Let us raise a glass to the memory of the late Mrs. M. who, on a sweltering early August afternoon at a backyard neighborhood party in Stonington some few summers ago, established herself, gloriously if likely also obliviously, as a woman who verily could hold her own.
She was, in the years we knew her, someone with whom to be reckoned. She was a stout and sturdy woman then approaching 75, born in Germany and a former worker at the American Velvet Co. in Stonington, who lived alone in the docile Grandview Park neighborhood off Elm Street outside the borough but kept a pistol, and who enjoyed a good party, especially if it was a party at which there was beer.
She sold her home a few years later and moved into a condominium in Florida, near Orlando, and that’s where I lost track of her.
But vivid she will remain, for on that Sunday afternoon she was robustly in her element. As she sat in the shade of an apple tree within a crowded circle of chatting friends, she casually put away can after leisurely can of beer.
As children scampered about and neighbors mingled, and those beneath the apple tree spared themselves a few degrees of the afternoon heat, she put away a few more.
It wasn’t long before a couple of the adults began to point out to others, all in good fun, of course, that Mrs. M. hadn’t budged. She had, by all accounts, knocked back at least a half-dozen or so 12-ounce cans of beer and hadn’t shown any inclination, as they say in polite company, to excuse herself.
But as more people soon took note as the party lazed on, Mrs. M. appeared to be doing quite nicely, thank you. She was cheerfully sharing in all the banter and somehow holding in all that beer. After she and several others left for home, her ability to hydrate and vegetate became the talk among those still at the party.
Curious, as I am, I wondered about bladder capacities in adult males and females, and, similarly, kidney proclivities, so I called the only physician I knew at the time who might tolerate such queries, my old college friend Jim, who was working as a pathologist at a medical center in Missouri.
I explained the particulars to Jim and then asked, “Well?”
“Who knows?” he replied.
Then he tried. Under normal circumstances, and especially on a hot day, he explained, the brain can trigger the release of an anti-diuretic hormone which affects the action of the kidneys and actually helps the body retain liquid rather than expel it.
Liquor, however, has the distinct characteristic of suppressing the anti-diuretic hormone. Therefore, among most mortals, the more alcohol one consumes, the more one is apt to need to excuse oneself.
Given the quantity of beer downed by Mrs. M. — let’s say more than half a gallon — on top of the beer’s acting to inhibit the secretion of the anti-diuretic hormone, what occurred under that apple tree, or, rather, what didn’t occur, was something of a phenomenon in Jim’s experience.
But, Jim went on, there is also the bladder. The normal holding capacity of an adult bladder is a little less than half a liter, or about a pint, at which point most people begin to get uncomfortable. What happens is that as the bladder fills, the pressure there increases. It dilates like a balloon, Jim said. When the bladder gets filled, there is a rather sharp rise in the pressure level resulting in the unmistakable feeling — also known as a spasm — that the bladder simply can’t or won’t expand anymore.
But, said my friend the doctor, there are variables. Some people have neurogenic, or disordered, bladders and don’t always feel discomfort. Others, including those who do a lot of drinking, may have an acquired bladder and are able to continually suppress the urge to relieve it.
Also, men and women react differently to a full bladder. It has been found, said Jim, that maybe half the females don’t get what he called a motor response when the bladder gets filled. He also said that the uterus and cervix may slide or shift to allow more room for the bladder, thus affording it a larger capacity.
Jim professed that he was on shaky ground with his ad lib prognosis but did remain in awe of Mrs. M.’s presumed consumption and ability to sit still. You can sweat out some on a hot day, he said, but you can’t sweat out that much. You can munch on chips and other salty snacks and increase the amount of liquid the body retains, but people can hold just so much liquid.
A six-pack or more in a couple of hours’ time is a fair amount of liquid.
I thanked Jim for the discourse, and then reflected on Mrs. M. under that apple tree. She matriculated into local legend on that steamy August afternoon. How many of us at her age would have her staying power? Depends.
Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime reporter and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.