I could write about the speculums and hand mirrors my mom sent my sister and me for Christmas one year when we were 14 and 15, but I think I’m going to have to write about my dad’s testicles instead.
About 20 years ago my dad had prostate cancer. Following that diagnosis came a radical prostatectomy which resulted in incontinence, impotence, unresolved rage (OK, that was there before the cancer) and other issues. But the cancer was gone, and has remained gone. Dad tired of wearing Depends pretty quickly. He researched what to do about the side effects of his surgery where some military butcher of a doctor snipped things he shouldn’t have, causing irreparable damage to Dad’s nether regions. Dad decided to have a contraption installed “down there” that would enable his equipment to operate normally, if by normally one means one squeezes a testicle to tighten a urinary sphincter after peeing and does something similar to, um, have marital relations.
Dad had a many-houred operation to install his pump and urinary sphincter and they sort of worked for a number of years, then they didn’t but I’m hazy on the details. I do know that around 1996, he decided to get another, more sophisticated set of equipment installed in his equipment.
For the re-install, he had to endure another operation, this one longer and more excruciating and even worse, in Indianapolis. Rather than follow the pre-op directions the night before surgery, he went out , according to his sister, and ate a big, bloody steak washed down by a few belts of scotch. Aunt Cathy waited for him to get out of surgery and said he was in so much pain and in such terrible shape, with no plans to deal with himself post-op, that she made him come to her house in Chicago and recuperate. Throughout this ordeal he did not let his kids know what was going on.
Once he was back on his feet and mentioned the operation to me, I just assumed everything worked. I did not ask him about his sex life, not being in the habit of that and not wanting to know, but he did seemed pleased about the almost as touchy a subject, his urine elimination.
Enter 201o. On March 31, Dad drove from Palm Springs to Colorado arriving April 2. He called to let me know he was having some “irritation down there.” He sounded exhausted and not himself, so I asked what “irritation down there” meant.
“My testicles are swollen and I can barely urinate.” “Dad, you need to go to the ER right away, or Urgent Care. If it’s that bad, and you’re not peeing, your kidneys could back up and you’ll die.” “Well Ree, I’m too tired from driving to go and the swelling will probably get better now that I’m off the road.”
I offered to drive an hour south and take him to Urgent Care. Dad’s voice began to rise in irritation, “No, I’m going to bed, I’ll talk to you in a few days.” He didn’t tell me he was already in bed.
The next day, Saturday, I called again, ever the dutiful daughter, but he refused to go to the ER or Urgent Care and said he’d see us for Easter dinner at my sister’s place. His wife Carolyn got on the phone to let me know she was at her wit’s end and said he was in a lot more pain than he was letting on, dipping into her 5-year old bottle of Oxycontin with increasing frequency.
Easter arrived and Dad resurrected, driving north with Carolyn for the mid-afternoon celebration. I thought he looked gray and fragile. That might have been the altitude doing a number on his COPD but his drawn face filled with pain spoke volumes. I noticed he was popping Oxycontin like M&Ms, so I mentioned his swollen testicles, although I thought I did it with daughterly tact. Stubbornly he reiterated he would not go near an ER and “might go see Carolyn’s family doctor the next day.” When I said he should call a urologist, he said, “This isn’t a small town problem.” Nevermind we are in a large metropolitan area, known as Denver. Also, why then go to a family doctor?
After he started to get angry, I remembered a phrase from a self-help group I attended for a while in New York City: “If you can’t detach with love, detach with an axe.” I love New York.
So I detached with a loving axe and went about my life for at least a few hours. But the next day I was back on the phone and worried. I fell into my role of toxic caretaker faster than a Japanese bullet train driven by meth addicts. I would CONTROL this. To do so I marshalled an army of his siblings, some of their progeny and my family and began a well oiled, less interesting version of A&E’s Intervention, minus the celebrities, drugs, sex and rock and roll, and featuring only Dad’s swollen testicles and shitty attitude. I really needed Dr. Drew but mostly I needed that NYC self-help program to show me how to detach with an axe.
By the end of the day I was physically and emotionally exhausted, spent in that bone-weary, powerless way that sometimes, if I’m lucky, pushes me to teeter at the edge of surrender and prayer. Sometimes I even choose to actually jump off that cliff, but faith has never been my strong suit.
As for Dad, Carolyn’s family doctor gave him some antibiotics and urged him to consult a urologist, because antibiotics don’t help the lack of peeing. The doctor also gave him two referrals to urologists. That was on Monday. It is now Friday and no urologists have been called, Dad is still in bed most of the time, still in a lot of pain and is still not peeing enough.
But it’s his body, and he doesn’t want to talk about it or do much to heal it. Maybe though he is discussing his pain and treatment options with someone. I hope so.
I guess if there’s a lesson for me in all of this, it’s that his life is none of my business. I may not understand choosing pain, but he may not understand it’s a choice either. So time for me to focus on what’s in front of me rather than what I am projecting about him or anyone else, including myself. And as usual, I must beware of the gravitational pull of the familiar, put away my Superwoman cape, and get back to being human. And if I can’t detach with love maybe I can swing that Gospel Axe: (see below)