Take it from Evan Jacobs: wear compression shorts. You don’t want to go where he’s been.
I am a hypochondriac. I always have been, always will be. On the other hand, I have many legitimate problems. As one doctor told me recently, “The difference between you and a hypochondriac is that you actually have stuff wrong with you.”
What happened to me in early 2006 was not one of the ailments I sat around worrying about. In fact, it was a result of my two go-to strategies for warding off anxiety: exercise and marijuana.
It was a late Thursday night. I was in my room lifting weights. I was performing the bent-over row—you stand with your legs straight and separated, and pull a barbell up to your chest—a very effective way to exercise your lats at home.
First, I felt a muscle contract. Then I felt my testicles switch places.
Feeling my balls perform a Chinese fire drill was strange, to say the least. But it didn’t hurt, and at that point, there wasn’t much I could do about it. It was cold; I couldn’t access them well. So I took a hot shower, changed into boxers and a T-shirt, took a couple hits of marijuana, and turned on South Park.
As I relaxed, the pain began to trickle in, then increase into a powerful torrent. I investigated. Going by feel alone, my hands were able to untangle the knotted mess that had been my two spermatic cords. I exhaled. Lying on my back, I felt an all-encompassing sense of relief. I melted into a puddle of pure contentment.
But the tinny voice of the pain still lingered in the background, reminding me of the ordeal I’d just survived. Slowly, it got worse, and soon a new pain flooded into my testicles—sharper, deeper, and throbbing, like a nuclear device had gone off in my bladder. I forced myself upright. Blood rushed to my head. Reaching for my phone, I calculated the price of an ambulance. I hadn’t died yet, so I decided not to call 911.
I called my father instead.
As a rule, I try not to call my parents when I am paranoid and stoned. Thankfully, my dad didn’t seem to notice. He got online to do some quick research.
The spermatic cord supplies blood to the balls, we learned. Testicular torsion occurs when the testicles rotate on the cord. The tissue can die if blood is cut off. Male fertility can be affected.
Symptoms include sudden, severe pain. Check.
My dad said, “Maybe you should go to the hospital.” What I heard was “Maybe you just won’t have kids.”
Walking up the street to catch a cab, I no longer felt like a single Evan. It wasn’t just Evan walking, it was Evan and his throbbing testicles. The pain was intense.
“C’mon, guys,” I said to my balls. “What did I ever do to you?”
I had never let them get kicked or punched too hard. Maybe they were angry I had been giving them regular haircuts.
Around this time, I noticed a pain in my stomach. It wasn’t just the lower stomach pain associated with testicular trauma—it was a bloating gas pain.
For the last few weeks, I had been drinking weight-loss shakes. They’re effective only because they’re filled with air, so you fill up quickly. The drawback: they increase anal output exponentially. And now, flagging down a cab on a busy Manhattan avenue, I felt nature calling—with a vengeance.
I got to the hospital’s ER waiting area, explained my situation to three surprised people, and was admitted quickly. When a cute nurse asked what my problem was, I was tempted to lie, but didn’t. She hooked me up to an IV, which actually delighted me—it confirmed I wasn’t just being my usual hypochondriac self.
I refused a urine sample because I had no idea what else was going to come out of me. She put me in a hospital bed. I asked, “Considering I just ate, if I have to go into surgery and receive anesthetics, am I going to shit myself?” She said we’d cross that bridge when we came to it.
I tried to relax. Half the time, closed my eyes and tried to ignore the intense testicular pain. The other half, I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the intense gas pain.
Finally, the doctor came in: a young guy, about my age, in his first year of residency. I described what had happened. He inquired about some of my medical history, then looked closely at my eyes and questioned me about my marijuana use, as if this had been a drug-induced hallucination. I laughed and informed him I was a professional.
He then told me to drop my pants so that “we” could have a look. The examination was as short as it was embarrassing.
The real fun began when he asked me for a stool sample. I asked if I should go to the bathroom.
“No, I can just do it right here,” he replied simply.
I heard what he said, but it took a second to register.
I thought for a second about refusing it, but it was clearly the only choice. I asked him to be gentle.
His finger felt like a curious earthworm. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. All my hydrocarbons were still in my system, there were no leaks, no flesh was torn. The finger eventually came out, along with a large amount of my dignity—and, apparently, a tiny stool sample.
As he left, the only thing I could think to say was “Call me.”
He came back minutes later with good news. No hemorrhoids, polyps, or symptoms of colon cancer. Just one last step: I’d have to get an ultrasound done on my testicles.
I moved into the wheelchair and a large, ornery-looking man in a black T-shirt took me to the ultrasound. I tried, and failed, to make small talk. My mind was on my searing gas pain. It was 3 a.m.; there was no one else in the long corridor. We passed a room filled with nurses watching a Jake Gyllenhaal film.
Upon arrival, a second doctor told me to take off my pants, pull out my genitals, and lie on my back. Then he gave me one towel to go under my nuts, to prop them up for optimum viewing, as if they were being displayed in a museum. Another towel was laid over my flopped-over penis.
I was grateful for the towel. Talking at length about my junk to everyone in the hospital for two hours and then letting a doctor handle my balls like he was shopping for produce was fine, but no, please don’t let my penis be exposed. That would be indecent.
He ran the test.
“Is it a boy or girl?” I asked, and he laughed.
Had he heard that one before?
“Only about a trillion times,” he said.
The prognosis: mercifully, there was blood flow to both my testicles, and it seemed that they had come out of this unharmed. He said that if it happened again, they might have to sew the balls to the sides of my scrotum. Even though that procedure sounded very, very attractive, it probably wouldn’t have to happen.
I still had to give a urine sample. The nurse let me lock the bathroom. I had to waddle like a penguin to keep my ass from evacuating. I was finally discharged at 3 a.m.
The next few days I spent a lot of time playing with my testicles, but not how I usually play with them. I was analyzing them for damage and compulsively checking that they hadn’t been twisted. In fact, I was acting rather rough with them, almost like someone picking at a scab. I kept flipping the left one over and over again, and in my mind, I felt like I was playing tetherball, but instead of the tetherball pole it was the spermatic cord. And so the pain remained for a few days.
When you’re in testicular pain, you’re reminded that your balls are there, out in the open, vulnerable and accident-prone. As I got on the train platform to go to an appointment with my urologist, a man walked by with a plastic bag that contained just two small oranges. I wanted to look skyward and say, “OK, fine, I get it.”
I’ll be able to have kids. There’s nothing seriously wrong with me. The pains and residual pains have subsided. I haven’t made many life changes to accommodate my testicles. Maybe just one: I don’t do the bent-over row anymore.
Two, actually. Compression shorts.