A Catheterisation Conundrum

Hmm…I gave much thought to how I wanted to go about posting about this experience I had the other day, and I decided to just lay into it. So here it is: I have probably done dozens of urinary catheterizations in my almost decade of being a doctor – male, female and ranging in difficulty level from easy to ‘I-give-up-lets-call-urology – but what I learnt this time was a truly unique experience, atleast it was for me. It really reiterates my motto of ‘learn something new everyday’.

My patient was in his 70s, had just recently been discharged from hospital after suffering from a myocardial infarction x 4 weeks back. He had come in with abdominal pain, so everyone at triage was understandably freaked out because they thought it may be related to a cardiac situation. I went in to see him and he was writhing in agony, it was clear this pain was not cardiac in origin, and it was localised to the lower part of his abdomen, which was very distended. One hand on the suprapubic area confirmed the firm mass which was quite tender and dull to percussion was in fact his bladder – he had not been able to pass urine for the past 15 hours! Currently under treatment for a UTI x 2 days, which was diagnosed when he began to have first pinkish and then dark red, painless hematuria. It was very likely that a clot had obstructed the bladder outflow tract, and caused him to go into retention. Simple solution, pass a 14 or 16 French catheter into the urethra, and relieve the obstruction.

And I began prepping for it: catheterization trolley, catheter set, catheter itself, instillagel, water for injection, cleanie wipes, some saline solution and gauze. I took consent, which he almost yelled out in agreement. I walked him through the steps of the procedure, and he declined my offer of a chaperone. I requested him to expose himself from the waist down. I cleaned the genitalia with some saline soaked gauze, and cleaned around the foreskin. As I tried to retract the foreskin back to bring the glans out to put the catheter tip in, I realised I had run into a problem that I had never encountered before. The foreskin had shrivelled up and had a minuscule opening at its tip, but there was no way the head of the penis was going to protrude itself from under it – it just would not retract. I asked him when was the last time his foreskin had retracted and he replied that that had not happened for atleast 5 years! I could not see how I was going to insert a catheter into the tip of the penis if I could not see where the tip was. I ungloved myself and went to seek counsel of my elders – which in this case was my consultant who was very busy almost elbow deep in resus – I briefly described my situation. He very nonchalantly informed me that I should attempt going in blind, and should it by unsuccessful, to inform Urology. I had serious doubts and considerable reservations of blindly pushing a catheter in where I could not be sure was an orifice – but he reassured me saying that the hole was there ‘somewhere’ I just had to…look around for it a bit. Well, maybe¬†feel would be a better word.

Anyway, so I went back in, regloved myself, and took a deep breath, before explaining to the patient what had transpired and what I was going to now attempt. I then took another deep breath and tried poking the catheter in through the opening in the foreskin, and it almost atonce met with resistance – the head of the penis presumably. I tried coaxing the catheter in further, but it wouldn’t budge. I pulled out and tried a different direction slightly angled differently. No luck. I tried a seventh time. Still nothing. I was literally feeling beads of sweat form on my brow. I was very aware of how uncomfortable the patient was feeling, and of how traumatic a catheterization can be, even when you can see the penile head. Added to that the fact that this patient had recently had a heart attack and was on oodles of blood thinners, I did not want him to bleed out through a urethral injury of my doing. I decided to try one last time, a deep breath and it went in, the patient yelled and then bit his lip and this very VERY murky, dark brown coloured urine tarted pouring out through the tip of the catheter into the kidney dish I had in front of it – at first I thought I had injured him and it was blood coming out, but I was reassured when it started collecting in the bag – though very dark, brownish, it was very old blood, definitely not fresh and definitely, reassuringly, not my doing. I cleaned up and went off to bleep the urology team. The patient kept thanking me, with look of content on his face as he lay back and let the catheter relieve him of his obstruction of 15+ hours. I left the room feeling very good about myself (catheterisation is one of those procedures that can make a sudden distinct difference in your patient’s situation, for the better) not only because the patient was very happy and comfortable and no longer writhing around in pain, but also because I had learnt something new today, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that even after doing a procedure hundreds of times (OK I may have exaggerated a little bit) you could still be surprised and be presented with something that may require a bit of out-of-the-box thinking.

Excuse me while I go pee.

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