Coming to the realisation that there actually is nothing to be embarrassed about or afraid of in going to the doctors, or asking for help, having a mental health issue or in this case going for a testicular examination is much akin to realising that horoscopes, crystals and “positive energy” are total bollocks. If, like me, you’re a member of the smug, emotional, modern men’s club who knows neither to get your palm read nor to hide your balls from medical professionals, you can feel like you want to grab and shake anyone who differs. That feeling of rational/certainty conundrum and the wanting to grab and shake seems linked to the existential despair of being just out of reach (of whatever is vital), that haunted my dreams about 23 years ago, leading me to stumble panicked and bleary into my grandparents’ bedroom, to be reassured by a gummy, toothless grandad, his false teeth secure in the bedside glass of water, and thus to replace one haunting image with another, more comical one. And that’s half the battle.
So, rather than try to convert the straggling, shy, anxious, hidden-testicled men with a wasted rationale, an angry logic or lists of reasons why it’s really important to check (and get checked), I’m going to take a different route:
Don’t be embarrassed by Your Testicular Examination…be embarrassed by mine
“The index of suspicion on the suspicious testis was indicated to be not suspicious.” – No, my left testicle hadn’t just been cleared of credit card fraud (it’s still getting away with it), it had just had it determined that its avascular region was not an indicator of cancer. I’ll never forget that sentence, but more because it was ridiculous than relieving.
The thing is, a few weeks later with a generally hard to pinpoint left-sided high-thigh pain, I went back to the imaging department for a fifth opinion. If someone had only warned me that this particular doctor’s method was to be all personal, chatty and non-doctory to attempt to put you at ease when your balls are out, I’d have been prepared.
Our method is born of our insecurity, I feel, and maybe this doctor’s friendly ball banter came from his fears that scanning my scrotum would suddenly, completely and irreparably ‘turn’ him gay. It is an alluring sort of scrotum, and more importantly, he was quite young and quite American. My generalisation would be that young American men do seem a bit phobic of homosexuals. Which ends up making them homophobic.
As I readied myself for the feel of the cold plastic, I saw his eyes drift to what would be his first conversation piece, my guitar, which was leaning against the wall by the door. I wasn’t planning on improvising “Ultrasound Blues” while being scanned, I had it with me as I work half the week as a guitar teacher and was either coming from, or going to, a student. Hopefully not going to, given the mess of lube and sterile smells you are when you leave a testicular exam.
“What kind of guitar have you got in there?”
If the scan is done in silence, it makes it better. Well, not makes it better, but doesn’t make it any worse. The silence indicates that yes, this is a bit weird, and that’s ok. As far as I’m concerned, the worst thing that could happen would be us being there not thinking that this was weird. Both of us blagging and bluffing about the differences between strats and Les Pauls and vintages and custom shops and valves and combos and so on, draws attention towards the fact that you are rolling what looks like a Fisher Price Barcode Scanner over my balls, rather than away from it. It is an attempt to ignore what’s really going on, which admittedly would probably work if it wasn’t so transparent. Or if Men could ever truly just be adults. Neither applies here. In this situation I want him to acknowledge the unspoken awkwardness and say “Look, I know, yes this is weird, me lubing and scanning your balls, but obviously you’ve got a health concern and this is my job so let’s just do it, I’ll do it as quick as I can, then you can be on your way.” As far as I’m concerned, talking about my Guitar Teaching business and you playing Foo Fighters covers 10 years ago in your now oh so distant bedroom in Arizona humanises us both. Don’t humanise us. Let you be a machine, and me something winged, lying on your physio’s table, romanticising the cold white disgusting, nostalgic strip lighting that’s blurring my vision, pretending I’m in a film, wondering if I’m post-dream, pre-burial, or mid-reincarnation.
Then came the point which really made me start to question if I was on a hidden camera gameshow or subject to an elaborate prank. Every trademark NHS/Travelodge Bathroom/Primary School flicker of the bright-but-dingy-built-in-to-the-ceiling lights gave me a jolt and fleeting thoughts like “Are these lights going to suddenly flick off and then Derren Brown will appear and ask me to imagine my own castration. I’ll look down and lo and behold my testes will have evaporated and re-appeared in the Radiologist’s Dr. Pepper. And then I laugh. Don’t laugh, Alex, you always laugh at the worst times. Once at a family member’s funeral, I had the thought “Shit, if you start laughing right now, it’ll look like you’re laughing because so-and-so has died, which would be a terrible thing to do.”
He asked me to hold the scanner in place so he could typed up some notes. So I sat there, holding the scanner and waiting patiently, the only sound the hum of those lights I loved and the clickety-click of his fingers on his keyboard, typing. And then he turned to me and said,
“How do you spell Penis?”
“Is it an ‘e’ or an ‘i’?”
“Well- I mean, it’s both, with an ’n’ in the middle”
“So it’s Penis then yeah? Not Penus?”
(This was also the moment I resolved to return for a sixth opinion as soon as possible)
Ok so he could be dyslexic, or a scientific high-flyer with no time for letters and words. He could be so obsessed with Radiology and Imaging, those being his primary concerns and his whole life.
On the other hand though, it is a 5 letter word, he is an adult man, and a young one who has therefore recently been a teenage boy. He does have one of these things on his body, and has hopefully done a genital ultrasound and subsequent write-up before and either got it right, or been corrected. When “Pinus” is a legitimate first attempt at writing the word “Penis” by someone who is scanning your body for cancer, you really do start to hope it’s one of those nerdy, Impractical Jokers style cringe jokes that Medical staff do to get through the day despite all the patients dying and shitting all around them. I mean, “Pinus” or even the slight improvement of “Penus” is so bad that I’ve told this story to people who have literally refused to believe it, or thought it was one of my weird jokes. Although they are the kind of people who you feel take that angle just to frustrate you and make you want to stop being friends with them.
“Any gigs coming up?”
Don’t make me look you in the eye and tell you something so mundane as the date that I’m playing a gig in Camden. You’ve just touched my balls and you don’t know how to spell Penis. Even though you have a Penis, and your job regularly includes the need to scan, look at, ignore, or type about, someone’s Penis. I quickly sidestep this and move on with my trademark, “Not at the moment, should be back on it in a couple of months though bla bla bla” (In my head I’m wondering whether I can book the 6th opinion on my way out of the hospital without the receptionist asking me why I needed to do so)
“So it looks ok, then, the scan?”
And he says
“Yes I can’t find anything at all. You don’t get any pains or anything do you?”
“No, I mean maybe the odd twinge once in a while, once a month or something, but that’s ok right?”
“Yeah man, that’s called Blue Balls”
The funny thing is, by this point, I sort of had forgotten that he was scanning my balls. If that was his putting-me-at-ease-plan all along, it worked fucking well, though was perhaps a little bit gung ho. And the even funnier thing is that in the space of 10 minutes we’ve gone from “Mr Bruce, would you like to come through please” to “Hey man, you’ve got blue balls”
The feminists inside me (Yes, feminists – there are two. One who really means it and one who’s trying to get his end away) want to ask you – Can you really imagine all of this happening with a female Radiologist? I can’t. And nor could I at a Cervical Exam, the true equivalent.
But I fear it’s Men who are controlling cancer research, the science and the funding, led by their collective ‘Pinus’ yet again. For proof of this, let’s look at the three types of cancer closest to being cured, in the sense that they have the highest recognised survival rates:
Testicular Cancer – 98% survival rate
Skin Cancer – 89%
Breast Cancer – 78%
So that’s their sexual potence, the sunshine, and boobs. Top priorities right at the forefront there. It makes perfect sense. They need the balls to get excited, and they need the breasts for the requisite ‘tit-wanks’ – And if the Sun is shining, bonus. Another bonus is that I just managed to achieve a lifetime ambition of fittingly using the phrase “Requisite Tit-Wank”. One of the feminists inside me just died though.
Stats and Smut out of the way, here comes the serious point. Of those 98% of Testicular Cancer survivors, 100% went to the doctor’s and 100% had an Ultrasound scan as a result. It’s the survivors who went to see the doctor.
Don’t be embarrassed about your testicular examination, be embarrassed about mine.