is not usual, and a lot more than that is very abnormal,” Inman said, recommending that men check how much they are drinking at or after dinner. “You would not believe the number of men who are shocked when I tell them that drinking three beers before bed is causing their [problem].”
Other questions to consider, according to Inman: Do you have a small bladder (leading to greater urinary frequency) or an overactive one (the sudden need to urinate)? And, is there a bladder outlet obstruction, which also includes an enlarging prostate? When in doubt, see a urologist to help you figure out what the issue is and what the next steps might be.
On this subject, though, I give the final word to Queen Elizabeth II, as is her due. According to an off-the-record palace source, Prince Charles, her firstborn who is now 72, was once asked by a reporter what was the best advice the queen ever gave him on how to be a king.
His answer: “Never pass up on an opportunity to use the loo.” The royal septuagenarian speaks the truth.
Adapted from “Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old: A Highly Judgmental, Unapologetically Honest Accounting of All the Things Our Elders Are Doing Wrong,” by Steven Petrow. (Kensington Books)