Most of us have been there — a group of wheelers get together, “SCI locker room talk” ensues, and it takes about four minutes for the conversation to turn to plumbing. Bladder Matters, our new e-newsletter column, brings that dialog into the open. We’ll talk with experienced wheelchair users, researchers and doctors to answer your questions and help you maintain a healthy bladder.

And this is serious stuff — urinary system complications are the fifth leading cause of death for people with SCI, according to a U.S. Department of Health study. Good bladder management is more than just keeping dry. Many of us have forgotten, or just don’t practice, the basics. Worse yet, in these times of insurance-driven “instant rehab,” many new SCI folks don’t learn the basics in the first place, which can cause social and — sometimes very serious — physical problems.

In this issue, we take a look at two — possibly related — topics: stinky leg-bags and bladder cancer.

Chances are you know a member of the stinky-leg-bag club. The problem is, we get used to our own odor, so you might be that member. If so, it is unlikely that even your close friends will tell you. Here is a hint — if people seem to give you a lot more personal space than everybody else, you may want to do some checking. If you suspect you may be a member, consider your equipment and your urine.

Equipment-wise, if you wear a leg bag, it is a good idea to flush the bag and tubing with hot — but not boiling hot — water on a daily basis. But often, just plain water isn’t enough. Bacteria can colonize in the tubing and bag and end up producing a nasty smell. Urological companies offer cleaning solutions specifically aimed at getting rid of the bacteria — and smell. If you’re on a budget and your insurance balks at cleaning solutions, you can mix your own by adding a teaspoon of bleach to 1 quart of warm tap water. Fill the tubing and bag, shake it a bit, let it sit for 15-20 minutes, rinse, and you’re good to go. Even better, if you have two leg bags, clean one, open the drain and let it dry for 24 hours, and alternate bags. Don’t forget to clean your cushion and toss the cover in the wash while you’re at it. Suddenly, you will notice people getting a little closer.

It may be your urine itself that smells. The list of things can cause stinky urine ranges from a bacterial infection to what you eat or drink. Foods like asparagus or certain vitamins