There are many great partnerships in the world. Rock & Roll, Laurel & Hardy, Cops & Robbers, my belly and Haagen Dazs. The list goes on. One terrible partnership is stress incontinence and coughing fits.
Not going to have much fun with that one.
For those who don’t know stress incontinence is another one of those wonderful gifts from having the prostatectomy operation. Stress incontinence occurs when your bladder leaks urine during physical activity or exertion. It may happen when you cough, sneeze, lift something heavy, change positions, or exercise. The weakening of these muscles could be caused by a number of causes: urinary injury, being overweight, some medicines and childbirth. I had to keep up a fairly rigorous routine to cure my incontinence and after 273 days I did it. Its nearly four years since the operation and I am the first to put up my hand and say that the pelvic floor exercises have become a little hit and miss. It’s not deliberate, some days I would just clean forget, while on a good day I would rapidly complete two sets, (out of the three I should be doing) not long before I would go to bed.
I remember a nurse telling me, during a routine appointment, that she does them randomly all the time and she was doing them as we were talking. I also remember all too vividly a female friend nonchalantly telling me that she had to do them all the time after the birth of one of her children ‘to stop her bits from falling out’. I am not squeamish at all, but that graphic thought continues to haunt me to this day and she is never driving with me in my car.
It was a Thursday when I decided that I would go into the office before I became completely anti-social and confirmed that slippers, boxers, and tee shirts were the only clothes I ever remembered putting on for work. Now I am in the minority that still wear a mask in the supermarket and on London transport. The tube is the quickest way to get to work and it was heaving there and back. By the next morning I have developed a cough. It was a very intermittent cough, maybe 3 in rapid succession per hour. However, these coughs were not just little silly things. No, these were the hacking ‘I used to smoke forty a day, after a day down the coal mine’ type. More distressingly after the mini fit had finished, nine times out of ten I would leak a little. Now being at home and having a bit of stress incontinence is annoying and frustrating but I’m at home. Having a coughing fit at work and stress incontinence is the match made in hell and then some.
Just to digress a little.
There wasn’t much I could do about the coughing. On the odd occasion it didn’t result in stress incontinence I thought that was signalling the end, only for it to overcompensate the next time. Then by the weekend, I had a dull headache and was generally feeling rough. It finally dawned on me, was it the dreaded Vid?
I took the test the next day.
I watched the indicator turn a weak shade of purple and then clear and then settle on a single line. It wasn’t the Vid.
By now I had managed to stifle the cough so unless you were looking you wouldn’t know or hear that I had coughed. That in turn didn’t stop the stress incontinence, it just meant it became a lottery as to if it occurred. I had also realised that I had to start respecting the pelvic floor exercises again and getting back to three time a day, which I have.
Having to wear pads again is ordinarily a big no for me and there are a couple of reasons why. There is a little bit of ego in there mixed with the fact that I have come so far and its like putting a break on moving forward. It is just no way to live for me.
Then I needed to get my hair cut.
I still wear my mask in public places such as shops, buses, and the underground. That last great testosterone filled, bastion of social, argumentative, noisy, and sometimes trash talking taking place called the barber shop, is the other one. The barber shop may sound like the most unusual place to wear a mask but hear me out. At the height of the pandemic when we could venture out it was still rare to see anyone other than the actual barbers wearing masks. The shop door opening to let someone in or out, was also the only ventilation getting in that place.
The irony on this occasion, is that I am the only one in the shop with a mask on and I am also the only one in there fighting with a cough. I walk to the back and take my seat, trying to quietly camouflage into my environment. There is a quiet game of draughts going on, some talking and others watching football. I didn’t get the chance to get too uncomfortable because I was being called up. We smiled, exchanged pleasantries, and talked briefly about the kids. He swiped the black cape around me and fastened the Velcro. He sprayed antiseptic on the cutters and brushed out any stray hairs.
Then he took a call, and I stifled a rather heavy cough and felt the very worse thing I could feel happen.
A barber taking a call just before or during a haircut is nothing new. In fact, it’s quite tame to what barbers used to do back in the day. I would come in with my mum and start to tell him what I wanted, and he would completely disregard me, if he was being polite. If he was not being polite, he would tell me to shush, completely disregard me and then perform with glee and gusto the instruction from my mum to cut it low.
When I first reached that point when I could go on my own it really didn’t fare much better. I was paying, I was a teenager but that was only the sub point. He was still in charge. It was practically at the halfway point (to the very millimetre) of the haircut and the barber showed you who was really running things. He would almost alternate between tasks. Last time at the halfway haircut point he decided that he would go and have dinner. He came back 20 minutes later. This haircut he went off to the bookies and came back 15 minutes later.
Even luckier for me his horse won. Yay!
Slapping me right back to the present-day problem.
I sat frozen in the chair. I was on a countdown to the cape being removed. Unfortunately, this was no superhero cape.
The shop was full. How was I going to be remembered?
Peeman, Wet Patch Man, Peepee Man. The list was endless. I would have to find another barber, I would have to continue to wear my mask when I was in the area, not for the dreaded Vid but as a disguise.
This was it. He sprayed my head (sealing any invisible cuts). I heard every single one of the individual strands of Velcro pop like thunder. Then he whipped the cape away.
He may not have noticed but I looked, no stared intently down, instead of up at my fresh shiny haircut.
If there is such a thing as an angel for haircuts, then I had just met her. I would not be needing to find a new barbers. But I wasn’t silly enough to hang about to see if that would change. I paid my barber and scarpered quick time out of the shop quick. I needed to give the other two anti-heroes of stress incontinence, gravity and osmosis the respect they deserved before they decided to show me who was boss.