Thursday, November 13, 2008

Too Much Information

Pursuant to yesterday's non-adventure of the missing pilot, my first order of business today was to replace my cellphone with one that works in BC. The choice was Telus (shouldn't that be TelCan?) or Bell. In an attempt to demonstrate to the clients that I am taking prompt and immediate action to address the problem, I take their recommendation and walk across the Alaska Highway (a.k.a. 50th Avenue, if you hadn't guessed) to go to the Telus store.

This was going to be an entire post about buying a cellphone, but comments on the previous post show that you can all predict how that goes. There's the phone itself, with the possibility of cameras, video games, holographi projectors and laser death rays, when what I am really looking for is good predictive text messaging software and buttons that won't wear out quickly. There's the option of pay as you go, versus contract (and you can't swap between these, because they involve different telephones. Pay as you go is ludicrously expensive (how about 55 cents a minute for nationwide long distance?) The contract probably isn't much better when I consider that I have to pay for it in months when I'm not using that telephone. And the contracts are complex with plans and add-ons that I kind of need but aren't really appropriate to the way I use the phone. And of course there is the difficulty of getting a phone number that won't be long distance when I'm at home. I grumble, then suck it up, acknowledging apologetically to the young women working at the store that overpriced Canadian cell service is not their fault. I buy the phone, sign the contract, memorize my new number, and go back to the hotel. That's enough about that. I'll give you too much information about something else.

Here I am flying the airplane. It's ten thirty, two and a half hours into a seven hour flight, and my body has just reminded me that I forgot to pee before takeoff. It's part of my routine, but I didn't have to "go" then, and was busy folding wing tents or something, right up to departure. It's not killing me yet, but there are four and a half hours left before I'll be on the ground. There's nowhere convenient to land, and even if I were passing directly over an airport, I can't just say, "ladies and gentlemen, we now have an unscheduled stop because the pilot didn't learn a lesson her mother should have taught her by the time she was four." Always go before you go.

Last time I ordered oxygen cannulas I topped up the order with a package of disposable portable urinals that are supposed to be effective for men and women. They have a powder in them that turns to a gel when wet, so they can't spill. I included their presence in my passenger briefing and one passenger, a male, confirmed that the product worked. I should have tucked one in my flight bag, but I left them all the airplane, and I'm not in that airplane now. After another hour or so has passsed, I'm furtively looking around the cockpit for a container. I'm not picky. Funnel plus hose plus window seems like a really good idea right now. There's nothing.

It's hard to do the pee-pee dance while flying an airplane. You just have to take your mind off it. I manage to make the urge go away for a while, but the duration of that while subsides to nothing by the end of the flight. And there's a chain reaction. I want to minimize the amount of water I drink, because that will exacerbate the situation, but of course I don't want to spend hours without water. And I'm hungry, but it takes water to digest food, especially the energy bars that I fly with, so I have to limit food, too. So now I'm hungry, a little bit thirsty and floating on my own distended bladder. I somehow survive the flight, turn in a surprisingly good landing, and rush through engine-off checks. The fueller meets the flight at shutdown and I almost knock her over on the way to the washroom.

The next day I completely wring out my bladder before the eight a.m. takeoff. I'm not going through that again! Ten o' clock and all is well ... 10:15 ... 10:30. Oh oh. Same problem. Hey! What's going here? Have I lost my touch. Did I break something by holding it so hard yesterday? Can you do permanent damage by holding your pee? There's a Seinfeld episode about that. I endure another excruciating flight. I think having to pee sits above several levels of pain in the scale of impediments to conentration and enjoyment. In fact, I can vouch for that, having attended a ground school course with a broken back. I survive that flight too, and hit the internet for information.

First off, anyone who hits the comments and tells me, perhaps citing Tycho Brahe, that people have died from holding their pee, are full of it. (But not as full as I was). The sphincter concerned is going to let loose and wet the left seat long before it explodes out any other avenue. Like anything else on the Internet, I get a mixed set of results. The first batch of hits I get are with reference to children, and they promise dire consequences from forcing children to hold it.

"Infrequent urination and incomplete emptying lead to an ever-increasing bladder size and capacity. This is turn leads to a decrease in sensation to empty the bladder... Renal failure may ultimately develop secondary to bladder function abnormalities" (, Urology Forum).

This one says that if the bladder gets too full urine can back up into the kidneys causing extra pressure which may damage the tiny blood vessels in the kidney.

Over time, the pressure can cause the bladder muscles to become very thick and the bladder may generate frequent, strong contractions... The high pressures in the bladder may force urine backwards (reflux) up the tubes (ureters) from the kidneys and damage the kidneys." (Christopher S. Cooper, M.D., 2000, Pediatric Urologist).

I'm guessing there's a difference between adults and children, and that part of the maturing process that allows us to understand the urges that allow us to be toilet trained in the first place is a change in our bodies that allows us to hold it.

There are a lot of medical-sounding hits that indicate holding your pee is in itself not a bad thing, but that if you have a urinary infection that delayed urination can spread the infection to the kidneys.

On the other side of the issue, the admitedly amateur WikiHow Says there's no medical impact of holding it in, and gives suggestions on how to hold it.

I wonder also if this is a sex-specific question, as my anatomy doesn't quite match that of those who are warned of possible protate problems.

At any rate I didn't break anything vital, as subsequent flights went fine and my bladder allowed me to eat and drink, land the plane, put on the engine tents and wing covers and then find the washroom.

I wonder where NASA gets their famous astronaut diapers? Anyone know? Maybe I'll write them.


Anonymous said...

Ok. I laughed hysterically when I read this post. I am amazed that you were able to hold it so long-- and keep your focus. I saw something recently about needing to "go" being one of the biggest (and easiest to resolve) stress inducers to flying. My Husband and I have had to land several times for me to have an unscheduled break-- and I've also had to ask my flight instructor to land once. It was pretty embarassing... but oh so much easier to focus on my approaches afterward!

Blake said...

The urge to go increases exponentially as you get closer to your destination.

I wonder if descending from 10,000' to ground level, the increase in air pressure exaggerates the situation.

This happened to me once, except I couldn't hold it long enough to hit the bathrooms. After tie down, I used the airplane as a wind-break and "watered" the ramp.

Guess one of the advantages of being a male ;)

dpierce said...

The seated position makes it so much worse. I can't count the number of times just getting out of the seat and standing up makes the urge go away.

Kevin DeGraaf said...

First off, anyone who hits the comments and tells me, perhaps citing Tycho Brahe, that people have died from holding their pee, are full of it.

To be fair, "holding it" can be fatal if it is performed in conjunction with the consumption of a ridiculous amount of water (although this is clearly different from your situation).

There's nowhere convenient to land, and even if I were passing directly over an airport, I can't just say, "ladies and gentlemen, we now have an unscheduled stop.

This is just my humble opinion, offered with all due respect, but I wonder if the customers might have preferred an unscheduled delay to the prospect of their pilot being incapacitated by bladder-based agony during the approach and landing phases.

dpierce said...

@Kevin DeGraaf

Not meaning to speak for Aviatrix, but aircraft command is a leadership position, and as such, comfort becomes secondary to the mission for reasons of business and professionalism. The pax might sympathize with an unscheduled pit-stop, but also might later question whether or not their pilot meets their needs for reliable transport.

If she thought that her bladder distracted her concentration to the extent that it put the aircraft in real jeopardy, that's one thing. Anything short of that is just a private sort of hell.

david said...

Blake: I don't know if the air pressure has any effect, but nervousness and cold both make you feel like you have to go. I remember reading that that was a big problem for WWII bomber crews, especially tailgunners, who were strapped tight into a very small bubble outsite the fuselage for 7-8 hours, with no way to get into the plane and relieve themselves -- if they wet their pants, they might lose certain body parts to frostbite by the time the mission was over.

Once I did try to go while flying a plane (alone, single-pilot IFR, no autopilot). I used an empty water bottle and managed with no mess (despite the turbulence over the hills of New Hampshire), keeping the plane level with my feet on the rudder pedals. I decided I'd prefer not to experience that again.

Usually, I limit myself to max 4:00 legs in the Cherokee, and since I'm a healthy 43-year-old non-coffee-drinking male, that doesn't cause too much discomfort (in 15 or 20 years, the legs might have to be a lot shorter). I deliberately dehydrate myself a bit before a flight, and bring along water to drink gradually later on, when landing is only a couple of hours away.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine who flies (by himself) over long distances suggested taking a long a bottle of yellow gatorade.

Stay well hydrated with it, and, when empty, well, it is not so obvious what it is once you land and want to dispose of it. Just don't forget what's in the bottle.

This is completely notwithstanding the gender-specific challenges imposed by sitting in a seat and having a bottle to capture things in... for that one I can only imagine and offer my sympathies. Do those funnel things work!?

Anonymous said...

I'm a male runner and have had to learn about how my hydration needs have changed as I age. Oh and pretty much stopping caffeine intake made a huge difference. My "it's only two cups" the day of a run seems to have seriously decreased my ability to keep hydrated, along with the consequent increase in trips to the bathroom.

I've learned that I really need very little in the way of hydration, save for prior to a run in summer heat, when I can't seem to have enough.

Glad you survived, Aviatrix; sounds like it wasn't much fun.


Ed said...

Gliding I used to pee at least once on pretty much every cross-country flight. Used to have two plastic bags - one inside the other - in case of small holes. One pee and the inner one could be emptied out the DV panel and then stored in the outer one. If a second pee was needed the whole combination went out of the window. Sorry about the litter. Roasting bags are good, they don't stretch.

Many gliders are fitted with "vent" tubes going out the bottom of the cockpit. Problem is subsequent undercarriage corrosion.

Women pilots I knew mostly just dealt with it by bladder training though one friend flying my glider did have to land at another airfield only 25 km out on the way home as she was not able to concentrate any more.

The chief flying instructor of my club made up a mechanism for his girlfriend, though, involving a Volvo windscreen washer motor and plastic instrument tubing, etc. She kept it all in a little wash bag which was really quite discrete.

James said...

It's not by NASA, but developed for the US Air Force, the Advanced Mission Extender Device is what you're looking for.

Sarah said...

It's a problem.

Like Ed above, I've had to deal with this on x/c soaring flights. Strapped into a parachute & reclined seating in very tight quarters makes things ... awkward.

I've got an apparently shrinking bladder, so I've had to be conscious not to over-drink before flights, and only lightly during. It especially helps to cut back on the caffeine. Still, I have to use to the nappies as backups of last resort.

You will be served just fine by the porta john you mention. You can move around a little, have an autopilot, not to mention two engines. I only hope you have a cockpit door or at least curtain.

For even more too much information:

Most (men) use the plumbing route. We've learned it's not a good idea to thermal underneath someone who has their gear down.


Women's solutions are a little more complicated:


Steve at the Pub said...

Ahhh. Another area where rotor wing pilots have it all over the fixed wing jocks.

Able to park almost anywhere to quickly "check the tail rotor/fuel/scenery"

James said...

Two stories to add:

1 - When I moved from Toronto to Northern MB, I was in a similar situation where my cell phone no longer had service. I called up the company and asked to cancel my service stating that I had moved to a smaller town and I no longer had service.

The person on the phone asked "Well have you checked our service coverage map to see if you get service?" - "No", I responded, "I turn on my phone and it gets no reception." She couldn't really argue with that.

2- This was not a story that happened to me, but rather a client at the fancy FBO I worked at during undergrad.

An older gentleman who owned his own piston twin had flown to Charlottetown PEI where he had enjoyed 3 full bowls of the airport cafeteria's signature seafood chowder.

About 45 minutes into the flight, he had to pee. He was flying alone and the plane was outfitted with pilot relief tubes so he decided to use them - apparently he found it easier to use them by taking off his pants.

So he's flying along pantless and relieving himself when wouldn't you know it - an engine fails!

He went through the engine failure checklist, secured the engine, declared an emergency and headed for the nearest airport. After he got everything stabilized, he put his pants back on. He landed it safely.

The whole time he was pantless and running through the emergency procedures, all he could think about was, geez, if I crash, when they find me in this plane not wearing any pants, they're going to wonder what the heck was going on!

Anonymous said...

Are you noticing that you are unable to sleep through the night without urinating as well? If so, and I hate to mention this with your past medical challenges, but it could be a sign of Type II Diabetes. Reference:

Mike said...

Whenever this happens there's always that thought "am I going to make it?".

Spare a thought for the U2 pilots. I read a great article (can't find it now) which said that before a mission they ate a "low residue diet". The reason being that on their very long missions it wasn't just the need to urinate that became a problem!

Many years ago in NZ the world distance to goal gliding record was broken. Crossing Cook Strait at 28,000' everything iced up. One of the guys told me later that the results are inevitable and uncomfortable when you try and pee out of a tube that has a plug of ice in the end!

Glad the outcome was OK LOL.


Aviatrix said...

Anonymous of 8:11 pm: I'd hardly call needing to pee more than once in eight hours "frequent urination", and in the cooler months I probably drink less than 500 mL over the course of a 7 hour mission. I make sure I drink lots after landing to make up for it, but it's hardly a desperate quest for liquid, just me knowing that I should.

You're supposed to drink enough water that your pee is nearly clear, to ensure that you are properly hydrated.

Pilots are screened for diabetes every medical, and I don't have any family history, nor the symptoms on the linked page.