Lessons in Social Distancing From the Summer I had Testicle Surgery

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A good long while ago, long enough that it’s mostly funny now, I had testicle surgery.

If you are disinterested in reading, in detail, why and how I got testicle surgery, you can skip down, like, seven paragraphs.

I had taken our dog for a walk, was sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee after, just sitting, and then was suddenly in a whole lot of pain. I went to the bedroom to lay down, but as soon as my wife saw me (she later described me as “totally green”) she sat straight up and, after a few answers grunted through blinding pain, she began google searching “extreme testicle pain” and finding mostly websites about people who are really into causing or receiving it. Eventually, she found actual doctor stuff, and actual doctor stuff said I better get my ass (and balls) to the hospital.

So there’s this thing called the spermadic cord that brings blood to your testes (if you’ve got those). It generally wraps around and under and keeps everything pretty snug. Sometimes, to a very lucky few of us, a teste will somehow flip around, and that vein bringing the blood will cinch shut like a bent garden hose. It’s called Testicular Torsion, which, you know, doesn’t even sound as unpleasant as it is.

So, that’s what happened to me, and though it flipped itself back on the way to the ER (making my first testicular sonogram rather uneventful), doctors explained that once it’s happened, it’s much much more likely to happen again. My uncle had the same thing happen to him once and he didn’t go to the doctor quick enough. With blood cut off from his testicle for too long, he ended up having to have it removed. I was in luck though, because there was a surgical procedure to get in there and suture each testicle to the lining of the scrotum so it stays put. Lucky lucky!

I signed up for surgery right away, scheduling it for the first week of summer, which would give me a couple weeks to recover (they said probably one week where’d I just be laying down, and another where I could move around the house but not much else) and then almost a full two months of summer to enjoy.

When I woke up in the recovery room after my surgery, the first thing I did after waking up was ask my wife very loudly if she thought the nurse would want to have a threeway with us. This was mortifying to my wife Laura, who desperately tried to shush over my drowsy (and loud) muzings. It was also mortifying to me when Laura told me about it later. I do not remember saying this thing. I am sorry, nurse from forever ago.

I do remember the part a little bit later, when the doctor told me that everything had gone really well except that it kinda didn’t. Remember that cord I was talking about before? Turns out it’s supposed to loop around under your testicles, and if it doesn’t, like mine apparently didn’t, if it just connects to the top, it isn’t a good thing. I remember quite clearly them telling me it was called “Bell Clapper Syndrome” which did nothing but made me think of my balls swinging like church bells into each other, which is also a lot how they felt.

Turns out, I don’t know, probably you don’t want to read this part and should just skip down, but also you made it this far… so here we are. Turns out that what they had to do was pull each testicle out, wrap the vein around the way it’s supposed to be, and then, you know, staple it all together (they used the term “suture.” I say they stapled by balls back together).

If you were disinterested in reading a detailed description of why and how I got testicle surgery, you could have started here. That way, you will only read detailed descriptions of what it’s like to recover from having testicle surgery.

Because there was that thing that happened that you may or may have not read about but is just two paragraphs up, my recovery period was adjusted from 2–3 weeks to, you know, triple that. The first days were very much a blur. We got me home to the guest room in our basement where it would be cool and I would have a bed, TV, and desk to myself, as well as my own bathroom I could walk to like a cartoon chimpanzee so as to avoid any bumping. The room would become my whole damn universe for most of that summer.

Once the really good pain killers of the first two days were used and I was on a steady diet of extra-strength tylenol and bags of frozen peas, I did my best to think of the whole thing as an opportunity. I was, after all, a writer. Not only that, I was a writer who loved reading. With a few months reclining in a basement, contained to a room, surely my brain would reach heretofore unreached areas of thought and focus and writing and poem reading and contemplation. I mean, sure, at the time I was mostly writing kinda weird short-short stories under a pseudonym, but my god I could write one a day, maybe two. I could write a book in two months, I was sure of it. I mean, Keruac supposedly wrote On The Road in three weeks, and all he had was enough drugs to, I dunno, to write a whole fucking book in three weeks (which is probably a lot of drugs).

My first three weeks, my first On The Road, as it were, were spent mastering Tiger Woods Golf on PS2, taking my golfer through season after season, year after year, until the the golf courses, were the game realistic enough, would have started to resemble Mad Max-Style post-apocalyptic hellscapes and clubs would be used as often to beat away scavenging mutant ghouls as they were to hit a decent approach.

I didn’t read poems, though I occasionally looked at the books on the shelf. I didn’t write anything, not a word, but a few times a day would turn on my laptop in order to torture myself for a few minutes staring at an empty document until I turned Tiger back on. Oh, and occasionally I would shift in my chair or on the bed in the slightest-wrong way and it would feel like someone had come up and kicked me in the nuts as hard as they could, but that only happened, like, five or six times a day.

By week six, I now only walked like a cartoon cowboy, occasionally making the trip upstairs to get my frozen peas all by myself like a big boy and even maybe looking out of a window or something. I still had to be careful when I moved, but the pain wasn’t so bad as feeling trapped in the house. I had given up on everything except planning for when I would be better again. I couldn’t wait to be outside, couldn’t wait to be moving again. I really couldn’t wait to be on my bike. Then, and only then, I told myself, after a long bike ride to a coffee shop, would I be able to write the way I know I could. This basement stuff was for chumps, you know, and writing was about life.

The last few weeks went impossibly slowly, but with more and more bright spots along the way. I went whole days without pain, walked up and down the block once without instantly needing peas when I got back. Because pain was most mitigated by proper support, Laura, delighted to do so, went to a store that sold fancy jock straps and bought me some of the few they had that weren’t leather or embezzled. Snug as a bug, I was.

It was the little things that kept me going, just barely, but mostly, looking back, I was just super fucking depressed. I played Tiger Woods, I watched two or three movies a day, and though I was desperately lonely, retreated more and more into my basement hole, finding energy to do nothing but complain about how I had nothing to do.

None of that feels wholly unfamiliar in this moment. It’s raining out now, has been most of the day. After busy years spent wishing things would just stop for a while, it has happened, and I hate it.

I feel, most of most days so far, like I do while I’m flying. I watch the first 10 minutes of a few different movies, play games on my phone, keep telling myself about the one more thing I’ll do before I work or write, try and fail at sleeping, and watch time go by much slower than it should (all while feeling a constant level of dread that threatens at any moment to overwhelm me completely).

Staying at home all day long is a luxury, a treat, right up to the moment when you’re told you have to.

I have books to read, movies to watch, video games to play, writing to work on. So far, however, my top pastimes seem to be laying on a couch and staring at the ceiling (when depressive modes win out) and then getting up to pace aimlessly around the house (when anxiety takes over). I stare at the internet until I hate it (taking less and less time), then put my phone down and walk around some more. At night, I drink one or two things more than I usually would, then go to bed too late and wake up while it’s still dark.

I know this isn’t sustainable for the next however-the-fuck long. I also feel like I’m at a tipping point, a crossroads, a tippy-crossy-time. In three weeks, I could be healthier, mentally and physically, because I have worked to add good things to my routine every day. I could also slide further into the depressive side of things, feel restlessly exhausted, give all my hope over to how great things will be once this is all over. That’s what I did during the surgery summer, and that didn’t turn out so great.

When my testicles finally caught up with me and were ready to go on my first big bike ride, with well-worn plans to stop for a Catfish Po’Boy and Surly Furious at Sea Salt before biking all the way into Fort Snelling Park and sitting on the beach watching planes take off and land before biking back to 5 Watt for writing and reading time, before biking down the Minnehaha parkway under all the highway bridges and around all the lakes, I got myself all dressed up and packed and ready. There were precious few weeks left in the summer, but goddammit I was going to live them outside and at high speed.

Three blocks away from my house, three blocks into a warm bike breeze and really only coasting downhill so far and feeling glorious, I noticed my bike pedal was making an odd noise. Since I was going to pass, oh, five different bike shops, and since I really know nothing about fixing bikes, I thought to myself, “hey, better stop right here and take a look at that thing.”

When I bent over to look at the pedal, which looked exactly like I figured a bike pedal should, my shorts split down the back. Well, they didn’t split so much as they exploded from waistband to crotch. And that extra bit of wind I was feeling? Well, the fun thing about jockstraps is that they have no back.

I high-tailed it home, ass in the wind. Hello neighbors!

When I got home, my spirit broken for the day, I grabbed my laptop to retreat back down to my basement. In my rush to get as far away from the world that had so recently spurned me, I went a little too fast, a little too distracted by my recent embarrassment, and ended up slipping, landing on my back, then sliding the rest of the way down. My shiny new laptop had a shiny new dent in the corner, but was not nearly so broken as whatever pride in myself I had left.

In that moment, while bruises formed on my arms, back, and butt, while my jockstrap proved it possessed no magical properties to protect its contents against that level of fall, I gave the rest of the summer up as a loss. I decided that when school started back up, that would be my golden time of creativity and exercise and productivity. I went back to my little hole, played Tiger Woods until the year when lizard people finally revealed themselves and my golfer was forced to fight to the death with other golfers for sport.

In my best moments so far, told to shelter in place for the foreseeable future, I remind myself that it’s a poor plan to wait for conditions to change to start doing the things you know you’re supposed to do. In my other moments, I want to slap myself for trying to make a pandemic into a “live your best life” motivational meme.

This morning, I went on the smallest-ever run, my first in years. I finished writing this thing here and recorded a video for my students welcoming them to internet school. Not a bad day, all things considered. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a couch that needs me and a spot of ceiling that’s gone unwatched for far too long.

Written by

Author of ‘It Won’t Be Easy.’ 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. @mrtomrad on everything. www.mrtomrad.com

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