Wed 14, Jun 2023 , Bridge Magazine
Ever since an article about Robert ‘Dipper’ DiPierdomenico’s experience with urinary retention was published in the Herald Sun Newspaper in December 2022, he has been continuously approached by people with similar stories. “What they commonly say to me is this is happening to me too, what should I do?” he says. Sometimes he is approached by women who’ve recognised similar symptoms in their male partners and want them to seek help. “My advice is to always go straight to your GP,” he says. “Help is available so go and get it so you can get on with living a better life.”
“If you had a broken arm, you’d go to the doctor to get it fixed right?” says Dipper. “So why not go to the doctor and say, I’m not peeing properly? Too many men ignore their symptoms and think they will just go away, but what I’ve learned is this can affect your life forever and you don’t have to put up with it.”
When a celebrity with a reputation for toughness and invincibility on the football field publicly reveals his vulnerability and what it meant to delay seeking help, others might just heed the message. Whilst he has dealt with many football injuries during his career, including famously playing with a punctured lung and broken ribs to see Hawthorn win the 1989 AFL Grand Final, nothing prepared him for the pain he experienced with urinary retention.
Dipper is a keen advocate for men’s health awareness and openly shares his story to encourage men to get regular health checks, pay attention to the warning signs and not suffer in silence. Admitting he wished he had sought help earlier, he says “we men tend to think we’re invincible and we must put up with pain, but my body was telling me something was wrong. The crunch for me came when the pain became so bad, I was forced to go to emergency.”
A couple of years earlier, Dipper had started to notice that he was needing to urinate more frequently but was passing less each time. This progressed to needing to urinate between 30 to 40 times a day and sometimes ten to 15 times a night. He would often have to pull over when driving to urinate and was also having regular accidents and needed to wear incontinence pads. With a constantly busy schedule, attending functions and regular speaking events, he didn’t want to be caught short, but says trying to discreetly buy continence pads in his local chemist was challenging. “It’s a whole new world with different sizes and choices and you feel so self-conscious, hoping no one will recognise you or see what you’re buying,” he says. However, he now acknowledges this is the reality for many men, some of whom will need to manage incontinence permanently.
A turning point for Dipper was when he had visibly wet himself at a Christmas party on a boat on Sydney Harbour. He was touched by the genuine concern his friends and colleagues showed for him at the time, but he was angry with himself for not doing something about it earlier. “I could see how worried my mates were for me and I just wish I had got help sooner,” he says.
Initially, Dipper had thought his symptoms were due to the type two diabetes he had been diagnosed with earlier, however as the symptoms became more intense and increasingly painful it was clear that something else was wrong. When he presented to a hospital’s emergency department, he was eventually diagnosed with urinary retention, a condition where the bladder does not empty completely and there is a lot of urine still left behind. There are several potential causes of urinary retention in men, the most common being an enlarged prostate, known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). This was the case for Dipper who then had a transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP). This was successful, however, he still experiences challenges with occasional leakage.
Dipper has also experienced the dilemma of being out and about and not having anywhere to dispose of used incontinence pads. A keen supporter of the BINS4Blokes campaign, he would like to see more incontinence product disposal bins in men’s toilets in function centres and sporting venues, to help men living with incontinence to get out in their communities with confidence.
Dipper is a founder of The Good Blokes Society, which provides a platform for men to develop their social and business relationships. He is a regular speaker at their lunches, using these forums as an opportunity to tell his story and promote men’s health awareness. “Talking openly and honestly can be difficult for men,” he says, “but I’m pleased to see more men are opening up and sharing at these meetings. It’s so important for men’s physical and mental health to share information and experiences.”
Asked if he would like to see education on pelvic floor health and exercise integrated into training for football players, Dipper is extremely supportive.
“It’s just another muscle the body needs to function properly and when you know about it, you realise just how important it is,” he says. “Do your pelvic floor exercises and make sure you are doing them correctly. I thought I was, but Dr Jo Milios (men’s health physiotherapist) helped me to understand I was doing them all wrong. I know how to do them now and I’ve definitely seen improvement.”
Robert “Dipper” DiPierdomenico is a Hawthorn premiership hero who played 240 games for the Hawthorn Football Club during a sixteen-year career. He won five premierships and the Brownlow Medal in 1986 and was integral to the Hawks’ dominance of the AFL competition during the 1980s.
If you are unable to pass urine, please seek urgent medical assistance. If you have bladder pain, go to the toilet numerous times during the day and night, or you develop incontinence, please seek medical attention as soon as possible or call the Foundation’s National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 for advice. You may need to be referred to a continence health care professional.
What is benign prostatic hyperplasia?
It is normal for the prostate gland to get bigger as men get older. For some men this can cause bladder problems. The changes to the prostate gland happen over many years.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is when the prostate gets gradually larger. This often starts in middle age, and it is normal for the prostate gland to get bigger as men get older. For some men this can cause bladder problems. There are many successful treatments for prostate problems and around one in four men will need surgery.
What is transurethral resection of the prostate?
Transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP) is a surgical procedure to remove excess prostate tissue that is blocking the urethra or the flow of urine. It helps to reduce the symptoms of an enlarged prostate.