I sat in the waiting room of Dr. Wu's office, flipping through an issue of Us Weekly from 2015. Occasionally, I looked up at the receptionist in hopes that she might acknowledge me or maybe even call me in for my appointment. When that didn't happen, I read and reread the sign that said I would be charged the full amount of the appointment if I was late.
45 minutes later, Dr. Wu was ready for me.
"What brings you in today?"
"Well, in a nutshell, I keep peeing myself and it's causing me to smell like a homeless person, and I really want that to stop."
Dr. Wu's eyes raised up over her glasses.
"Wow. I can honestly say no one has ever said that to me before."
I didn't respond, instead I crossed my legs and looked expectantly at her. Everything in my posture revealed how excited I was for her to heal me.
I had been living with the "Accidental Pees" since giving birth to my second child, and as of late, things had gone from bad to almost crying every time I coughed because I peed worse.
Here are some examples of the current status of my bladder. Decide to semi-jog across the street to beat a flashing "Do Not Walk" sign; pee. Show my kids what jumping jacks are; pee. Sneeze; pee. Put keys in the door to my apartment knowing I will definitely make it to the bathroom; pee. Run on treadmill for over three minutes; pee. Feel whimsical because it's fall, jump up to grab a pretty leaf that I see on an overhead branch; pee. Tell my kids to pee; pee.
Clearly, I was invested in Dr. Wu fixing me because this was definitely not how I wanted to live.
It was a big deal that I was sitting in this doctor's office to begin with because I have a teensy (read: huge) aversion to seeing doctors.
Growing up, we didn't go to the doctor. My dad was never sick. Like never. Well, that's not literally true, and I do mean the actual definition of the word literally, not the way young kids bandy it about today. There was one time my dad had the flu and he stayed home from his job as the used car manager down at the local Volkswagen dealership for a whole half a day.
I remember coming home from elementary school that day to find him sound asleep in my parents' bed. My sister and I crept into the room and stared at him like he was a lama in a petting zoo.
"Is he dead?"
As if synchronized, we both slowly leaned in toward him, hovering just above his bald head that was sticking out from under the covers. I saw his chest rise and fall before my mother darted into the room.
"Get out! He's sick!"
This was a very big deal.
I don't recall my mother being sick much either, but I do remember one time when I was sick and she said, "No use crying, kid. You've got a 50/50 chance. You'll either get better or you'll get worse." At a young age I learned to chant the Hopkins mantra; we are Strong German Stock, descendants of farmers and military folk and if it ain't broke it ain't need fixing neither.
Or something like that.
Economics solidified that mantra when my parents split up. We went from a lower middle class family of four to me and my mom living alone in a dumpy apartment with very little money. I have no idea if we had insurance, but I assume we didn't since I stopped going to the dentist sometime around the age of 10 or 11.
Years later, when I had a big girl job with insurance, I decided it was time to take myself to the dentist. I sat in the chair feeling like I had recently been released from the bunker I shared with Kimmie Schmidt for the last 15 years. What were all these new-fangled contraptions he was using to clean my teeth. Also, dentists clean teeth?
My family's lack of self-care wasn't the only reason I had an aversion to doctors' offices. As a general rule, I don't much care for asking for help. Most of my childhood was steeped in chaos, and I walked away with a pretty strong feeling that a) I really like order, thank you very much and b) I don't need your help. Ever.
I do go to my yearly wellness visits -- if only to prove to myself that I'm better than my parents. But going to see a doctor for anything beyond that, whether it be the flu or a limp that causes me to walk like my grandmother who lost her knee cap in a car accident, well... that's not going to happen because I'm sure it will go away on its own if I just wait a bit.
But this peeing thing was different. My Fall seasonal allergies (I have no idea what I'm allergic to because I've never seen a doctor for them) sent me over the edge. There was so much sneezing, coughing, and underwear changes, that I yelled "Uncle!" and got myself a referral.
So, there I sat in Dr. Wu's office hoping with all my heart that she would actually help, not tell me to do Kegels before sending me on my way. Nothing says, "This is all your fault!" like a prescription filled with core strength exercises.
I stared at her expectantly.
"How much water are you drinking a day?"
"I don't know. I guess I drink about three 20 ounce bottles of seltzer a day. Maybe a little more water with dinner. Does alcohol count?"
No laughs from Dr. Wu.
"Hmm. That's a lot of water. Have you thought about cutting down your liquid intake? And how often are you evacuating your bladder?"
I looked down at my shoe so that she couldn't see me smirking. The words evacuate and bladder made me think of a bunch of tiny men dressed up in yellow raincoats, standing on the deck of an old-time ship, getting sprayed by waves of urine while the captain screamed, "Laddies, we have to evacuate the bladder. Hold on tight or you're going down!"
I cleared my throat.
"I probably go to the bathroom once a day at work. Maybe twice? Sometimes I have to go, but I'm kind of easily distracted, so you know, it passes."
My face started to flush.
"It seems like the problems you're having, like here-" She tapped her pen on her yellow notepad where she had taken notes about my peeing sitch. "You say that this is happening when you're almost to the bathroom. That indicates that you need to evacuate your bladder much more frequently. I'd suggest a reminder. Maybe an app? I love apps."
I nodded as if I was taking her advice very seriously because I knew that soon she was going to stop messing around and gave me some pills or schedule a surgery or something useful like that.
"I'd also suggest having some conversations with your bladder."
As she said this, I could actually feel my hope floating up and away from my body.
"When you're in the elevator and almost home, you need to tell your bladder that you're the boss. 'Hey there, Mr. Bladder. It's time for you to listen up because I'm not taking any more of your sassafras!'"
Dr. Wu didn't actually talk like a preschool teacher, but who cares, this is my story.
"Alrighty then. Let's check back in on this in a couple of months. Shall we?"
And just like that, I had been dismissed.
Confused, I stood up and shuffled out to reception and dutifully made a follow-up appointment.
I left the office and tried to process the thoughts and feelings swirling about my head. I was disappointed, frustrated, and also simultaneously drafting a very long and heated monologue railing against the healthcare system in the United States. I couldn't wait until one person dared to utter the word "doctor" in my presence so that I could unload my speech.
That's when it happened. I could feel the beginnings of a sneeze coming on. Instinctively, I pulled myself over to the edge of the sidewalk so I could cross my legs without disrupting the flow of pedestrian traffic. But then I thought, "No! I'm not going to do that. I'm going to trust this doctor. I'm going to believe in the system. I'm going to assume that I can get better."
"OK, bladder. Listen up. It is not time to pee. I evacuated back at Wu's place, so we're all good. Now, in a few seconds I'm going to sneeze and when I do that, you're going to lock her down. You hear me?"
Somewhere inside me, I heard a tiny little man in a yellow rain coat yell out, "Aye Aye, Captain!"
Instantly, I felt the familiar feeling of pee trickling out.
I walked back to work contemplating the path before me. As I saw it, I had two choices; I could a) give up and walk directly to Duane Reade to pick up giant pads and then regularly remind myself that Lisa Rinna wears them, and she seems super cool or b) I could try Wu's way.
Obviously, I'm going with option b. Sorry, Lisa Rinna.
So, over the next few months, I cut back on the liquids. (Not so much with the booze. I mean what am I, an animal?) I downloaded a pee tracker. (There really is an app for everything.) I even carried on some loose chatter with my bladder... when no one was looking.
And I hate to admit it, but Wu was right. I did "respond nicely to this course of action."
Sure, on occasion, I sneeze five minutes before my app reminds me to get up and go pee, and that stinks, but as Wu reminded me, I had two kids, and I ain't 24 anymore. It's like my body is a used car; it's still got loads of miles left on her, but I'm probably going to need new shocks and brakes before long. I can handle that. After all, I've already accepted that I if I don't bring glasses to a restaurant I have to say, "Ooh, so many choices. I can't decide. Pick me out something with chicken."
So I'm healed.
Well, I don't know if I'm healed per se because I canceled the follow up appointment with Wu. But, do I really need an appointment to tell me I'm OK? I pretty much stopped peeing myself, and as my dad would say, "That's good enough for government work!"
What can I say? I am, and always will be a Hopkins; cut from Strong German Stock.