I’d Rather Die Than Have a UTI
Why it’s time to admit your burning loins are actually burning
Adele’s “Set Fire to The Rain” is the song that plays in my mind whenever I have a UTI.
Glued to the toilet for hours on end lyrics can be particularly pertinent if the infection was contracted post intercourse, (plus any painful wailing is easily disguised as heartfelt sing- along).
My susceptibility to UTIs means not only do I have a Spotify playlist dedicated to the ailment, (UTInferno), but I’m also finely attuned to knowing when a bout is imminent. The sudden tingle in my labia, that first unsatisfying piddle, all developing into a desire to sell my own nan, (& her small terrier Trixie), if I can live in a world where my vagina is no longer a pipette!
At the age of 25, it seems I've had more UTIs than hot meals. I’ve drunk so much cranberry juice I’m probably single-handedly keeping Ocean Spray afloat, and given the NHS enough urine they could clone me by now!
However, last year I endured a stint of acute cystitis like no other. This was the mother of all UTI’s, the Shirley Bassey of the cystitis world! The infection that turned my second date into a near-death experience, this is the story of how my reluctance to voice an unpopular opinion nearly ended in fatality. A story that could have been drastically different had I been brave enough to speak.
I had been celibate for what seemed like an eternity, and was about to buy a nun’s habit on eBay when I finally found someone worth ending my bid for. In the first throes of love we spent the weekend in a haze of passion and potato waffles, leaving my bed, & one another, only when absolutely necessary - to retrieve the ketchup.
Content in the warmth of his body, and knowledge that he too thought eating a fried egg butty with HP was a crime punishable by death, I was completely and stupidly happy. About to strike up a debate on whether the condiment could be considered part of our national psyche, I suddenly felt the urge ‘to go’. The usual series of questions entered my mind. Was it the condom? Had I drunk enough water? Maybe it was my days of the week thongs? Or that experimental position on the desk chair?
I pressed my bum against the hard plastic of the toilet seat, and eventually summoned a hot painful dribble.
This was a disaster! How was I supposed to talk condiments with the potential love of my life when it felt like someone had squirted Piri Piri sauce up my vagina? I couldn’t tell him my burning loins were actually burning, this was our second date. He didn’t even know my middle name, or that I had an irrational but crippling fear of chihuahuas, (they’re so small they could be ANYWHERE)!
Men had always reacted to my cystitis much like Donald Trump does to the climate crisis. By denying their existence, downplaying their severity, and relinquishing all responsibility for such horror. I didn’t want to justify my symptoms by asking someone to imagine pissing a vindaloo or likening myself to a rubber duck retaining bathwater. I was wasting my breath.
I looked down at the hot pink thong draped around my ankles. “Sunday Funday” it read in diamante capitals.
“Sure” I whispered, and peeled my bum from the seat.
The next two hours were spent in a desperate attempt to appear ‘normal’ as I devised several plans to extinguish the fire between my legs. (One included a Vienetta I had in the freezer).
As my acting abilities deteriorated so did the previous air of romance. I became distant, impatient, and (unlike my urine), cold.
Eventually, confused and rebuffed, my beau took his leave. “I’ve had a really lovely time” I heard him mumble as I pushed the door shut. Clutching my crotch, I bent down and opened the letterbox, “me too!” I shouted, he’d already disappeared down the stairs.
I didn’t have time to care, the sizzle deep within my urethra was now unbearable. I tried to imagine the sensation in a different part of my body, my big toe, left breast, elbows, it was no use, each time my thoughts returned to my genitals, & the urge to relieve myself resurfaced.
I could bear it no longer, I needed my old brain back, the one that wanted to eat Viennetta not sit on it!
Millions of women throughout history had conquered UTIs without the aid of antibiotics, so why couldn’t I? The first description of the infection appears in Ebers Papyrus, dating back to 1550 BC, in which the ancient Egyptians described it as “sending forth heat from the bladder”, (more like searing balls of fire, but whatever). Along with eating garlic and taking probiotics, the most common home remedy offered by Google was hydration. To simply flush the bacteria out!
With no sceptical male doctor to hand my urine to, I waddled over to the sink and grabbed a glass.
An hour and a half later I had devoured 13 pints of water, (one of which had a rehydration sachet in it).
Sat in the bath for convenience, I had filled my glass from the taps like a barman pulling pints. By my eighth I’d managed to urinate four times, each passing less painful than the last. Like a crazed fresher, I kept drinking, spurred on by the ability to wee for the first time in six hours.
Slumped in the tub, I now looked like a woman on the cusp of a water birth. My bloated belly strangely full, I slipped over the plastic lip dropping to the floor on all fours. My stomach twisted as a pool saliva flooded my mouth. Too dizzy to stand I crawled to the toilet & sunk my head in the bowl where a fountain of vomit ensued.
After a hurried conversation with Siri, it transpired there was a name for what I was experiencing, water intoxication, a potentially fatal disturbance that can occur if more than 27 - 33 ounces, or 1 litre of water is consumed per hour.
My eyes widened. Images of my tombstone flashed into my mind, “Died of her own stupidity” it would read, “a faithful daughter and friend, it was with a UTI she met her end”.
I couldn’t believe it. I was too young to die! Besides, bathroom deaths were reserved for the likes of Elvis and Garland. There must have been some kind of mistake!
Wiping the sweat from my forehead I used the sink to hoist myself up. I stared into the mirror, touching my cheek in horror. My face was swollen puffy, I was retaining water!
I grabbed my phone and dialled 111, holding it at arm's length as a river of sick entered the sink. Before the nurse could say hello I was sobbing uncontrollably.
“I have a UTI and I’m going to d d dieee!” I whimpered.
“That’s a new one,'' she replied calmly.
After two hours, several questions, and a recital of my will, the kind lady informed me that I would in fact survive. I thanked her for her patience and for pretending to write down my parting words, of which I had few. She said it was no problem and told me to rest, I would live to see another day.
Last year NHS figures revealed that more than 12,000 patients, mostly women, attended hospital for the treatment of chronic Urinary Tract Infections or cystitis. With at least 50% of all females experiencing a UTI in their lifetime, & an estimated 4 million women worldwide suffering from cystitis each year, it’s time to give this widely underestimated illness the attention it deserves. The routine dismissal of health issues that primarily affect women, whether it’s cystitis, thrush, or period pain is a common reality that needs to stop. It may be deemed as unpopular or trivial to discuss such topics, but so was our right to vote, gain education or equal pay.
As I lay naked and motionless on the bathroom floor I vowed never to neglect, diminish or hide my UTIs again.
I opened my eyes to see my flatmate standing in the doorway, “Christ you look awful,'' she said. “Let me get you a glass of water.”