The experience of living with a long-term urinary catheter was investigated with a community-dwelling sample of 14 adults ranging in age from 35 to 95 who had worn a catheter for 6 months to 18 years. Data were obtained by audiotaped face-to-face interviews. Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology and van Manen's methodology guided the study. Living with a urinary catheter was found to be like living with the forces of flowing water. People were keenly aware of the flow of urine through their catheters, and they noticed when their bags needed emptying or when urine drainage seemed sluggish or obstructed. The metaphor of urine flowing like water may provide a teaching heuristic for assisting clients in adjusting to living with a catheter. Implications for further research focus on understanding the relationship between sensitivity to the dynamics of urine flow and urinary tract infection. © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Res Nurs Health 25:14–24, 2002.