I wet my bed through high school by Cheryl Andisi
A couple of weeks back, I was watching a TV show on student life in boarding school. That show took me 20 years back, to my first day as a form 1 in a secondary boarding school. I was nervous, seeing that it was my first time away from family, but most of all, afraid that the secret that had been kept within the family was, for the first time, going to be public knowledge.
I was a bed wetter.
It didn’t take long before my deputy headmistress summoned my mother to school, asking her to bring a mattress and mackintosh. If you remember anything about the Kenyan household then, you would remember that a ‘mackintosh’ was a huge plastic sheet that announced to all…
“She is getting into bed”
I was the laughing stock at my dorm.
“All she really knows is how to wet her bed!” my classmates said every time I tried to raise any point in class.
It didn’t make things easier since I was a class prefect. I thank God, this did not affect my academics negatively-but I dreaded going back to the dorm every evening.
Western Kenya experiences heavy rains at most times during the year. This meant that washing my beddings was very tricky. I had to improvise ways that ensured that I had a dry and usable blanket and bedsheet every evening. I must have been the only person in school who lost her blanket. It probably ended up as a mop somewhere.
“Why don’t you stop taking fluids in the evenings?”some friends advised.
“I can help you go to the toilet at night.”
Some offered, thinking that I was intentionally wetting my bed, too scared to walk to the toilets because of the many ghost stories told over generations in catholic boarding schools. If you have been to one, you would know. But that’s a story for another day….
I tried everything including adopting a minimal fluid diet at some point….. how unhealthy!
But nothing worked.
I even set up alarms or asked friend to wake me for a bathroom break, only to find my bed wet when I responded to the alarm. Unfortunately, according to many, including family, I was choosing to wet my bed.
For toddlers, obtaining a dry night in the few years following toilet training varies greatly as the age at which bladder control is achieved varies. At this age, reducing the amount of fluid intake in the evenings, and sleep training might help. However, for children beyond 7 years, an age where most should have obtained bladder control at night, these might not help. Only about 5% of children older than 8 years suffer from this unintentional and involuntary passage of urine at night, medically referred to as nocturnal enuresis. This proportion is higher in boys, about 6%, compared to girls, about 3%, in western and Asian countries. In Africa, similar proportions have also been reported in studies done in Egypt, Republic of Congo and South Africa.
I must have been around 7 years old when we had this very cruel house girl. I remember hiding my beddings behind the dogs kennel because every time she passed by my bed and found it wet, I would get a thorough beating. This, apart from endangering my health further, added to the psychological stress that is thought to worsen bed wetting.
In older children, nocturnal enuresis, though not fully understood is thought to result from a number of factors including stress, bladder irritability, constipation, urinary tract infections, inability of the body to reduce the amount of urine produced at night, and in some cases, diabetes mellitus. There has been some suggestions that bed wetting can be determined by genetic factors as it tends to run in families and generally, children obtain a dry bed at about the same time that their parents did. In addition, there are higher chances for parents who use the toilet regularly at night to have children who wet their beds, an indication that there is a genetic factor linked with the amount of urine produced at night.
Even though doctors do not generally recommend medication for treatment of bedwetting, alarm training therapies , eating foods that do not irritate the bladder and controlling the frequency and amount of fluids taken in the evenings and setting up a bed time routine where a child voids their bladder might help. In extreme cases, drugs, such as vasopressin might be used. While these drugs do not cure bed wetting, they regulate urine production leading to a reduction in the number of wet nights, while on the drug.
However, the best management for bed wetting includes providing care and support.
I am not sure if it was the relief that came with completing school, or moving back home after years of boarding school, but it just stopped. I still remember the joy of waking up to a dry bed the first several weeks before it became a norm. Finally, I could go for a sleep over! But I still feared that it might recur. The first few nights after I reported to university were a nightmare. Thankfully, my bed remained dry.
Years later, it still haunts me. I still meet people who introduce themselves by saying.
“I met your friend from high school. She says you used to wet your bed.”
The stigma associated with bed wetting lives on.
Bio of guest blogger
Cheryl Andisi is a lecturer at the Department of Biological Sciences in Pwani University, a visiting post doc researcher at KEMRI-WT Research Programme in Kilifi, and a mother. Dr Andisi has a PhD in molecular epidemiology and is interested in mentoring students and improving attitudes towards science. In her free time, Cheryl loves working on art and crafts, reading and is an aspiring writer-someday!