Part 1: True Story: 20 Years of Pain in my Testicles

My balls hurt. Well, really just the right one. Here’s the story.

When I was 18, I went to the infirmary at my college complaining of a pain in my right abdomen that extended into my groin. It was almost surely constipation. Three months later, I was in an emergency room complaining of the same pain. The doctors there told me it was a pulled muscle.

A year later, I saw a physician who said, “I know exactly what it is. It’s a hernia. I just had one myself.” I saw a surgeon who said it wasn’t a hernia. I saw another physician who sent me to another surgeon. He recommended a urologist. Before I could see him, I was in an ambulance speeding me to another ER. I was in such intense pain I couldn’t drive myself. It was kidney stones. I was 21.

I saw another urologist who blasted the stones out with sonic waves. I was still in pain. At 23, the pain had settled in my right testicle. My urologist cut into my scrotum and scraped tiny semen barnacles off my ball — a spermatocelectomy.

I was still in pain. I am still in pain.

I’m 40. I have now lived with chronic pain in my testicles for two decades. It has had such a profound effect on my life that I have difficulty measuring it. I have never known adult life without this pain.

I am on a vision quest to find relief. I’ve sought peace through yoga and meditation. I’ve seen physicians, surgeons, and many urologists. There have been ultrasounds, x-rays, blood tests, sperm tests, prostate exams, and devastatingly lonely nights in aching pain.

My next shaman is a specialist in San Diego. My physician recommended him after each of my last two urologists said he could remove my ball but it might not end the pain. I have a 3 hour exam with this new doctor’s team after which, I possibly receive a nerve block injection that is — maybe — only temporary in its effects.

This doctor doesn’t take insurance and this one visit will cost about $2000.

As much as pride will allow me, I’m going to chronicle this adventure. As a writer, my instinct is that my experiences — however unusual — are often more common than I assume. In this case, it is a health issue that has been differently diagnosed in one man by a host of doctors. I’ve heard orchialgia, epididymitis, pulled muscles, referred back pain — among others. Any man who has experienced one of these diagnoses will understand how the uncertainty of a physician regarding his genitals can instill a deep fear of the truth.

This is also an inquiry into being a man. As Jeffrey Lebowski quipped, it is merely a pair of testicles that makes us men. What does it mean to pass your most virile years with a specific pain in your manhood? What does it mean to face middle age with such a pain?

It is often difficult for me to face those questions. They occur to me and the autopilot of living, merely enduring, shuts off my inquisition. I just go on about my life. I’ve had pain in my junk since I was a teenager. What good will dwelling on it now do?

A few weeks ago, I was standing at a show, seeing The Sounds, and I was hurting so bad that I just couldn’t contemplate anything. My thoughts weren’t suicidal. They were nihilistic. I can’t even say it was “the worst” I’ve felt it because I’ve felt it that bad before. In fact, I remembered standing at a show in London, England in 1997, seeing echobelly, and feeling the pain. Seventeen years later, I’m living the same ordeal. My thoughts were hopeless. I felt I can’t be anything because I’m just surviving the pain.

I see the specialist today. I feel I’m at the end of a certain rope. When it gets bad now, I go straight to the worst thoughts. Something that relieves the pain may later cause the pain. I’m a big believer in balance and I can’t find any regarding this issue. It is so sensitive that anything can cause pain — brushing my nuts when putting on my pants, sitting the wrong way, moving too quickly, moving too slowly.

This is the prologue. Chapter one is the specialist. I know the flashbacks are painful, but I hope this story has a happy ending.