If 2014 was the Year of Reading Women, 2015 was the Year of Reading Online Advice About How to Cure UTIs.
I made this joke on Twitter months ago, not realizing the extent to which it would be unfortunately, devastatingly true. Before now, the UTI has popped in and out of my life with enough irregularity that I was able to ignore it, deal with it emotionally effectively, and laugh it off (while crossing my legs). Now, however, it is different: I have suddenly, somehow, become "susceptible," a woman who takes daily cranberry supplements, carries Uristat in her purse, and makes sure she knows how to say "cystitis" in the languages of any countries she visits. It is a torment both psychological and physical, not least because there are ways you can prevent them, but sometimes they don't work. Urinary tract infections: caused by sex, but also not by sex; treatable with cranberry products, sort of, maybe. Some sources say you have to pee both before you have sex and after you have sex, though after sex is more important, and both seems impossible; other doctors say that you will most certainly die if you urinate before sex. Sex becomes wary, anxiety-inducing, an experience after which you must hope and pray (and, yes, definitely, pee).
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There are few representations of UTIs in popular culture. Indeed, a quick Google search for "UTIs in popular culture" lends only articles about "urine cultures," the tedious process by which a medical professional might diagnose you with what you already know you have. "Yep, you definitely have a UTI," says the white-coated urgent care nurse, shaking her head and writing a prescription. This confirmation is one of the few solaces you have in this situation. We hope another can be these stories.
A few years ago, I participated in a year-long "backpacking" expedition with my college boyfriend. I probably had a low-grade UTI brewing the whole time, which is unsurprising considering most of our intimacy was relegated to various cramped or otherwise undesirable spaces. One such space was a sort of lean-to structure located on an isolated mountainside in Ecuador. Sure enough, close to the end of our weeklong stay, the light irritation I'd been ignoring bloomed into a raging UTI. My desperate attempts to holistically flush the demon out proved unsuccessful. Rather than hobble down the mountain to speak to a medical professional, I opted to take my boyfriend's off-brand (and I suspect, expired) antibiotics. My relief was short-lived, however, as this in turn resulted in a flourishing yeast infection. I weathered the worst of this particularly unpleasant ailment on an overnight bus ride through the mountains, which I spent grunting theatrically and looking balefully at my boyfriend while he slept.
Blood is still all over my face, and I'm pretty confused.
I'm ten years old, posted up in my favorite pita pocket joint (Pockets) with my Aunt Paula when I realize I'm about to piss my pants. "Don't shit where you sleep," as the old saying goes. Or, in my case, "Don't piss on the floor of your favorite pita pocket restaurant if you expect to come back," so I sprint to the bathroom just in time. It does not go well in there, to say the least. I kick the door back open and start screaming, "I peed AND THERE'S BLOOD!!!" The men in the restaurant—cowards that they are—sink lower in their chairs and hide behind their edible meat purses while my aunt stares at me with this smug expression I still cannot get out of my head. "Come on, sweetie. Let's talk," she says in a hushed tone, chuckling to herself as she ushers me toward her car and explains that this is a natural part of every woman's life. I spend the rest of the week thinking that my insides are going to burn like the fires of Mount Doom every fucking month until I hit menopause or kill myself. I find out later that this is not actually my period, but rather a UTI brought on by my own hedonism. This time, it was sitting in a public Jacuzzi for four hours, though the rest of my UTIs can largely be attributed to hedonism as well. Got in an Airbnb Jacuzzi this weekend and got another UTI. This will probably happen again.
Read more: The Perils of Pooping While Dating
Zing, 27, UK editor
I was at Glastonbury Festival in the UK this year and was especially hyped to see Kanye West perform. Five hours before he was due to go onstage, I felt that familiar twinge and immediately started freaking the fuck out. I imagined running away to cry and piss in the nearest bush while Kanye played a solid gold hit, like "Black Skinhead" or "Jesus Walks." And while you can procure a whole range of obscure drugs with names that are literally just a string of numbers and letters at Glasto, you are shit out of luck if you want cranberry juice. I must have gone to the bathroom five times in a row while waiting for Kanye to start. I even went to a hippie who gave me a chi massage in a Native American teepee, hoping that she could massage the UTI out of my body. Then my friend remembered that she brought D-Mannose pills, which basically act like super-powered cranberry fruit extract. My UTI magically disappeared right before Kanye started. I may have cried during "Bound 2," and 90 percent of that was out of sheer relief.
I got one while on a snowboarding trip in South Korea with ten South Korean colleagues, only one of whom was female. Cried on the mountain. Cried at lunch. Pretended I was overwhelmed by South Korea. Didn't understand Korean well enough to even buy Paracetamol.
Callie, 25, executive editor
I get UTIs all the time, but doctors are unsure of whether it's because I have a beautiful and fragile urethra (likely) or because my boyfriend is cursed with dreadful Hell Semen (also likely). Normally I just drink cranberry juice and whine until they go away. Earlier this year, however, I ignored one for a very long time and then started to experience very blurry vision a week or so later. "Oh," I thought, "I am going blind. That's OK." I went to the eye doctor and bought extremely expensive glasses, thinking it was my new lot in life to wear them forever.
Later I learned that a kidney infection had caused the eye problems, and my sight got better as soon as I started taking meds. It hurts my head when I try to wear my extremely expensive glasses now.
I had just started a new job, and in my first week I had to fly to Dubai with a bunch of colleagues I'd never met before. The night before I'm due to fly out, I realize I have a UTI. I'm in agony and terrified: How am I going to make it through a flight to Dubai? I can't miss the trip. I end up having to pay £150 to get a private emergency doctor to come out and treat me in the middle of the night because I knew I would miss my flight if I went to the emergency room. I made it to the airport feeling like death. I felt so desperate that I confided in one friendly female new colleague of my situation. I was not allowed to enjoy any of the copious free booze my colleagues are getting stuck into on the flight, so I looked like an absolute square in front of my new colleagues. Icing on the cake? The girl I confided in got super drunk on the flight and shouted up the plane "How's your bladder infection, sweetie?" in front of all my new colleagues.
Before undergoing conscious sedation for dental surgery, I tell my dentist that I thought I might be getting a UTI. She says I'm probably just nervous about the treatment. After being under conscious sedation for seven+ hours, as soon as the sedation wears off, I realize I have the worst UTI known to man: I've not been to the toilet or had a drop of water for more than seven hours. The pain is so bad from the UTI that I'm forced to go to the emergency room straight from waking up from wisdom tooth surgery. Blood is still all over my face, and I'm pretty confused. I was not allowed to go alone because I was still technically sedated, so my poor dental nurse had to take me.
Just don't let too many penises in there!
Lindsay, 26, social editor
I used to get UTIs all the time. Frequently while on vacation. Usually at my dad's house. Rarely with health insurance. This usually meant I'd end up at urgent care in varying towns along the west coast. I have a lot of anxiety in hospital settings, which I mostly attribute to often not having insurance and ending up at urgent care for a lot of my life. In college, my university contacted me to see if I'd participate in a study on women who get UTIs very frequently. I should have done it for the free meds, but I was too insulted and horrified that my university assumed I would just continue to get UTIs throughout my time in school. I did.
Anyway, because I would always end up at different clinics in different small town after-hours clinics on the west coast with varying levels of burning in my crotch, I ended up chatting with some pretty neat doctors about my urinary tract. My favorite advice on avoiding UTIs came from an old Norwegian nurse in a town near the Canadian border. She popped her head up from between my legs to say, "Just don't let too many penises in there!" She also misdiagnosed me with a bacterial infection.
When I was studying abroad in Jordan, I was dating this German dude. We both lived with Arab Jordanian families, both of whom were pretty strict, so trying to have sex was like trying to do it in high school, except it's a punishable crime to have sex before marriage. We would go to really gross hostels when we got desperate, so when our program took us to the Red Sea for a week, we did some hotel room swaps and ended up getting two to three nights in the same room.
I think we got a little overexcited, because we ended up having sex a bathtub, which I normally find really gross and cumbersome. But we were young and having sex secretly in a pretty conservative Muslim country, so it was sneaky and fun.
But the next day, we were loaded up along with our entire program in a coach bus to drive back to the capital city, a six-hour drive straight through empty deserts. I woke up with a raging UTI, knowing full well what lay ahead. I enlisted my friends to find UTI medications but they were weird and busted and the pharmacist was really embarrassed they were even asking.
Once we got on the bus, I sat in the back clutching my vagina shooting angry looks to the German boyfriend. He was overly apologetic—I don't think he'd ever seen a full-blown UTI in action.
The worst part, though, was that whenever I threw my hands up and decided I needed to actually try and pee a little bit, we were in the middle of the desert so there was no shrub or grass for me to hide behind. I was peeing painful droplets into the dry desert wind with my entire program pretending not to look at me squatting behind some sand.