Part 02. A Season of Surgery
I remember well the vasectomy. I was lying on the table — this was back in Gainesville, Florida, 2005 — with a urologist and a nurse staring intently at my gonads. They’d given me a local anesthetic, but I could feel the tugging as they cut, then sewed. I was reading the new Michael Connelly novel, The Closers.
It was so weird: this procedure, which had me reading a compulsive page-turner and holding conversations with people cutting and handling my stuff, stood in stark contrast to an operation a few months before. I’d had a carpal-tunnel release done on my wrist. For that, I got a general anesthetic, but for this — handling of the family jewels — it was a local.
I went home, kept a bag of frozen peas on my crotch for a few days, then tested my emissions when the doc said it was okay. Everything was fine, but for the absence of swimmers. The procedure depressed me, though, one of those moments when I felt like something less than a fully-franchised, gland-secreting man.
So when Nicole called me from the Philippines, I was happy at the prospect of getting function back in my groin — assuming it all worked, of course. But going to see a doctor and having him, or her, touch my stuff was a little disconcerting.
I had no problems with doctors, per se. My father was a surgeon — and a damn good one — as was my brother.
Even as a kid, I knew my dad was a revered doctor. He was a flight surgeon in the Air Force and I remember all of us sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner one year while we were stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany. I must’ve been six. Just as dad was about to exercise his surgical skill on a big-ass turkey, the phone rang. He answered it, listened, said yes a couple of times and hung up.
“They’re sending someone to get me,” he said, passing the weapons of fowl destruction to my mother.
On cue, the doorbell rang and two airmen told my father his car was waiting. No time to pack. We watched the blue Air Force car drive away. A tanker waited at the runway to fly my father to Tripoli to perform surgery on a member of the Air Force brass stationed in Libya.
That’s how good he was.
He died when I was twenty. My brother did the following-in-his-footsteps thing and became a similarly beloved surgeon in Bloomington, Indiana, where we settled after Dad got out of the Air Force.
So I had no problems with doctors as a class of people. My Dad had a bunch of great friends who were physicians and pilots and when they all came to our house, they were friendly brown-liquor-swilling regular guys.
Physicians held no real mystery for me, nor did I feel they had God-like powers.
That didn’t mean I was comfortable with the whole process. I’d dealt mostly with internists and I’d had three hernia surgeries, but until the vasectomy, I’d never seen a urologist. I didn’t see one again until Nicole urged me to get ready for my triumphant return to the world of procreation.
The worst part about all my surgeries was the catheterization. When I had my second hernia surgery, at age 19, I remember the tech holding my helpless python of love in one gloved hand, while shoving something the approximate width of a garden hose down that too-tiny hole. He did it with speed and force, as if he were tossing a bucket down a well to help quench a roaring fire. For days afterward, I had to sing while urinating, to distract me from the pain. “California Girls” worked best.
That experience with a health-care professional touching my willy was so disturbing that 40 years later, I was getting the cold sweats thinking about seeing a urologist.
The guy who’d performed my vasectomy in 2005 was the Craig Breedlove of prostate exams. He set the land-speed record for shoving his hand up my butt, and it was over before I had the chance to register any pain or even discomfort. He showed no interest in my penis, brushing it aside to check the testicles. I’d had my brother do my third hernia surgery and while I was under general anesthetic he decided to do for me that which nature did not do: he brought symmetry to my balls. He evened me off so that I would no longer describe myself with what sounded like the name of a Chinese restaurant: One Hung Low. Alas, by the time of the urologist’s exam, nature had re-asserted itself.
I lived in Massachusetts by then, so I made an appointment to see a urologist named Clifford Gluck. As a music lover, I was intrigued that he’d earned his degree from UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. I was impressed that the entertainment impresario had funded a medical school and looked forward to the canned music in the doctor’s office. (Turns out it was Steely Dan.) Doctor Gluck had then done his residencies at Harvard and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
His outer-office walls were festooned with framed magazine articles citing him as one of the best urologists not only in Boston, but in the whole darn country. It was good to know that my stuff was going to be in such respected hands.
Things went relatively well, considering how shy I’ve always been about getting naked. I’ve always been overweight — metabolically challenged, I call it — and have gone through relationships of four or five years without my partner ever seeing me naked. By the time of the urology exam, I was coming close to 15 years with Nicole and couldn’t recall ever taking a good, long look at each other naked. She was as shy as I was. A good match, us.
To my surprise, Doctor Gluck said my prostate was fine. I was expecting the worst because I pee all the time. I pee so much it causes irritation in my marriage. I pull over at every rest stop on road trips and get up three or four times a night. A couple of times, when Nicole was impatient to get home and asked me to hold it, I’d wet my pants. Yes, as a grown man.
Call me Van Cliburn — I’m the pee-inist of the group.
After the good prostate news, I peed in a cup, let the doctor fondle my scrotum, then chatted in his office, which was antiseptically clean — he was my kind of guy: anal-retentive, with all of his books in alphabetical order.
“It will be no problem to reverse your vasectomy,” Doctor Gluck said. “We can’t fully guarantee that you will be able to help conceive again, but the odds are in your favor.”
Then came the question of cost. “About $10,000,” he said. “That should be about right unless there are some complications, which I don’t foresee. Check with your insurance provider.”
A few minutes later I was in the reception area, talking to his nurse through a little window and setting a follow-up appointment. Doctor Gluck suddenly appeared at my right shoulder.
“I’m afraid I need to talk to you some more,” he said, guiding me to the private office.
Turns out, there were microscopic amounts of blood in my urine. He held up the cup. “You can’t see them, but they’re there,” he said. “We need to schedule another exam, and this time we’ll see if you have kidney stones or some other abnormality.”
A week later I was back in his immaculate office for the exam I’d been dreading. When he had described it to me that first day, I squirmed. He smiled, however, saying, “Don’t worry. You won’t feel a thing.”
Bullshit I won’t feel a thing. For a week, I’d been fearing the moment when he would send his microscopic camera up the Ol’ Mississippi and into the heart of darkness that was my bladder.
His nurse gave me a shot to numb my pelvis. I didn’t have to put on one of those annoying hospital robes, a johnny. I just pulled up my shirt and dropped trou. There I was, exposed to this woman who was an absolute stranger. No big deal to her since she sees this stuff all the time. But for me, it was a Mount Everest of vulnerability.
After leaving me there with all of my stuff exposed for about 10 minutes, Doctor Gluck and his nurse came in. He showed me this slender, flexible rod with a microscopic camera on top. The technology is fascinating, of course, until someone wants to ram something like that up your dick.
He could tell I was nervous as a whore in church.
“Nothing to worry about,” he said. Then he sent the rod up my rod.
It was in and I grimaced. “Easy … for … you … to … say.”
Jesus Christ! Did the woman inject sugar water instead of the so-called numbing medicine? It wasn’t stabbing heart-attack pain, but it came close.
Doctor Gluck poked around, wriggling his camera rod to get the full inside view. It might as well have been a stiletto.
“Oh my,” he said to his nurse. “Look at this.”
They were looking at the monitor above my right shoulder. I avoided looking at same.
“You should see this,” Doctor Gluck said. “I figured you had kidney stones, but look at this bladder stone.”
I held my breath. I felt his skinny fishing pole wriggling around inside my johnson.
“Don’t you want to watch the monitor?” Doctor Gluck asked. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“I’ll wait for the video,” I said. “Can you burn that to disc for me?”
Finally, he pulled out the rod and I began to breathe normally again.
Again, we went to the private office for the big talk. The upshot was that I had a stone the size of an asteroid in my bladder and a veritable constellation of stones in my left kidney. Oddly, my right kidney was clean.
We made a date for surgery, at which time he’d stick another thing all the way up my manhood and, using a laser, blast that asteroid to smithereens. Then he’d Hoover it out with a vacuum. This time, I’d be under general anesthetic.
We’d do the kidney at a later date.
And it was as I was prepping for surgery that we learned I was in a lot of trouble. And it didn’t have anything to do with my bladder.