What I wrote 12 years ago about pain in a personal area

Last year, I went through a lot of intense treatment for a chronic pain condition I’ve dealt with for more than 20 years. I wrote a bit about it as I went through it. I’m also writing a book about it (more info on that here) which I pitch as a memoir about “Sex, Love, and Chronic Pain.” After I finished my first draft of the book, I thought, “I need more details about the exams I’ve gone through over the years to try to determine what causes this pain.” I remembered that I’d written something about an IVP I’d had many years ago. When I dug through my archives to find the piece, I was shocked to discover it had been 12 years ago that I’d written up this same story that I’ve now written over and over. It makes me that much more eager to finish this book and close this story: happy ending or not.

Here is that story from 12 years ago. The ending, even now, is the same.

November 2003

Don’t fear the poop, I tell myself. The poop is coming for you. It knows your name.

I eat a fairly large dinner: grilled chicken, angel hair pasta, pita bread slices, salad and apple, with a beer. I go downstairs and open the packet of laxatives they’ve given me. Before opening the packet, I feared the idea that there were three pills. After opening the packet, I fear their smallness. Jesus Christ, I think, these little things are going to clear me out?

I down them with almost half a glass of water. And then I wait. The suspense kills me. I sit with a leg crossed over the other and then decide that I should have both feet flat on the ground. Mild anxiety swirls around me fed by the stories I have heard from others. A friend who had to drink a liquid laxative to prepare for a colonoscopy told me that he was on the toilet every fifteen minutes shitting pure liquid. My friend no longer drinks any clear liquid. My own mother told me to stay close to my bathroom after I took it because “there’s no warning.” Also, I’ve watched my Jackass DVD a few times over the past few weeks and I’m petrified by the scene of that guy crapping his pants. Oh, please, don’t let that happen to me.

After ten or fifteen minutes, I feel a pressure in my bowels and go to the bathroom. With a full roll of toilet paper and an almost full box of Quilted Northern moist butt wipes, I feel I’m ready for it. The thing is, it’s nothing like what I’ve been told. I drop the deuce (which is obviously less solid than I’d have liked) and that’s about it. I go back to the sofa to watch the rest of Must See TV, but I feel no more pressure in my tummy. That was awfully anticlimactic. Around midnight, I climb into bed and fall asleep. Huh, no biggie, I guess.

At 3:30 am, there’s a twitch. My brain, attuned to twitches, tells me to get up and go to the bathroom. And that’s when the fun begins. I poop like crazy for twenty minutes. When I waddle back to bed three flushes later, I look at the clean white cotton sheets and wonder why I didn’t leave the old green ones on the bed. My stomach and abdomen are gurgling. I am not in a good state of mind. Convincing myself that my alert system will rouse me if another twitch comes along, I fall into an uneasy sleep.

At 8:45 am, I’m at the urologist’s office. The reason for the laxatives is that I have a scheduled IVP today. An IVP is an intra-venal drip which lights up my kidneys for a series of x-rays. I’ve had this done before. In fact, I’ve had it done several times before. The reason? My right nut hurts like a bitch every day.

I saw Dr. E, my new urologist, for the first time three weeks ago. At the time, I was in pretty intense pain in my groin. I told myself at the time not to worry. After all, I’ve had pain in my right testicle for almost ten years.

When I was eighteen, I went to see the doctor at my college clinic. I told him my right side hurt. I don’t think he did anything. Three months later, at home for Spring Break, I was in the same intense pain. This time, I called my doctor and he said, “Go to the Emergency Room!” When I
got there with my dad, I waited for five hours like all emergencies and then had a dude stick his finger up my rear. (In his defense, he was wearing scrubs so I believe he’d been trained to do that.) Several minutes later, an older doctor entered and announced his intention to put his finger up there. Luckily the resident stopped him. They told me I had probably pulled a muscle.

A year later, I went to a physician with the same pain. He told me it was probably a hernia. He’d had one and I described it to a “T”–a pain that starts in my abdomen and travels down into my inner thigh and testicle. Yep. He sent me to a surgeon. The surgeon said, “I can’t feel a hernia and I won’t operate without being sure you’ve got one.” I walked around delicately for another year. Eventually I saw two more physicians about it who agreed that it sounded like a hernia. One sent me to a surgeon. He said, “I can’t feel a hernia,” and asked if I’d seen a urologist because it could be kidney stones. No, I hadn’t. He set up an appointment for the next week.

Unfortunately, before I could make the scheduled appointment, I was in the Emergency Room in frightening pain. After pain killers and the first of many IVPs, I was told that yes, I had an enormous kidney stone. I was 21.

The doctor at the hospital wanted to stick a camera up my penis to verify that it was a stone. The urologist back home said he knew it was a kidney stone and they’d take me in for lithotripsy (where a special machine would fire ultrasonic pulses into me and shatter the stone) the next morning. No tube up the pee-pee hole? No, sir. I went with Plan B.

I remember the nurse in my room after the lithotripsy. I was going to have to pee while holding a sieve to catch the stone particles. She asked if I watched Seinfeld. Of course. She said she’d seen Jason Alexander on the Tonight Show talking about how when he first peed after his kidney stone, no one told him there would be a lot of blood so he started screaming. That was her way of saying: there’s going to be a lot of blood. I can’t imagine the reaction I’d have had if she hadn’t told me that. A stream of blood coming out of your penis with a lot of little chunks of calcium in it is not a pleasant sight. Dark red blood.

What should have been the end of my ordeal was only the beginning. In follow-up visits to my urologist I complained about a dull pain in my right testicle which never seemed to go away. Months went by; fingers went in the out door; I had x-rays and other exams. Eventually, almost two years later, he told me that he could feel several small cysts on my right testicle. They were called spermatoceles. He could operate to remove them, but he couldn’t be sure they were causing the pain. He could feel spermatoceles on the left testicle also and I had no pain there. I was graduating college and moving to England soon so I wanted whatever could be done to relieve the pain done. I had the surgery. It didn’t fix anything.

I went to England and felt pain (which I amateurly diagnosed as partly irritable bowels). I returned and found a new physician. He examined. He prescribed antibiotics. He ordered an ultrasound. Nothing. Finally, he suggested the new urologist. I delayed making an appointment until last month’s more severe discomfort.

During that first visit to the new urologist, his exam put me in such extreme pain that I almost blacked out. It’s odd, I was telling my girlfriend, how you’d think that any groping on your balls would cause pain, but doctors are pretty good at feeling around in delicate areas with a rather matter-of-fact manner and not causing pain. So when he got to the top of my right ball and started feeling, squeezing, and poking, there was no initial pain. Then he found the sweet spot and, dear Lord, did I hurt. I rocked back on my heels, clinched my fists and put my hands up to my head. I had broken out in a cold sweat. He announced that he couldn’t examine me more thoroughly because I was in such pain.

I sat down and couldn’t focus on what he was saying. The thing about pain like that is that once you’re in it, then every second you’re out of it is amazing relief. I wiped the sweat from my hairline and tried to listen to what he was saying. He was sending me for an ultrasound, then he wanted me back for an IVP. I caught something about “epididymytis” and another word for pain in the testicles which doesn’t go away. Some people have been in such discomfort, he reported, that they’ve insisted that the doctor remove the testicle. Once it’s out, they’re still in pain.

This was sounding more lovely every minute. Luckily he wasn’t squeezing my ball anymore so I was thankful.

I reported to the outpatient medical center the next day for my ultrasound. If you’ve never had one, I highly recommend it. It’s like the spa of radiology. This year’s ultrasound paled in comfort to my first. In that one, I was put in a dark, warm, and carpeted exam room. I stripped down, the radiologist entered, rubbed some lube on my balls and we were off. It was like a non-creepy porn. This year’s was much the same only no carpet. But the same warmth. I’m down with that. As any man who’s had to drop trou in a cold exam room knows, you feel a little short-changed. After rubbing on my balls for twenty minutes, the doctor flipped on the lights and left me in the room with a towel. What, no cuddling?

Which brings us to today and this morning’s exam. I reported to the urologist’s office, dropped trou and got comfy on an x-ray table. The nurse took one x-ray to make sure everything was lined up correctly. Then, she put an IV in my arm filled with the magic goo that would light up my innards. I asked how long it took and she said she would already see it on the five minute x-rays. Then she took four x-rays–one straight down, two where the machine moved and rotated from below my pelvis to my chest level and another straight down my pelvis. Then, she developed those, gave the goo a few more minutes to run through me and repeated the process. Then, I peed and she took one last x-ray straight down.

I went to an exam room and the doctor appeared in minutes with those words that I almost didn’t want to hear: “You have perfect kidneys.”

He went on to tell me that the ultrasound revealed no epididymytis but a variocele in the left testicle which was not a concern at this time. He re-iterated last month’s advice to me to wear jockeys and taught me a new word: “orchalgia.” It means, as one doctor’s website explains it: “ball pain.” They don’t know the cause and it may never go away. The nerves in one’s spine actually wrap around and into the testicle area. For that reason he suggested that a heat pad on my back may help alleviate the pain. Other than that, I can take ibuprofen.

I realize in tales like this that one wants a satisfactory conclusion. Tragedy, joy–either will do for narrative relief. But in that existential, po-mo way that my life has always worked, I don’t get the relief so neither will you.

All I can do is try to get some laughs out of it, because if there’s one thing Jackass taught me, it’s that there’s nothing funnier than testicle pain.