It was a fairly pleasant December winter day by most standards. The sun was out with just a few clouds peppering the deep azure sky. The temperature outside was cool but tolerable. The early November snow had melted off and it looked like, for all intents and purposes, that we would not be enjoying a white Christmas. Today was a big day. It happened to be the six week anniversary of my vasectomy surgery and it was time I brought my sample into the urologist. As I filled out the one sheet of paperwork to identify myself with the sample, the receptionist asked if I needed her to look up the date of my procedure. “Oh no,” I replied, “That won’t be necessary. That date is now forever etched in my memory.” With a sense of surprise echoing in her voice, she replied, “Oh wow, most people don’t remember that date and have to have me retrieve it for them.” I replied without looking up from my paperwork, “That is a date I will never forget. I have been in the most intolerable pain ever since. How could I ever forget it?” I suppose she may have routinely apologized and empathized with me for a brief moment, but to be honest, I don’t really remember now, and it doesn’t really matter anyway.
In the interest of full disclosure, I never post anything to the internet. I don’t write blogs, nor do I read them. I am not on any social media, nor do I want to be. This is the first time in my life I have ever contributed anything personal to the internet. Why? Because I made an unbreakable promise to God the other day in personal prayer while asking for help through this most terrible trial, that I now understood it to be my personal and civic duty to share my story with anyone who might benefit from hearing it.
I am literally starting to write this post now from the comfort of a hot bath, where I spend two to three hours a day because it is the only place I feel temporary partial relief from what I have now come to understand is chronic, and at times completely unbearable pain. Only last night, after two nights in which I received a combined total of four hours of sleep despite sheer physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion from being continually awoken by pain fairly consistently for the past seven straight weeks, did I finally come to terms with the fact that this pain will likely never go away unless I take corrective action through additional surgeries. That said, after making up my mind to get this surgery reversed, or take some other similar action deemed advisable by a urology specialist, I decided I had probably do a little more research into that procedure than I did the first (which is to say I did no research at all prior to my initial vasectomy). Unlike applying strict analytic rigor to everything I do at work, when I’m on my free time I generally take a mental break and haphazardly make decisions as though shooting from the hip.
My surgery was uneventful. I was perhaps so anxious for the big day that the only real mistake I made was shaving off every ounce of my pubic hair I had because I did not want to take a single chance that they would turn me away and make me come back another day for shaving off too little. The regrowth of that hair proved to feel very painful. Or so I thought for the first three or four weeks that the excruciating, constant pain I was in was a result of the constant prodding, poking sensation of regrowing hair. I now perfectly understand that was never the case, because as I compose this post even now, seven weeks into my recovery, I am still experiencing all the same painful sensations.
You see, the groin area, in my humble opinion, is not an area of the body that the nervous system generally makes you take note of. So, at least for me, when I was first emerging from surgery, I had no life experience on a pain scale with which to measure or comprehend what I was experiencing. I simply could not identify, as some bloggers on this site are able to do, that the pain was emanating from one side or the other, or any specific place for that matter. All I knew then and all I still know now, is that my scrotum, and even penis at times, just downright hurt. Not to the touch. But somewhere inside, something went terribly wrong. And my body has been urgently sending me what have been literally never-ending chronic pain messages ever since. At times these have been in the form of serious SOS messages from my nervous system to my brain stating that something went terribly wrong with this surgery that needs attention. These are my 10 out of 10 pain scale moments, which I have now likely had eight or nine of and which are increasing in frequency and severity, that bring a grown man not just to tears, but to sobbing. I marvel that it took me seven weeks to come to terms with the fact that this was no recovery whatsoever but rather a situation that required immediate medical attention. And not from the jack-of-all-trades urologist who performed the surgery, but instead the careful attention of a skilled specialist who can cut me back open and repair, if at all possible, whatever terrible damage has been done.
Rewinding back to the day of my procedure, other than having several needles inserted into my scrotum to numb the pain whilst being forewarned by the doctor, “This one’s going to sting like a bumble bee,” the surgery went off entirely successfully, or so it seemed. I was so comfortable after the surgery I agreed to go along with my wife to her favorite restaurant as if this would make up for robbing her of the future possibility of ever having more kids.
The pre-op paperwork warned me I would need to take two days off work and abstain from rigorous sports activity for seven days, two sacrifices I was willing to make. As it turns out, I took four days off work and have never dreamed of playing sports, running on the treadmill, or almost even walking for long distances since. I spent almost every one of my two hour lunch breaks sleeping, as this was the only temporary oasis I could find from the pain and discomfort. Now even that luxury has been robbed from me. I now sleep a maximum of three to four hours at a time before being awoken by my new alarm clock called pain. When I suggested to my wife that I felt an obligation to post my story online, she expressed concern that I would not have adequate time to spend with her and the kids. So now I contribute a little each night to this first post when everyone else is sleeping during my long, lonely nights of constant pain that now consistently prevent sleep every single evening.
My first true realization that something must have gone wrong with my surgery occurred the early morning hours of day nine. I was in a hotel away from home when indescribable pain gripped my private area. I cried. The wave of pain lasted a good hour and a half. I awoke my wife and told her that something must have gone wrong with the surgery. None of the pre-op paperwork had warned me to anticipate anything of this sort. How could it warn me not to engage in sports for seven days, when ten days into my recovery I was being riveted with the most excruciating pain I had ever experienced in my life? As this first intense wave of pain subsided, I returned to life as normal as best I could. But my nervous system never, ever stopped sending me feelings of pain, or at least more than mere discomfort, to remind me that I had had this operation.
The day following my first massive wave of pain was a Sunday. I sat through church services in utter agony. I gave my wife, who was sticking around for choir practice, a hug, and told her I had to go home (as we had driven to church separately) to cope with my pain. She pulled me close to her and asked quietly in my ear, did you consult with God in prayer before deciding to get this surgery? Knowing my wife pious character, I took no offense at her question, but replied instead that not only had I not asked God, I hadn’t even asked Google.
On my drive home from Sunday services, I began to panic that something was wrong - that I might even need corrective surgery. I resolved to call the doctor’s office and was patched through to the after hours receptionist. She promised the doctor would call within thirty minutes. The on call doctor, who I will respectfully call Dr. Smith to, for some unknown reason, protect his identity, asked on the other end of the line what was the matter. His tone throughout the call was one of anything but sympathy, empathy, or concern. It was, rather, a tone of complete and utter annoyance that I had disrupted his day off. I described my dire circumstances. He replied that if there was no swelling and I was not running a temperature, then he was not concerned. I was only ten days into my recovery, after all. I referenced the seven day warning against sports activity and told him I couldn’t dream of engaging in sports. He told me that everyone responds differently to the surgery. I asked him what to do for the pain and he recommended continuing the 800 milligrams of ibuprofen every six hours. Regretfully, I took confidence in his counsel and went back to coping as best I could with my pain.
While I admit this post is unintentionally turning into a more lengthy diatribe than I initially intended, I must choose to spare you some parts of my journey in the interest of brevity and to ensure that I actually follow through with completing this post as I swore an oath I would do. And so, I will fast forward to day 35. Suffice it to say, I began resuming life as best I could. I hesitated to snow blow the driveway for fear I would be lifting heavy things, I worked from home for five and a half hours a day due to my participation in a Russian language course sponsored through my employer that fortunately could not be accessed through strict firewalls on my employer’s computer network. This meant I only had to sit upright at work for 2.5 hours a day, which was doable. But by day 35 the pain was wearing me down and I conceded to go to the doctor’s office for an urgent checkup. As luck would have it, my performing surgeon had the day off. So I had to settle randomly on a visit with one of the other eight or ten physicians in the clinic. As luck would have it, I was reunited with the annoyed on-call doctor from my day-ten weekend phone call plea for help. Dr. Smith had me describe my pain to him. Knowing my $30 copay would only buy me 15 minutes of this important man’s time, I hurriedly described my symptoms.
I think the topic of describing my pain deserves special attention here. I have come to appreciate others on this site who take the time to be specific about what they experienced. I have yet to find anyone who experienced pain in precisely the way I did, but perhaps I have not looked hard or long enough yet. That said, I have found great value in reading the stories of your suffering and can only empathize with you in your experience with pain. I must admit, since going through this experience I have grown to be an empathetic person, something I could not pretend to have been previous to this tragedy. When I hear of a friend experiencing pain after a surgery of any kind, I am the first one on the phone text messaging them to get updates on their status, to have them describe their pain in detail, to pity them in their suffering, or to extend an invitation to just converse to help overcome the boredom of a hospital bed.
My pain is localized to the scrotum and occasionally but more rarely sends pricking sensations of pain up the shaft to the top of my penis. I do not have pain in my legs, abdomen, or anywhere but my privates. My pain is not on one side or the other. When Dr. Smith asked me to show him where the pain was primarily emanating from I simply cupped my entire scrotum from below in the palm of my hand. The exam with the doctor feeling around down there, squeezing on things, pinching things, produced literally zero additional pain. My pain is internal, not external. I cannot identify where it is coming from. I can’t say for instance, oh my pinky finger hurts, or no sorry, it must be my thumb. It just hurts.
My pain levels range from a 1 to 10 on a 10 point scale. As I said previously, a 10 drops me to my knees in desperate prayer and brings me to sobbing tears of pain. I lose all hope of recovery. I reach out to family members helplessly via text, hoping I’ll find someone who is randomly awake at 3:00 am to commiserate with me, but never do. Instead my text messages reach my intended recipients only hours later when I am through the pain and exhausted, asleep. But I have come to appreciate and value these text messages and save them to my journal. They are like rusted out shipwrecks, collecting barnacles on the depths of the ocean floor. They stand as helpful reminders of just how bad my pain gets at times. At times, I almost feel tempted to reach out into the ether and retract them from their recipients because once I am through the pain I can almost no longer relate to them. I seem to doubt their authenticity just hours after composing them and feel embarrassed for exposing myself to friends and family in such a vulnerable moment.
My pain comes in many shapes and sizes. But these shapes and sizes are limited to about five varieties that repeat themselves over and over again throughout each passing hour, day, and week. In no particular order of frequency or severity, my pain feels as follows: 1) someone is pricking me all over from below with small needles in the scrotum and less frequently up the shaft of my penis 2) someone has applied metal clips to the vas deferens, if indeed those are located just above each testicle, that create an unnerving pinching sensation 3) waves of pain reverberate across my testicles in the night time like one point twenty one gigawatt bolts of lighting striking my scrotum - this sensation is the most alarming and guaranteed to wake me from even the most exhausted night’s sleep 4) constant but dull blunt pain continually emanating from within the scrotum 5) there must be a few others but they are escaping my memory at the moment.
Long periods of time spent at level three or above eventually result in a mental and emotional break down. I’m not sobbing from pain like at a 10 but instead weep meekly in solitude or in the presence of others, family and coworkers alike, as I lose hope and fear the need for a corrective surgery. So, after explaining everything I just described above to Dr. Smith on day thirty-five, you are naturally wondering if I received the medical attention I deserved, right? No, I did not. Dr. Smith advised after all this that the surgery was likely a success, that he felt nothing in my tetisticular sack that concerned him. “Keep taking ibuprofen,” he advised. He explained there was a 1 in 10,000 chance I would be the one unlikely patient who would live with chronic pain. He disclosed he had done 4,000 of these procedures and not a single one of his patients had ever failed to fully recover. Regretfully, I trusted him and took hope in his words. You see, everyone on this planet wants to believe that good things are going to happen to them. That’s why gambling sometimes becomes an addiction. People know they have a better chance of getting struck by lighting seven times, and yet they’ll still spend an extra buck on their two dollar lotto ticket to “power up” their winnings in the ludicrously unlikely chance they will be the winner. It’s the same reason old folks fall victim to a myriad of mass marketing schemes such as ones that inform you are the winner of a Jamaican lottery you never even purchased a ticket to enter. Just send two thousand dollars via Western Union to some random guy named Fitzroy to cover international taxes and the pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow is all yours! And yet gullible people fall victim to such scams every day. Why? For the same reason I was gullible enough to believe Dr. Smith when he said everything was in order: I believed - like gambling addicts and mass marketing fraud victims - that good things were going to happen in my life. And so I went home that day with an entirely spurious, renewed sense of relief. I was going to recover after all. Surely I must be one of the 9,999 lucky winners.
Well, my false sense of security lasted about two days after my doctor’s office visit. My mind over matter mental exercises crashed and burned and smoldered in the smoking wreckage as soon as the next major wave of pain came on. I suppose it was about this time that my suspicions that I was never going to get better really started creeping out of the subconscious of the recesses of my mind and into its forefront. I had previously kept shorthand notes every few days in the notes section of my iPhone, but I now determined to put my 11th grade creative writing class skills to work in extensively verbose text messages to my mom around 3:00 am every morning after being awoken by pain. These text messages served two purposes. First, I memorialized them to my journal app on my iPhone for safekeeping. Second, they acted as a barometer of my progress, or lack of progress for that matter.
Referring back to my text messages to my mom, I began more earnestly analyzing in greater detail the patterns of pain I was experiencing. As it turns out I had gone through three operations in my adult life prior to this one that went off relatively smoothly: 1) a hernia surgery, 2) a shoulder surgery (left labrum tear), and 3) a tonsillectomy. I have always recovered quickly from surgeries, weening myself off potentially addictive narcotics and opioids as fast as possible. My pain levels typically start high but are artificially cured by the taking of pain killers. While I might suffer small setbacks from time to and experience previous higher levels of pain, these setbacks are temporary and short lived. If I were to chart my typical recovery it would look something like a nearly straight line drawn from the top corner of a pain chart with a steady, diagonal decline toward a zero pain level. This process typically occurs over a matter of weeks. The high end pain in the beginning is medicated away by Vicodin or oxycodone or some other prescription pain medication. The fact that my urologist offered me zero pain killers and recommended eight hundred milligrams of ibuprofen only indicated to me the perceived simplicity of this operation.
Unfortunately, my pain chart in connection with this procedure was anything but a straight, steadily diminishing line. My pain never left me, ever. It still hasn’t as of today, day 53, as I initiate this thread. My chart would look more like the waves of incoming and outgoing tides of stormy, turbulent ocean waters. My chart was and is a never ending wavy line of unpredictable chaos and agony. Pain levels varied from level one discomfort to unbearable, almost indescribable level ten spasms.
I feel the urge to break away at this point from the current tempo and style of this post and share with you some of the more vulnerable moments of my recovery in the form of selected text messages, many directed to my sleeping mother around 3:00 am central standard time on various difficult mornings. These text messages I share with you in their raw, unedited form. I have only replaced the names of my family members with terms like “my wife” or “my son.” These text messages, I think, capture the desperation I experienced, along with the utter confusion I was in about my condition and prospects for a full recovery. After all, I kept ignoring the obvious criticality of my desperate circumstances, continually reassuring myself that surely I could not be that 1 in 10,000 guy. As I look back on it in hindsight I am ashamed at my gullibility and sheer stupidity. But, as they say, hindsight is 20/20, and so I’ll just have to give myself a pass this time around.
I think I’ve reached my word limit, so I’ll have to post my journal entries in a follow on post…