The House Call

This device was both friend and foe for many years.

Growing up I received some of the best medical care that was available for people who were born with spina bifida. I was fortunate to live just a couple of hours west of Chicago, which was home to Children’s Memorial Hospital. If you have read some of my earlier posts, you might recall my fondness for this place. Despite the pain that I experienced in that building, there were also lots of memorable moments.

Many of the memories connected to Children’s Memorial involve the doctors that I was blessed to have had there. First, there was Luciano Dias, who was a kind and gentle man. He had a passion for what he did and that showed in the way he treated his patients. He performed many of the orthopedic surgeries that enabled me to walk. Everytime I went to see him for my yearly check-ups he always showed great concern for me not only as a patient, but as a person.

Another wonderful doctor that I had gave my parents some great advice after I was born. He told them simply to “take me home and love me just as they would any other child.” This doctor’s name was David McLone. He was my neurologist for several years. Dr. McLone was a man with a great deal of compassion. His advice to my parents was some of the best that they would receive during a time of great uncertainty and fear. When I was born in 1977, not much was known about spina bifida. I am sure my parents were scared and unsure of what was in store for them. However, by the grace of God, they had some of the greatest doctors on whom they could rely for encouragement.

Besides Dr. Dias and Dr. McLone, there was also Dr. William Kaplan. He was another doctor who looked at me not as just another patient. He truly cared about working to improve my quality of life. Dr. Kaplan went above and beyond to ensure that I received the best treatment that I could.

As I noted in my last post, one of the most common problems that people who were born with spina bifida have is bowel and bladder incontinence. There are various procedures that I have had to help with these issues. Dr. Kaplan, who was my urologist while I was growing up, performed a few of these operations.

For instance, in 1986, he implanted a device called an artificial urinary sphincter. This device had a tiny pump that was inserted into my scrotum. From this pump there was a line that ran to a valve that was placed around the neck of my bladder. This allowed me to have control of my bladder. Every time I needed to urinate, I’d simply squeeze the pump a few times, which then released the valve at the neck of my bladder. The only problem with this device is that if you pumped it too hard it would lock the valve around the bladder. This was something I’d learn the hard way.

One summer day shortly after having the artificial urinary sphincter implanted, I was in the bathroom at home using the toilet when I put too much pressure on the pump and it locked up. What was I to do? I had to pee and my bladder was locked up tighter than the Hoover Dam!

Not knowing what else to do, my mom called Children’s and they suggested that we come right away to Chicago. As you might recall from earlier in this story, we lived two hours west of Chicago, and I had to pee! Therefore, we got in the car and made our way into the city. Dr. Kaplan was informed what had happened and he asked my parents to drive me straight to his house. Here we were making a house call in reverse. Fortunately, after two hours of torturous travel on a full bladder we arrived at Dr. Kaplan’s house.

He then instructed me to lay down in the foyer of his home where he proceeded to perform a miracle, at least in my eyes. He was able to get the pump of the artificial sphincter to release the valve that was holding back the floodgates. I then proceeded to relieve myself right there on the floor in Dr. Kaplan’s foyer.

This was a moment of great joy, as I finally had found relief. However, I was not sure about what had just happened either. Dr. Kaplan took it all in stride. He acted like it was just another day at the office. I am pretty sure his wife was not pleased about me using the entryway of their home as a toilet, but she was gracious. I also now had a story to tell.

Life is never dull when you have a body that operates in ways unlike most “normal” ones do. However, not many people can say they have urinated on the floor in the homes of one of their doctors. I am proud to say that I am perhaps one of the few.

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