Of all the places I’ve ever got cystitis, a camper van in the Peak District is definitely one of the most memorable. It was a crisp October morning when I set out from London. I had a day off from work to go and visit my boyfriend, who had rented a camper van in Scotland and was driving it down to London. I was feeling bright-eyed, bushy tailed, and positively camper van chic.
The plan was to meet my boyfriend at Edale station, do a bit of hiking, have a bit of lunch and then mooch around a Derbyshire campsite for an evening. Lovely.
On the train up I started to feel a bit shivery, so put on a few layers. Then a few more. Strange, everyone else seemed to be in t-shirts! I snuggled down in my seat and watched a few episodes of something mindless on my phone before switching trains at Sheffield. At this point I was still feeling shivery and my tummy was hurting a bit. Could it be cystitis? Surely not... I hadn’t had it in almost a year! I took an Azo tablet from my emergency stash just in case, then downed the rest of my juice for good measure. Sorted.
When I finally arrived in Edale things were starting to feel a bit better down below, and I thanked the Azo Gods for nipping my blossoming cystitis in the bud. I was cured! And bright orange pee was only a small price to pay for urinary harmony, I thought to myself. The day continued as planned, with a bit of lunch and a lot of hiking. Exhausted and soaking wet, we trudged back to the campervan to dry off and start making our way to the campsite we had booked that afternoon. As I changed into dry clothes, I tried to ignore the unpleasant pinching sensation which had suddenly returned to my nether regions.
“Any water left?” I asked faux-casually, trying to keep the growing hysteria out of my voice.
“There’s a little bit in my water bottle you can have” he replied.
As I finished off the water, I quickly realised it was not going to be enough to placate my distressed urethra. But we were miles from anywhere. Short of refilling our water bottles with rain water, I was going to have to think of something quickly. I didn’t really want to share all of this with my boyfriend, who at the time I had been seeing for a cystitis-free 5 months. Somehow, it felt like it would make it more real. So I text my sister instead.
I’ve got cystitis in a camper van in the middle of nowhere. Hell does not begin to cover it. I’m panicking!!!!!
I was reassured to see the immediate ‘...typing’ which indicated she had seen the message and understood the urgency.
“Oh no poor you! Can you sit on the toilet for a bit to calm down? Does Michael know about cystitis?” she wrote
“He knows a bit, but he’s about to get some real life exposure...” I replied glumly.
This was embarrassing. But there was nothing for it, I needed help and pronto.
“My urethra hurts” I blurted out, “like, a lot. Remember I told you that I used to get cystitis? Well it’s just happened!” I was speaking very quickly, grimacing in pain and clutching my lower tummy. I must have looked deranged.
“Um, okay. Oh dear. What can we do?”
The question reassured me. As did the “we”. This one was a keeper.
“I need water.”
We set off immediately to buy me a big bottle of water. On the way, I told him everything I knew about cystitis, and he listened patiently as I blabbed on and on about inflamed vaginas and urethrae and E. coli.
Just then, my phone rang. It was my lovely sister who, concerned by my silence, had called to a) check I was alive and b) try and talk me through some relaxation techniques over the phone. While these had been effective in the past, the campervan-zooming-through-the-rain setting was anything but soothing and it was very difficult to relax.
“Sorry it’s not working and I have to go!” I shrieked, hanging up the phone. I would apologise later, I thought.
I tried to curl up into a ball, hoping that if I took up less space I might disappear entirely. I had never experienced pain as excruciating and unrelenting as this in my life. After 20 minutes which felt like a lifetime, we pulled over at a local Sainsbury’s and bought me the biggest water bottle we could find. Relieved, I chugged it down in record time and waited.
I was pinning all my hopes of recovery on that bottle of water. Unfortunately, it was doing little to help me. If anything, the pain was intensifying. A wave of panic pulsed through my body.
“It’s getting worse!” I yelled, frustrated and embarrassed in equal measure.
“Do you maybe want to go home...?” He asked, looking at me with concern (and a bit of fear).
I felt guilty and relieved; he had suggested it and not me. Although I absolutely did want to go home, the polite part of me still told me I should resist a little…
“But it’s really far. And it’s your holiday” I said meekly.
“It’s okay” he shrugged, “if you’re in pain then there’s no point. And besides, we’ve had a lovely day!”
“Maybe if I sit on the toilet while you drive to the campsite I will get better?” I said, trying to inject some cheer into voice.
“That portable toilet is filled with chemicals, if they fly up into your vagina while I’m driving then your urethra will be the least of your problems.”
Ah. Concise and to the point. We decided to go home.
I wanted to laugh and cry. I was going home!! I started fantasising about my toilet at home, filled with water rather than vagina-singeing chemicals. The urethra wants what it wants...
When I woke up the next day, curled up in bed with my hot water bottle, I wondered if it had all been a bad dream. How, within the space of a few hours, had ever increasingly hysterical urethra somehow managed to turn a two day adventure in the peak district into a 3 hour dash down the M6?!
I text my boyfriend to apologise.
‘That’s okay’ he replied, ‘My mum made me chicken schnitzel so it turned out to be a nice evening at home!’
… Well at least someone had had a nice evening.
As the day went on, the pain ebbed and flowed. I was confused. Was this an infection? Did infections suddenly stop hurting for a few hours, and then come back? This pattern continued for the next 5 days, with the pain coming back in full force on a Wednesday morning while I was at work. Within 2 hours, I was on the tube back home with a water bottle between my legs and tears in my eyes.
“Is this how my life is going to be now?” I melodramatically text to my friend, who reassured me that I probably just needed some antibiotics and that I should get myself to the GP asap. I obeyed. Thankfully the GP gods were smiling down upon me and I was squeezed in for an afternoon appointment.
“You should have come sooner,” the GP said the moment she saw the dipstick, “this looks like a pretty nasty infection”.
“It kept coming and going” I said meekly, “I thought I might be able to get over it myself”
“If it doesn’t pass by itself after 2-3 days then it’s an infection. There’s no point suffering in silence, just make an appointment to come in if it happens again” she replied kindly.
I wish I’d listened to her. Unfortunately, it took a few more visits to the GP and an eventual A&E trip to convince me that she was right. But that’s a story for another time.
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