It’s a scary moment when you finally stop telling yourself that everything’s fine, and accept the fact that it might just be possible that you’ve got cancer of the balls. Especially if you’re someone like me, who, although built like a veritable Adonis (well, you know, with a few extra kilograms and body hair that’s just slightly more simian than I might like), is a bit on the body-shy side. Almost as bad as the idea of actually having something sinister growing in your satchel is the idea of having a stranger squeeze it, or, god forbid, stick his finger up your ass searching for the lost gold of Tumacacori. It seems insane, but there it is. I’ve gone 40 years with my nether sphincter working in one direction only (with entirely too much vigour, usually), and I wasn’t about to change now.
For a while, I’ve been having the occasional dull ache in the lower back. I figured that it was sleeping in my customary discus-thrower pose on the new, Korean mattress my wife had bought a few months back. Being new, and in particular being Korean (although cunningly named ‘Lady Americana’ to give it that so-important New Jersey cultural cachet), it is approximately as hard as a slab of granite. Not that soft, dissolute western granite, either. Good, hard, Korean sleeping-granite, ripped from the very earth in the mattress mines of Kangwon-do.
But a couple of weeks back I also started having some pain in the old goolies. Kind of a dull ache. I figured: ‘Well, I ride the bike to work everyday, I use the exercise bike at the gym a few times a week, I spend far too much time sitting on my butt at work lately, and, having emerged triumphant into my fifth decade, I have developed a major case of the Swingin’ Dad Balls, which remain largely unconstrained by my capacious boxer shorts. The poor boys are just getting mashed and mauled a bit more than they like…’
The ache went away, came back, went away, always just south of being really painful. Much closer to ‘crossed my legs and squashed ‘em’ than ‘log-rolling accident of the worst kind’. Ignorable.
I did the self-exam thing, conscientiously. Soaped up the sack, squeezed and stroked, had a fine old time. Couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. They did feel a little bigger than I remembered, perhaps, but I put that down to the continuing expansion of the universe or losing weight in my fingers or something.
But last weekend the pain came back, and didn’t really go away. I made the mistake of telling She Who Must Be Obeyed, who promptly freaked out. I hate when people freak out, even though I do have a tendency to do it myself, when it’s about something other than the possibility of ball cancer. It was fun teaching her all the slang words for testicles, though, and that seemed to calm both of us down a bit. Balls hadn’t ever been a topic of conversation for us before, so it was a new experience.
She made me promise that we’d go… to the doctor. Damn it. I don’t like doctors. I agreed, realizing that now that the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, there was no putting it back in.
So yesterday, we went to one of the approximately 70,000 little clinics in this small port city. Here in Korea, you don’t go and see a GP who then refers you to a specialist, you just go straight to the specialist. Don’t even bother making an appointment — those are for dupes! That’s not the way I recall it in Canada, but then, last time I went to a doctor in Canada, they were giving me a lollipop if I made wee-wee in the cup without getting it all over the wall. Or at least that’s how I remember it, officer.
Although there are about 120,000 clinics in this town — three for every citizen, and about half as many as there are singing-rooms cum blowjob parlours — there are apparently only two that deal with maladies of the male meat-and-two-veg. One is the hospital, where I’d been before when the wife had been ill last year, and where competence is second only to cleanliness at the very bottom of the priorities list. The other was a place called, predictably, ‘Mr Kim’s Dermatology and Urology Clinic’. It was also dim and dirty, but that barely fazes me these days. I just wanted to get it over with.
After a short wait, in we went, and the doc in front of the computer spoke a little English, as most of the doctors seem to. As I sat down at his desk, he looked at me and asked pleasantly “Your face, right?”
“Er, no, actually.” Christ, I thought I was looking pretty good these days! I glanced over at my wife, as I’d already forgotten the polite Korean word for ‘balls’, and she obliged by explaining the symptoms.
He got me to stand up and drop trou, and shunning such undoctorly nuisances as gloves of any kind, went to town on my danglers.
It actually didn’t feel too bad. He’d clearly done this before. I forgave him for the dermatological blunder earlier.
The good news hooray! was that he didn’t figure there was any cancer to be found. He said he figured the problem was either a)kidney stones b)orchitis or epididymitis c)prostatitis. I was rooting for epididymitis, because one of the songs on my Monty Python records from 30 years ago ended with ‘…epididymi-iiiii-tis’, and I’d been singing that line for a week or two to myself, and I thought that’d be pretty cool, given the alternatives. It was time for a urine test to check for white blood cells or spimes and blogjects or something, which’d show that there was a bad thing happening somewhere. His English wasn’t all that great, when it came down to it. I dutifully took the cup down two flights of stairs to the — dim and dirty, of course — toilet, and did my best not to pee on the walls, hoping there’d be a lollipop for me somewhere at the end of all this. I was expecting the Greased Digit of Humiliation, and somewhat distracted.
We sat for about ten minutes in the waiting room while the machine did its thing with my pee, and the receptionist showed us back in.
His diagnosis: prostatitis, and a not-terribly malign and quite common sort. No treatment, no major worry apparently, brought on and aggravated by stress and, like I’d fancifully told myself weeks earlier, the rough treatment my bottom had been receiving by various bicycle saddles. He told me to rest and eat lots of vegetable protein — soybeans, in particular.
He also demonstrated how to take a ‘sitz bath’, a phrase that I’d encountered before, but didn’t really understand. Taking off his lab coat, he squatted down, and brandished an imaginary wand. ‘Shower,’ he said. He held the wand under his butt. ‘Five to ten minutes.’
‘Ooookay,’ said I, uncertainly.
I was still expecting the command to bend over at this point, but he talked to my wife in Korean for a bit, and then it was all bows-and-goodbyes.
Maybe he was out of rubber gloves. I suppose I should count myself lucky. Korean men don’t tend to trim their fingernails that well.
We paid at the counter, and there my story ends, almost. As we were walking back to the taxi rank at the bus terminal to return to our Corporate Island home, I asked my wife (who is the wielder of the plastic) how much it had cost.
It was 3000 won. Under four dollars.
Korea never ceases to surprise me.