Women experiencing urinary or bowel incontinence are often hesitant about discussing their discomfort, and Dr. Cary Fishburne understands that.
What he wants them to understand, however, is that treatment may not be as complicated or as time-consuming as they think. From bladder Botox to physical therapy and a host of other non-invasive approaches, treating incontinence is no longer an all-or-nothing approach.
“Women are reluctant to talk about it openly, even with close friends,” Fishburne said, adding that the information they receive is likely outdated. Friends and family often advise that it’s “just something that someone puts up with as you get older,” and that’s often not the case.
A woman in her mid-thirties who loves softball shouldn’t have to stop running the bases, Fishburne said, nor should a centenarian have to accept being awoken by repeated bathroom visits throughout the night. Through quick, in-office procedures, Fishburne was able to send this particular patient back to the softball diamond, and allow a 104-year-old patient her first nights of restful sleep in years.
“We’re thankfully no longer in a medical climate where a woman thinks that’s just something she has to put up with because she has had children and is getting older,” he said. “A woman should no longer think that, ‘Just because I’m a certain age this is something I have to put up with.’”
After a visit with Fishburne, a urogynecologist at Novant Health Urogynecology, these patients and many more quickly learned that solving their problems didn’t require a hysterectomy, a “bladder tack” procedure, or even a lengthy hospital stay. Many women, in fact, get relief following quick in office procedures.
Using tools and procedures gleaned from modern medical advances, Fishburne creates a custom treatment for each of his patients.
“As a woman contemplates whether or not she’s ready for something invasive or not, there may be a lot of minimally invasive options that’s she never heard of, or maybe her (general practitioner) has never heard of,” he said. “Maybe she doesn’t need a hysterectomy at all. Maybe she just needs a little office procedure to take care of her dysfunction.”
One of these approaches includes InterStim, a type of pacemaker to help control the bladder. “It involves me putting a needle probe in the lower back next to nerves that feed into the nerves that control bladder and bowel function,” Fishburne said. An electrical lead is passed through the needle, then linked to a pacemaker.
“The impulses stimulate the nerves that suppress bladder contraction, offering relief to patients with bladder issues,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
Those who do require surgery will likely also discover the landscape has changed dramatically since their mother’s or aunt’s treatment. Many procedures are now performed laparoscopically, greatly reducing pain and recovery, Fishburne said.
“What used to be a 3- and-4-day stay in the hospital may now be an overnight stay. Most of my simple incontinence patients even who have surgery go home the same day,” he said, adding that, when speaking at noon, “I did two surgeries this morning and they are already home before now. “
That relief can mean restoring a way of life that a woman may have sacrificed for years due to bowel or urinary incontinence, whose effects can reach far beyond feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed. Loss of sleep due to frequent bathroom visits can lead to fatigue. They may avoid intimacy with their partner due to pain. They may also forgo physical activities they once enjoyed to avoid an accident. These symptoms can lead to weight gain as well as a decrease in self-confidence, with effects on both physical and mental health.
Restoring that confidence through a customized treatment plan is the reason Fishburne loves his job, he said, and he’s eager to spread the word that treating themselves may mean little downtime in their care-giving roles.
“I also have certainly seen that women spend a lot of their life taking care of others,” he said, adding they are, “very likely to put off their own health needs and issues and suffer in silence because they are taking care of someone.”
One of the most common questions he addresses: “How quickly can I be back at work?” From enjoying their hobbies to helping care for their parents and children, Fishburne is excited to help women successfully return to their myriad roles.
“It’s very satisfying to be able to restore a patient to her goal quality of life again,” he said. “That’s a very satisfying feeling to share that joy with my patients.”
Dr. Fishburne practices at Novant Health Urogynecology, with locations in Mooresville and Charlotte and performs surgeries at Novant Health Matthews Medical Center.