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An open letter to urinary tract infections from a 20-something female

WORDS BY GENEVIEVE PHELAN

“There I was in the starkly-lit waiting room alone, distressed and devoid of joy, asking myself if that half-hearted hook up was worth it.”

I admitted myself to the ER with a urinary tract infection (UTI) about a week ago. Upon entering the COVID-safe and rather empty local emergency department, I was greeted by eager (and really bored) nurses who quickly jotted down my telltale symptoms: beside-oneself-ness, cataclysmic down-there discomfort, and a ceaseless need to urinate but no liquids left to give.

If you know, I’m sorry you know. I felt like a massive, teary-eyed inconvenience, striding in there and demanding attention, resources and sympathy with such a seemingly common ailment, but I was swiftly reassured by a barrage of medical staff that I was indeed doing the right thing.

“God, they’re just the worst,” one woman soothingly cooed through a masked face and kind eyes. She got it. She understood. She’s one of us. 

For those who have never (yet) experienced the sheer anguish of a raging UTI, this piece mightn’t resonate with you. But for the rest of us mere mortals, I’ll issue a trigger warning and my deepest condolences. 

In my manic fever dream of inconsolable distress, I weighed up toughing out the night versus accepting a girlfriend’s chivalrous offer to DIY ambo me to the hospital to get in, get a prescription and get out. I had work the next morning and an equally busting to-do list.

Before you question my rather drastic move, here’s what you must know: UTIs are satanic beasts spawned in the most decrepit pits of hell. They are a finite but special form of torture that I wouldn’t even subject my hypothetical worst enemy to.

They can come on in the short space of – in my case – an afternoon picnic, or the middle of the night, or a morning commute to work without warning.

If you’re a seasoned UTI pro, you’ll know the subtle giveaways to one developing – the urgency to pee, the slightly uncomfy feeling down there and the paranoia that creeps in when you feel any sense of tingly irritation. 

Your internal monologue will wish the alarm bells away, but once the toilet relay begins and the first Ural sachet has been savagely torn open, you’re doomed. Sips of that effervescent fizz mingling with bathroom tap water will help you bide your time through the agony, but not rid you of the culprit at hand: bacteria. 

And before you even think about chugging a bottle of cranberry juice to magically cure you of this otherworldly discomfort, know that the only single thing standing between you and your lost sanity is a strong and diligent dose of antibiotics. Without them, you are risking some pretty gnarly complications and prolonged misery. I am no doctor, but this is UTI gospel.

There are some usual suspects when it comes to the cause of your urinary tract’s demise. And try as you might, sometimes they’re just inevitable. 

I only just recently learnt that female’s urinary tracts are shorter than male’s. This means the little terrorist microbes have a very short trajectory to get to the place they need to be to wreak some havoc on our intimate regions. We are genetically engineered to cop UTIs much more effortlessly than men. Great stuff.

So when a UTI is sex-related (and it usually is) where the hell is the shared-burden and equality? I know this sounds pretty whacko and farfetched, but I am seriously done with copping this suffering for the sake of somebody else’s orgasm. Why do they get an orgasm and we get a rigorous course of Keflex?

It takes two to tango, sure. But there I was in the starkly-lit waiting room alone, distressed and devoid of joy, asking myself if that half-hearted hook up was worth it. Was it worth this? Short answer: no.

Following my short staycation in the sterile halls of the local emergency department, I made a swift overnight recovery. But the ‘why’ behind a UTI is what has intrigued me this year. 

Horizontal and placated by an Oreo McFlurry on a Monday at midnight, I began to ponder how this particular episode ensued. This was not the comedown I had bargained for two evenings prior when I unknowingly erred.  

I think a lot of the time, it’s just another shitty downside to being a female. The short tract is truly the proverbial ‘short straw’ of womanhood. We have been biologically dealt a dismal fate every time we fail to pee after penetrative intercourse or forgo boring undies for fancy, flirty ones. 

It just so turns out that following my most-recent UTI, my bedfellow at the time (who had never in the history of our five-month fling encouraged the use of protection) decided to don a condom. To my horror, the poor, indifferent boy thought he could CATCH my UTI.

While my initial instinct was to explode into a fit of laughter, I wish my reaction had been one of intense reeducation and outrage. And for the record, no, you cannot catch a UTI.

The thing is, this same male essentially inflicted the infection on me. Did you know that if you engage in anal intercourse, your chance of contracting a UTI increases tenfold? Well, you do now.

Sorry to get technical, but swapping between orifices tends to involve some cross-contamination of the microscopic kind. So the next time you’re considering trying something new for the sake of your paramour, I urge you to think again – be safe and be smart. 

The moral of this story is that UTIs are scandalous, recurring, omnipresent inconveniences of the worst degree. No matter how comfortable you are after under-the-sheets antics, no lingering spoon or bear hug is worth the delayed onset pain tax you will incur from lazy sexual hygiene.

I don’t care if your breathing pattern has syncopated to theirs and you are in a state of near-euphoria. Get up. Go to the toilet. Do your future-self proud.

Let this be a cautionary tale to anyone who’s due for a UTI or has never experienced one or had one a few months back but has semi-forgotten the anguish. Sincerely, embittered 22-year-old ER-goer from Melbourne.

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