For those of you who follow me on Twitter, and/or plough through the Twitter updates that get posted here instead of actual blogging, and/or know me in real life, you might be aware that I’ve been a bit out of sorts for the last couple of weeks.
By “a bit out of sorts”, I mean, “part of me died and started to rot inside me, and not in a poetic-metaphor kind of way, so I had to have emergency surgery to remove it after a week of unspeakably terrible pain and misery. And now I’m on copious quantities of prescription medication waiting for my stitches to heal“.
An important part in this saga is the utter rubbishness of the human male reproductive system – in itself proof either of no God or of a God who hates us. This manifests itself in many ways, but the most obvious is putting the testicles outside the body, conveniently mounted on a string that also carries their blood supply. [*].
If you wake up with a sharp pain in one testicle, there are three possible causes: cancer; epididymitis; and torsion. The first is, well, just cancer. The second is one of the most painful infections it’s possible to get, but responds well to antibiotics and time. The third involves the testicle having twisted on its blood vessel, like a knotted garden hosepipe, and means that the tissue will die of lack of blood if you don’t have surgery to unknot it within a few days.
Torsion normally happens to boys aged 14-20 who’re engaged in active sports. Epididymitis can be triggered by STDs or urinary tract infections; it’s most prevalent in men in their 20s and 30s when STD-caused and in men in their 50s and 60s when UTI-caused. And cancer happens to anyone who’s unlucky, but doesn’t usually hurt very much (unlike the treatment, which does).
I went to the doctor on Tuesday 8th December with A Massive Pain In The Balls (which, by the time I’d got through 24 hours of denial-this-was-anything-serious and 12 hours of signing-up-with-a-GP-and-getting-an-appointment, was a day and a half after onset), he examined the symptoms and decided that I almost certainly had epididymitis. Aside from the demographics, if it had been torsion, the testicle should’ve shown signs of dying after 36 hours, with the pain and swelling actually diminishing. So he prescribed me antibiotics, painkillers and bed-rest, and told me to go to the hospital urgently if things got better in the next day.
They, err, didn’t. MY GOD THEY DIDN’T.
Just thought you might want to know: my right testicle has swollen to the size of a kiwi fruit. This isn’t making me cheerful. #owowowowowow #
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in so much physical pain that, even though you’re desperate to sleep and have taken all the drowsiest painkillers you’re allowed without dying, you physically can’t? For me, that was the night of Tuesday 8th December. And the day of Wednesday 9th December. And the night of Wednesday 9th December. I managed to snatch a few hours’ sleep for 30 minutes at a time sitting on the toilet, as this was the only way of keeping the pressure off the afflicted bollock. I managed to read a couple of books, but had to change position at least once a minute. I ate some food standing up, mostly because I was aware I needed to try not to vomit up the antibiotics (partial success).
On the plus side, the doctor’s worst-case scenario of “if the pain gets better right away” hadn’t come through. So when, at about 3AM on Thursday 10th December, the pain dropped down to the extent that I managed to get to sleep in BED!!! for a few hours based solely on the maximum doses of codeine, ibuprofen, paracetamol and aspirin, clearly it was recovery time.
“Hooray Alexander Fleming, the wonderful antibiotics have quite literally saved my balls”.
By Friday evening, when the swelling hadn’t gone down at all, and the pain hadn’t diminished since shifting from unbearable to barely bearable, I was starting to be a little more sceptical. By Sunday evening, when the same was true but I’d also started feeling physically really nauseous and unwell, I’d moved on to becoming somewhat concerned. By the morning of Monday 14th, when the GP took one look at my swollen bollock, turned visibly pale and called the hospital for an urgent referral, the relevant emotion was closer to AAAAAAGHFECK.
A&E’s quite quiet first thing on a Monday morning. Having had my blood drained enough to feed a small vampire, and my piss taken more than an open-mic heckler, I got to see a specialist urologist, who seemed a bit less fazed than my GP. He reckoned it was probably an antibiotic-resistant infection, prescribed some SUPERTURBO antibiotics, but also sent me for an ultrasound scan to confirm what was going on. But the machine was booked up until Tuesday afternoon, so I went home with super-bug-killers and super-pain-killers to enjoy my recovery.
Monday evening is a painkiller-y blur. I spent Tuesday morning trying not to vomit, since it’d be a waste of super-killers of both sorts, and waddled into the hospital (which, luckily, was just up the road from my house) for my scan. Unsurprisingly enough, being an ultrasound department, there were lots of happy-looking pregnant couples about the place; this didn’t help my mood.
The radiologist prodded around for a while, and then turned to me with an earnest, “I’ve just been on a people skills course” sombre expression. “Well, Mr Band, the good news is that your left testicle is perfectly normal”.
Yes. I know my left testicle is perfectly normal. Specifically, it’s not the size of a kiwi fruit and incredibly painful.
“But the bad news is that there’s no blood flow in your right testicle”.
Oh shit. That means it’s dead, right? And it’ll need chopped?
“I can’t comment on treatments, you’ll have to go directly to the urologist. Godspeed, etc”.
So, to A&E again. “Yes, I’ve just come from scanning upstairs. Yes, I know normally you send people up there… oh, look, please just let me see the nurse so she can see my notes… thanks”.
My urologist now looks a little more fazed. He’s seen the scan, he knows that the testicle is dead, he knows it’ll need chopped. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know anything about how the operation works, because he’s a junior doctor who’s only recently started urology rotation and has never actually been involved with an orchidectomy (cutting-bollock-off) before. Damn, maybe that was why he didn’t look fazed yesterday.
The operation is booked for 2AM the next day, Wednesday 16th December. My 31st birthday is on Thursday 17th December. I reschedule my party.
Then I phone my friend who’s a GP (for advice and second opinions), I phone my friend who had a testicle cut off when he was 20 (for consolation plus advice on wombling skills), and I phone the usual coterie of loved ones (minus the ones who’re sufficiently old and ill that they probably don’t need to know). And almost bang on cue, I’m escorted up to the surgical ward.
Waiting for the Death Panels to decide whether I should have a testicle cut off tonight #
Death Panels vote “yes”, partial castration in 1 hour and counting. Hurrah! #
My friend Nic has very kindly brought me a bag of plums and a sack of nuts to take my mind off the op #
Assorted nurses put me on a drip in a bed, with a big Nil By Mouth sign up. Visiting Time, and sister and Nic unexpectedly but awesomely appear. Nic brings a bag of plums and a sack of nuts, which amuses me. Sister brings collection of Alan Coren’s writings, which amuses me after they’ve gone, as well as fetching clothes [**], toothpaste, etc from my flat because she is excellent. Nurse chases sister and Nic away, because it’s the end of Visiting Time and this is a 1960s Ealing comedy.
At this point, through pain, tiredness lack of food and surfeit of drugs, things start to go a bit sketchy (this is also the point where the doctors meticulously explained to me what was going to happen, and where I signed the consent forms – hurrah). It became clear that the plan was to open up my scrotum, see what they could do about the right testicle, remove it if the answer was “not much”, and then pin the left one properly into place so it couldn’t twist and leave me in really serious trouble in future.
The Filipino porter chatted to me about his kids on the way down to theatre. “You’re 30 and you don’t have kids? You don’t know what you’re missing. What’re you coming down to surgery for anyway… oh, sorry”.
A friendly anaesthetist offered me a gin and tonic. “Do you like gin and tonic?” Yes, yes I do. “Well this is almost exactly like a gin and tonic, but intravenously. It’ll tend to make you feel a bit drunk”. Excellent, this will probably be the least miserable thing to have happened in a week. Blimey, it’s working. Ooh, this is fun. “Just noticed your date of birth – should we sing Happy Birthday?” No, it’s not til tomorrow “But it is tomorrow – it’s 3AM” No, it’s still the 16th “Ooops, sorry. Now, in a minute we’ll give you the main anaesthetic…”
“Wake up, we need to check your dressing” Ow, what’s going on? It’s light. Did the op get cancelled… oh, no, it really didn’t. “Hang on”. Ooh, why’s she putting a syringe in my mouth… ah, it’s oral morphine. This is probably OK…”
And, barring a drain-removal, massive pile of drugs to take home, and rapid same-day discharge from the hospital, that’s pretty much where I am a week later.
The ball was properly dead, almost certainly from an undetected torsion. The GP wasn’t incompetent, either – it just managed to stay alive for far longer than it should’ve done (thanks for trying, I guess). Its companion works properly (and yes, if you really must know, I’ve tested); scrotal stitches are bloody uncomfortable and take an age to heal and the discomfort gets worse as the hair grows back; and I still can’t really do very much [***] – but on aggregate I no longer trawl through life in misery and suffering feeling like death would be a merciful relief.
That’s the reality of physical suffering, and I’m not sure – despite various broken bones, bad flus and food poisonings – I’ve come anywhere close to it before. When the doctor told me he was going to cut off my testicle I was actually delighted, because at least that might, just about, MAKE IT STOP. The pain that I felt when my testicle was DYING INSIDE OF ME is more than the average man will undergo ever [****]. It’s humbling to reflect that whatever one’s brain might be able to achieve, the meat around it definitely has the right of veto over anything it proposes…
So, that’s about it for the story. Happy Christmas. If you’re a chap and your balls hurt, go to the doctor right now. And yes, I did still manage to raise a glass of champagne for my birthday – otherwise the gangrenous body parts Would Have Already Won.
Oh, finally: thanks, separately, to Stewart Lee and Richard Herring for sending autographed testicular memorabilia to cheer me up (I missed Stu’s gig because of the bollockage, but he very kindly autographed a DVD in memory of my loss; when I cheekily emailed Rich to ask him to rise to his former partner’s challenge, he even more kindly rose to the challenge and posted me [something which was excellent - I'll update this with more detail when the Post Office actually brings it round]).
[*]The potential for short-term physical harm created by this arrangement is at least useful in evening up the fighting odds between men and women.
[**] she fetched clothes. They weren’t fetching clothes; in all honesty I wasn’t looking my best at the time so this was OK.
[***] insert “so what’s new” gag here
[****] the average woman apparently has it slightly worse a couple of times in her life, although usually it’s a jollier and more adrenalin-packed occasion. Even so, this has given me a whole new take on that process…