Plumbing failures, Part I
At seventy, my plumbing doesn't work like it did at thirty. Or sixty. But then nothing does. Still, plumbing failures are one of the special special joys of aging. And there are so many failure modes!
The most common plumbing problem of aging men is called Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia, or BPH to its friends, which don't include me. Break it down: benign means it's not gonna kill you. Prostatic means it's about your prostate. Hyperplasia means too many cells. In other words, the older you get the bigger your prostate. That's a problem because of faulty plumbing design.
English: Prostate and bladder, sagittal section. 中文: 前列腺與膀胱，矢狀切面。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Check out the picture in the sidebar (courtesy Wikipedia, of course), you can see that the channel from bladder to penis--called the urethra--leads through the prostate. Whoever came up with that design should be fired, because as men age BPH constricts the channel which then results in two problems: we pee more often and it takes longer to start a stream, technically, "increased frequency" and "hesitancy." Frequency goes up because it seems that you can't fully empty your bladder, especially at night. Coupled with hesitancy it's a lot of fun.
During the day frequency's not a problem, but at night it means I'll wake up several times, and stand sleepily over the toilet waiting for my bladder, prostate, and urethra to negotiate a flow agreement. Then I'll dribble out what seems like a quarter of my normal bladder capacity, leaving it nearly full full and ready for my hard-working kidneys to top it off, which they start on as soon as I get back to bed. At that point the whole process will repeat.
Hesitancy means I can no longer zip it down, whip it out, and pee. I've got to wait, and if I'm tense, it's worse, sometimes to the point of dysfunction. As a practical matter this means the probability of successfully completing a mission in a public men's room drops to near zero if someone walks in (creating a kind of performance anxiety) before I've got a good stream going. The longer it takes to get started, the more probable an interruption.
Taking a piss in a public men's room becomes a series of game-theoretic exercises. Is there anyone already in the men's room? If so, proceed directly to an empty stall, close the door and wait for hesitancy to pass. If there's no one there, calculate the probability of pre-stream interruption based on the dynamics of locale and my subjective assessment of stream-latency.
If you're interrupted before you get a good stream going (and by you, I mean me) it's decision time. Depending on the interloper's proximity and strength of stream there's a good chance the Mr. Sphincter will turn the nozzle to off . As a practical matter this means that if someone walks in and chooses the next-door urinal despite there being seventeen other perfectly good places to piss, say good-bye to the stream. Then you've got another problem: to decide whether to wait out the interloper and attempt to restart despite reduced urgency, or to pretend to finish, wash your hands, and leave, only to circle back later; or to publicly admit defeat and head for a no-pressure stall.
Why don't I simplify the algorithm and avoid embarrassment by always heading for a stall? It's a guy thing, I suppose. Sometimes I'll walk into an empty men's room, think "I can do this!" head for a urinal, take my chances and hope for victory. Other times I know it's a lost cause from the start. All the urinals are occupied, I'm third in line, and guys are already lining up behind me. Then I gracefully acknowledge my condition and slink off to wait for a stall with the other gray-haired and balding men who share my problem.
If I've committed myself to a urinal I can speed things up and avoid stress-shutoff by focusing my attention on something besides my equipment--say my smart-phone. So I've gotten into the habit of pulling it out and checking my email or G+ whenever I go to pee. I've carried the habit to the stalls with me, where it keeps me from worrying about the other old guys waiting to get in.
For the next failure mode, read Plumbing failures, Part II.