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After an on-the-job accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, Ben Hasselman was anxious about performing intermittent self-catheterization (ISC). Now he encourages others to try ISC and experience its life-changing benefits.
Some background on Ben
Thirty-nine-year-old New Zealander Ben Hasselman met his wife Sarah when he was 20 and starting his career as a builder. She’s originally from Northern Ireland and in 2016 the couple, along with their young son Harry, decided to live in her home country for a while to give Harry the chance to spend time with the Irish side of his family. Ben quickly picked up building work and the family began enjoying their time there. Just five weeks later, however, he was fitting solar panels to a farmhouse roof when he fell and broke his back – resulting in a T12 complete spinal cord injury.
Ben was immediately transferred from the work site to a hospital where his recovery began. He has no memory of the accident; his first recollection was waking up to see his wife and her parents. Later, he saw his own parents who had immediately flown in from New Zealand upon hearing the news.
Ben spent 10 months in rehabilitation and learned how to use a wheelchair. About two years after the accident, the family flew from Northern Ireland back to New Zealand to live in the beautiful coastal city of Napier.
Despite what he experienced, Ben remains full of humour and natural charm. Alongside family life and his work in the building trade – overseeing schedules for the contractors and clients – Ben is big on sports. He has both played and coached wheelchair basketball, loves the gym, and is currently playing para badminton.
Recently, Ben spoke with Hollister about how he learned intermittent self-catheterization (ISC) after his accident – despite his worries about trying it – and how he found a catheter that worked for him. He also gives advice to others on how to get over mental hurdles and experience the life-changing benefits of ISC.
It took me a while to realise I was paralysed
I don’t remember anything about the accident at all, and the early days afterwards were also a bit of a blur. I assumed I’d get better as I was in hospital, so it took a while to take in the extent of my injuries. Along with a few knocks to the head and cuts and bruises, the reality was that I was paralysed from the belly button down.
There are times when dignity leaves the building
In the days after the accident, I was using a permanent (indwelling) catheter. That was tough, and I had various urinary tract infections (UTIs) to deal with along with everything else. You’re brand new to it, you don’t know what’s going on, it’s 3: 00 am and there are three nurses tugging away at tubes and changing bags…it’s not fun, but it’s got to be done.
I thought intermittent catheters sounded pretty daunting
I wasn’t fond of the permanent catheter but I initially thought, when I was still in hospital, that it would be the best choice. As you get stronger, however, you think some other options might be possible. I remember coming back to the ward one day, and someone had left a leaflet on my bed about ISC. One of the nurses came up and said, “Ah yes, you’re doing this tomorrow.” I remember looking at the diagram and saying, “I’m not!”
I was terrified even thinking about ISC
I assumed it would be super painful, even though I’m paralyzed and have no feeling below my navel. How could it hurt? It was just the apprehension. When the nurses brought the actual catheters the next day so I could try them, I thought what’s this? Inserting something like that where it’s not supposed to be, six times a day? I couldn’t see how that would become part of my everyday life. The first time I tried it the rehab nurse was there to assist me. With their guidance and the diagrams that help you get your head around it, I gave it a go.
Guess what? I tried it. It worked. It was easy!
The intermittent catheter that worked for me
I was given two brands to try in the first couple of weeks, starting with Hollister VaPro Plus™ intermittent catheter. I tried it and it worked. A few days later I looked at another catheter option and the tip seemed very hard. I chose not to try that catheter.
VaPro Plus Pocket™ catheter is what I use now. It’s pre-lubricated, with a protective tip and sleeve so there’s a low chance of germs getting involved. This one comes with an integrated collection bag which works really well for me. Other catheters require you to attach a bag, which adds another step to the process.
Everyone’s different so you have to find the catheter that works for you. Because I am in a wheelchair for mostly everything that I do, speed and convenience are key to me. VaPro Plus Pocket catheter is in a tiny packet; it’s discreet, accessible, and handy, no-one even knows what it is. There aren’t too many steps: I open the packet and it’s good to go.
There isn’t a real barrier, it’s only in your brain
Probably my best bit of advice is not to worry too much about learning and doing ISC. There are definitely mental hurdles that you may face. Trust the process and trust your healthcare team. You spend so much time winding yourself up about the idea of it, but when you get down to it, you realise it’s all been in your head.
It was all made easier by chatting about it
There were lots of guys about my age in the hospital that I could talk to, and the nurses were really helpful too. My natural instinct was NOT to talk about ISC, but I found the more I talked about it, the more normal it all seemed and the more comfortable I became.
But I do like to keep some things private
I was pretty open about my injury and the various problems that came with it. And I certainly got great support from my wife and son, the in-laws, my parents, and the good guys (I worked with) who came to visit regularly when I was still in hospital. But I don’t really discuss my need to do ISC and the details about my bladder, except with a couple of really close mates.
People don’t really understand bladder dysfunction – I know because I used to be like that!
I didn’t have any friends who used wheelchairs or were from this world – it just wasn’t something I considered. And I don’t think your average person thinks about it at all. My friends now notice it much more – (for example) thinking about accessibility and toilets, especially when we’re on a good night out!
Everyone is different
At the start I was taught to do ISC by setting an alarm to empty my bladder every three to four hours. I stuck with that for a while until I had a few complications. Now I simply keep a mental note of how much liquid I’ve drunk and catheterize accordingly. Sounds tricky, but to me it’s easy now. Be sure to follow the directions of your healthcare professional.
When it comes to ISC, you’ve got to be prepared
My best tip seems so obvious, but I recommend that you take five minutes at the start of your day to get yourself set up. Plan in advance! Think about what you’re up to, where you’re going, and where things will be. It takes no time to sort your bag of supplies – include enough catheters for the day (plus a couple of extras) and some hand sanitizer – and you’ve got nothing to worry about.
Stop worrying and start living
I wish someone had shared their story with me like I am sharing mine with you. I worried SO much about the idea of ISC; I got really anxious. Keep moving forward. Seek support from your health care team. Talk to your friends and family. Don’t let anxiety stop you from trying intermittent self-catheterisation because it can make a big difference to your quality of life. I thought it was going to hurt, but it doesn’t. You will find your new normal!
Ben received compensation from Hollister Incorporated for his participation in this testimonial. The testimonials, statements, and opinions presented are applicable to the people depicted. These testimonials are representative of their experience, but the exact results and experience will be unique and individual to each person.
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