Chapter 22: The Queen of Incontinence

BEING AN EXPERT IN URINARY INCONTINENCE was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Here’s what happened:

I was at Ohio State University studying urinary incontinence. Word got around the College of Nursing that I was doing this thing with a belly tickler device that I came up with to treat incontinence. Somebody figured out that I was the same nurse that did research on washing the male perineum. People said there must be something wrong with me. They thought these were dumb things to study. But I knew better.

As I continued to work on urinary incontinence, people started referring to me as the Queen of Incontinence.

In 1978 I was hired by Procter & Gamble as a consultant to talk to state departments of health or welfare about disposable diapers for adults the company had developed. They were called Attends and Procter & Gamble were the first ones to come out with them. They contacted me when Attends were still in the development phase.

At first I didn't like the idea at all. I said to them, “That really goes against my grain. I don’t think I can work with you because I have been preaching ever since 1968 that we shouldn’t demoralize old people by doing things like putting diapers on them. I said, “I’m trying to help them control their incontinence, and you are allowing them to continue to have incontinence.” They convinced me that maybe people could wear Attends while they were trying to get control of their problem. They said they would call them briefs, not diapers.

Before I decided whether to accept their offer, I said I’d have to try out the briefs myself. So they gave me some of these briefs to try. I guess this is another one of those things that I did that people would think was unusual.

I decided I was going to try them out on a Saturday. I was sitting at the diningroom table, correcting some papers of students I had when I was doing graduate work. The chairs had a cloth cover on them, so I covered them with plastic. I put a pair of the briefs on under my blue jeans. I had the coffee pot there so I could drink lots of coffee.

Well, I was working away at the table, and eventually it came time to urinate. I really didn’t want to do this, but finally I had to because I couldn’t hold it any longer. So I just let go and urinated. Well, it felt real hot at first. Then it didn’t feel like anything. It didn’t feel wet or uncomfortable or anything. It just felt like I had a pair of regular pants on.

I kept working and drinking coffee until I had to go again. So I did it again in the brief. Then the phone rang. Well, that was an enlightening moment. When I got up to answer the phone I had to walk very bowlegged because it was like I had a ton of bricks between my legs. Something had absorbed all that fluid but as heavy as it was, it felt dry.

I went into the bathroom to take this thing off, and my skin was still dry. I thought, well, this is a pretty good product. I knew there were patients in hospitals and nursing homes who were lying in wet beds getting bedsores, and I thought this could help.

I called up Procter & Gamble right away. I told the guy how I urinated in the brief twice and my skin was still dry. In retrospect this seems like it would have been a strange conversation to have. But I told him I’d go to work for them.