Rand Paul's Bladder: Patriotism and the Micturition Reflex

At this point, only a urinal somewhere just outside the Senate chambers knows the truth. And of course, the CIA.
03/12/2013 11:24am ET | Updated May 12, 2013
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This video frame grab provided by Senate Television shows Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaking on the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2013. Senate Democrats pushed Wednesday for speedy confirmation of John Brennan's nomination to be CIA director but ran into a snag after a Paul began a lengthy speech over the legality of potential drone strikes on U.S. soil. But Paul stalled the chamber to start what he called a filibuster of Brennan's nomination. Paul's remarks were centered on what he said was the Obama administration's refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes inside the United States against American citizens. (AP Photo/Senate Television)

Judging by the public's response, Rand Paul's filibuster was somewhere between an impassioned, patriotic "big tent" moment for Republicans and a kooky publicity stunt aimed at finally getting the work of rapper Wiz Khalifa into the Congressional record.

The issue at stake -- Americans' right to due process before being incinerated by a CIA drone -- was almost overshadowed by the senator's bladder function, which was both derided and praised.

Paul himself blamed his bladder for his failure to break the standing 28-hour filibuster record. "I would go for another 12 hours to try to break Strom Thurmond's record, but I've discovered that there are some limits to filibustering and I'm going to have to go take care of one of those in a few minutes here," Paul admitted as audience members snickered.

And yet Harry Reid praised it as proof of Paul's conviction:

I've been involved in a few filibusters, as Rand Paul did yesterday. And what I've learned from my experiences with talking filibusters is this: To succeed you need strong convictions, but also a strong bladder. It's obvious -- Senator Paul has both.

Paul's filibuster was politically gutsy, but was it an act of urological courage?

The human bladder is made of muscle, and because it can relax, pressures inside the bladder remain fairly low until it holds around 300 ccs (there are about 350 ccs in a 12-ounce can). For most people, the first faint sense of bladder fullness comes at 200 ccs, and the urge to void (what urologists call "peeing" or "taking a whiz") comes at 300 ccs. Beyond that, bladder pressures rise sharply and the urge to relieve one's self becomes progressively more intense.

You can pee without your brain, but under optimal conditions, your brain gets to say where and when. The squeezing of the bladder, the "micturition reflex," is a completely autonomic (automatic) reflex commanded by a set of nerves coming to and from the bladder and arcing through the spinal cord. But our brain is able to tone down that reflex (to a certain point) so that the expanding bladder doesn't squeeze. And the brain has voluntary control over the external urinary sphincter, a valve that can cinch down and resist the will of a contracting bladder.

Republican, Democrat, Independent, that's how the healthy bladder works.

How quickly a bladder fills depends on how much urine a person is making, and that depends on a whole host of variables. But the minimum amount of water the kidneys can let go of in a day and still do their job is about 500 ccs, and the average amount of urine produced in a day is about 1,400 ccs -- picture a 1.5-liter bottle of "nature's calling."

So in Paul's case, the numbers look like this: Assuming he started the filibuster on empty, if he got himself dehydrated up there on the podium and was making 20 ccs of concentrated urine every hour, 12 hours and 52 minutes later he'd have had 260 ccs of urine in his bladder. That's well short of the maximal bladder capacity of 400-500 ccs, and it's a bladder volume associated with only mild urge -- neither newsworthy or laudable. On the other hand, if he kept at the fluids enough to maintain a more typical urine output of 60 ccs an hour, then by the end of the filibuster, his senatorial bladder would have been stretched thin by an excruciating 770 ccs -- a heroic act of patriotism and steely resolve.

At this point, only a urinal somewhere just outside the Senate chambers knows the truth. And of course, the CIA.

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