I hear women complain a lot about what they have to go through at the doctor’s office. The yearly mammograms, the pap smears (I’ve been on this Earth for decades, and still don’t know what “pap” is, or why you would want to smear it), the “stirrups”. But you don’t often hear men describe the horrors we suffer when seeking medical care. Maybe it’s because men just don’t go the doctor that often. Maybe it’s because women really do have it worse. But I suspect it’s because us fellas are just too damned embarassed to talk about it.
But someone has to, and that someone, apparently, is me.
Now, we’re all familiar with the indignity that all men suffer during a physical–“Turn your head and cough”. Yes, it’s embarassing to drop trou in a cold exam room and have a doctor feel up your shriveled balls. Frankly, I figure most men have their hands on their own balls often enough that if there were anything amiss, they would know it. We could probably shave millions a year from our overburdened healthcare system by skipping this redundant step.
But I digress. Most folks think that the “cough”, and for older gentlemen, the prostate exam, is as bad as it gets for men. If only. Let me break this too-long silence and tell all of you–especially the ladies, that us guys have it just as bad as women do.
Rewind a few years. I was a college senior, preparing for my final senior exhibit. I spent the weekend building models and doing sketches, all while hunched over on the floor of my studio. It was no surprise to me when I woke up on Monday morning with what I thought was a “crick” in my back. (If you don’t know what a “crick” is, I suggest you book a flight to the South right away).
Well, the pain got worse as the day progressed. Lying on my back with a pillow under me offered some relief, but the only way I was totally pain free was if I got into my car, turned the lumbar support all the way up, and drove ninety miles an hour to press my back into it. Realizing that “my back is hurting officer” probably wouldn’t get me out of a reckless driving charge, I went home and took a handful of Tylenol and went to bed.
When I woke up, the pain was even more intense…to the point I could hardly catch my breath. My college roomie had recently gone through a pinched sciatic nerve, and I wondered if I hadn’t done the same thing to myself. So I gave her a call.
“It almost sounds like a kidney stone.” she said. But I had looked that up on the internet already, and while my symptoms sounded similar, kidney stones did not seem to be something suffered by men barely out of their teens. After another few hours of agony, I heeded her advice and had another friend take me to the hospital.
Upon checking in, the nurse said that she was fairly certain that it WAS a kidney stone. I was taken into a room, and put on a drip of some sort of pain medicine that made the “Smurfs” episode on TV an almost existential experience. I don’t recall much else of the night, but I woke up at some point the next morning in a “real” room. Apparently, in my drug induced state, I’d been through some sort of tests that revealed that there was, in fact, a rather large kidney stone. I was given massive amounts of fluids intraveniously and a two liter of water. They were trying to flush it out, and you would think that peeing every four minutes would do the trick. But it didn’t.
Skip ahead 24 hours, and my urologist has decided that I will need surgery to remove the stone. Surgery that, I was told, would NOT require an incision of any sort. That’s right, kids, they were going to go straight up my penis to get the stone. Thank God for anesthesia.
I woke up a few hours later, groggy, but otherwise feeling much better. The doctor explained that they had inserted some sort of “stent” to keep everything from swelling shut. After getting back to my room, I had to pee, and that’s when things got really bad. First, it burned. Not an irritating “oops, got some soap up there” sort of burn. I’m talking, piss gasoline and light a match kind of burning. I’m certain I was actually crying a bit as I peed. Of course, it didn’t look like pee coming out. It looked like marinara sauce. And there was what appeared to be fishing line hanging out of me.
“That’s the stent.” I was told. I didn’t see how something the thickness of fishing line was going to keep the tubes open, but what did I know. I stayed at the hospital a few more hours. Once the doctors and nurses were convinced I was functioning properly, I was released to go home. And not a moment too soon. I hadn’t eaten in nearly two days, and I desperately wanted to go home and have a pepperoni roll and a few packs of cigarettes.
The next few days are largely a blur, due in part to the Vicodin I was eating like tic tacs. It was basically, drink water, take pills, pee chunky tomato soup, pass out asleep. Repeat as necessary. Well, wait, I missed a step in that process…
The next paragraph can certainly be filed under “too much information” but it simply can’t be left out. The story of just how bad men have it would not be complete without offering the entire kidney stone experience. Now, as you all know, men often wake up in an apparent state of, shall we say, excitement. This is particularly true of men barely out of their teens. So, as I fell into and out of sleep in the days following my surgery, I would often awaken in a turgid state. The few inches of fishing line would disappear, and as my member would go limp, I would have this agonizing sensation that someone was running barbed wire through it as the fishing line stent reappeared. As I said, I was heavily medicated and sleeping a lot that week, so this happened several times a day. So went my days: drink water, take pills, pee chunky tomato soup, fall asleep, wake up with morning wood, and scream in agony as my penis retracted along the barbed wire stent as it returned to a flaccid state.
After nearly a week, I’d had enough. The stent was to stay in for four more days, but I called my doctor and begged him to remove it at once. He agreed, and I rushed to his office. I put on my paper gown, and the doc came in.
“I bet you’re ready to get that out” he said. Which was as ridiculous as asking a person on fire if they were ready for someone to find a fire extinguisher.
“Is this going to hurt?” I asked.
“No, just a pinch. This is the easy part.” he assured me. I’d always thought doctors were fairly honest about that sort of thing, so I had no reason to doubt him. His hand disappeared below my paper gown, “Take a deep breath” he said.
As I filled my lungs, he grabbed my penis with one hand, and the fishing line with the other.
Then he pulled. HARD. Like he was starting a lawnmower. I was certain he had yanked my penis off altogether. I let out a blood curdling scream, and felt the blood leave my head.
“All over.” he said. And there was the stent. It wasn’t just a piece of fishing line. The first few inches were, then there were a few inches of what appeared to be fishing line wrapped in a spring (think the sort of spring that’s inside a ball point pen). Then there was about a foot and a half of hose. Literally. It wasn’t much thinner than a garden hose, and appeared to be made of the same material. And at the end, a rubber “stopper” no smaller than a half dollar.
I thought I was going to pass out, and apparently so did the doc. “I think you better sit down” he said. Hell no! I was getting out of there. I was almost to the door when I realized I was only wearing a paper gown.
Fast forward a few years. I had a mole/cyst/tumor/alien growth high on one of my legs. Nothing to worry about, but I scheduled to have it removed anyway. The day of the procedure, I arrived at the doctors office, and after filling out the usual paperwork and having my vital signs taken, the nurse told me I’d need to disrobe completely below the waist. Rather than a paper gown, she just gave me a paper sheet.
Now, Im not a terribly modest person under any circumstances. And since I figure doctors and nurses have seen every body part in a variety of colors, sizes, and conditions, I’ve never felt any need to be shy about getting naked around medical professionals. So Im laid out on my back, feet pointed at the door, naked from the waste down, covered with a paper sheet when the doctor walked in. He tossed the sheet aside, completely exposing me. He went to work, and the nurse behind me fumbled through the cabinets looking for a scalpel. A few painful shots of anesthetic later, the doc made his incision.
And then, the door opened. Another nurse walked in.
“Are there any of those Widgets from Company B in here? All I have is the ones from Company A in my room, and those aren’t as good.” she said.
“There should be some. I thought I told her not order them from Company A anymore?” the doctor said.
“Well, she did.”
“I’ll talk to her about it.” The second nurse found her widgets and left. I was thinking, gee, couldn’t that have waited until, I don’t know, after my cock and balls weren’t laying out in full view of the door?
“Almost got it” the doctor said, “you’re doing fine.”
Then the door opened again. It was the office manager. “I thought you wanted the ones from Company A? They’re 20 percent less.”
“No, it’s not worth it, their widgets just aren’t as good.” the doc said.
“Well, Im sorry, I just thought we should save some money the way we go through them.”
“They aren’t that much more, get some from Company B, and toss out all this crap from Company A.”
At this point, I’m well past uncomfortable, and very near being pissed. This is the second person who has barged in during my procedure, and with something that could clearly have waited until after I was gone. But, as the doc said, I was almost done. I took a deep breath. The nurse passed the doc the stitch kit and he got to work sewing me back up.
And the door opened again. A THIRD person came in.
“We’re going to order lunch from that cafe, do you all want anything?”
“Was that soup I got last week the special, or do they always have it?” the doc asked. I was almost stunned.
“I think it was the special.”
“Well, if they have it, I want that and a turkey club. If not, just the club and a side salad.”
“OK, what about you?” said the third intruder to my nurse. I was well past the “pissed off” threshhold now, but decided releasing my inner bitch was not the best idea, given that the doc had a needle within millimeters of my manhood.
“I’m good.” she said. The intruder turned to leave, got halfway out the door, and turned back…standing there, door fully open, she asked “Oh, what about something to drink?”
“Iced tea.” the doc said, pulling another stitch through. “Unsweetened, but get me some of that raw sugar.”
“There you go…all done.” he said. “That wasn’t so bad was it?”
“Well, the procedure wasn’t.” I said curtly. My meaning was lost on the doc, who told me to schedule a time a week in the future to have the stitches out.
“I am so sorry.” my nurse said, with an embarassed look on her face. “I’m going to lock this door so you can get dressed, just go to the front desk when you’re done.”
I tucked my overexposed genitals back into my undies, fastened my khakis, and made for the door.
So, see ladies, you aren’t the only ones who suffer indignities at the hands of doctors. And gentlemen, there’s no need to suffer in silence any longer.