The Fine Art of Getting Whacked in the Nuts

illustration by Christine Gregory

It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a collective kick to the gonads for the majority of the human race. But if you’re reading this, here’s a crappy little silver lining for you: You’re not dead.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m feeling pandemic fatigue and election angst as much as the next guy but, as is with all the other walnut whacks I’ve received across my lifetime, I understand the importance of getting up and soldiering on. With time, the surreal horror of the moment shifts and settles into little more than a funny story.

Back in 2014, I still surfed. Cycling had yet to completely consume my life. My friend Dave was in town from Australia, so we woke up early to catch some waves at the Knob Hill beach break a few blocks from my apartment. The waves were breaking right on the shore, making it somewhat dangerous. Therefore, I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was when, after a lovely, little waist-high ride, my board planted into the sand as I dismounted, and the tail nailed me squarely in the junk.

After the seizures stopped and I put my eyes back into their sockets, two things stopped me from going back out. During the impact, my board’s fin had sliced through the thigh of my wetsuit. Also, something around my crotchular region just felt… off. I told Dave that it would probably be a good idea to walk back to the car and see what was going on under the hood.

I expected maybe a welt or a minor abrasion. What I did not expect was a deep, two-inch gash in my scrotum and an uncontrollable stream of blood flowing from my urethra. (That’s Latin for “pee hole.”)

After witnessing this horror show and putting my eyes back in their sockets for the second time in ten minutes, I wanted to curl up naked in the grass in the fetal position and bleed out there on some stranger’s lawn. Instead, I managed to wrap a towel around my waist, take the boards home, grab a sweatshirt, and drive to the closest emergency room. Dave tried to take over a few of these responsibilities but, as the yellow hibiscus on my beach towel became progressively overshadowed by crimson blood blossoms, I knew that if I stopped takin’ care of business for even a second, the panic in my loins (literally) would take over—and the terrorists would win.

The part where I’m naked with two nurses (which sounds more fun than it was).

It was a slow day in the ER, so they sent me to triage fairly quickly.  I sat in a chair, clad only in a towel, as two nurses—lady nurses—stood over me, took my blood pressure, entered me in the system, and asked to look at my genitals.

All my adult life—and most of my teenage life—I’d dream of this.

But not this.

I sighed, said, “Here we go,” and pulled away the towel, commencing what would be six hours of having my junk examined, prodded, and violated in every way possible. You’d be amazed at how many nonsexual ways there are to touch a penis. My scrotum had stopped bleeding, but my pee hole was still spurting blood at an impressive rate. “Oh my,” gasped one nurse.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said the other nurse.

Again, all my adult life—and most of my teenage life—I’d dream of this.

But not this.

To put it in medical terms, blood flowing freely from your wiener is bad. It can mean kidney damage, an exploded bladder, an exploded testicle, or a torn urinary tract.  So, of course they did what any respectable medical institution would do in an emergency situation and had me sit in the lobby for another hour. In my towel.

The part where they took a needle to my privates (which was also not fun).

Finally, I got to see a doctor. The first thing he said was “Oh my.” (Apparently, I had chosen a hospital without a Smashed Testicles Unit, so this was all very exciting to them.) The second thing he said was, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you have two testicles, so if one is destroyed, you can still rely on the working one. The bad news is–”

I cut him off. I didn’t want to hear the rest of his little joke, so he should just cut straight to the chase. He told me that while my torn scrotum should be the least of my concerns, it would require stitches.  After that, they’d need to do a battery of tests to determine the extent of my internal damage.

I hadn’t heard much past “stitches.” On my balls? You can do that?

Indeed, they could, but first they needed to prep the area. Fortunately, I have metrosexual tendencies, so I’d done most of their job for them. (I don’t shave my balls, but I do try to keep the riffraff out of the orchestra pit, so to speak.)

Still, someone needed to clean off all the blood. I volunteered for the job, but I’d left my National Nurses United union card at home in my other bloody towel. As I lie on the table, legs elevated and spread as if prepped for childbirth, who else would walk in but the hottest nurse I’ve ever seen? Blond. Athletic. Girl-Next-Door face. Turn-ons include stand-up paddle boarding, yoga, and Paris. Turn-offs include back hair, liars, and washing gore from the genitals of middle-aged men.

We made eye contact (from between my raised legs) and I blurted outed, “Why you?” She laughed politely, probably thinking the same thing herself.

It went progressively downhill from there. During my stitches (I needed five), I felt a prick, despite being numbed, and screamed like an eight-year-old. “I feel the needle! I feel the needle!” It turns out that the doctor had accidentally pulled a pubic hair. Apparently, I’m not the most thorough of metrosexuals.

Next came the ultrasound, during which the technician–lady technician–asked me to hold up my penis as she smeared goo on my balls and then rubbed them for 20 minutes with a device resembling Flo the Progressive Insurance Lady’s blue-and-white scanner gun.

Again, all my adult life—and most of my teenage life—while this particular scenario had never occurred to me, I would have entertained this.

But not this.

The part that tested my exhibitionist ways. (Again with the not fun.)

After that came the ball CAT scan and some ball x-rays. And then, just when I thought my dignity had bottomed out, they announced that they needed to check my urinary tract. They’d do this by having me stand naked on the x-ray table while they pointed the camera at my junk and watched through a window as I peed the CAT scan contrasting fluid into a cup.

Standing on the table like a star of a very wrong pornographic film, I tried—and failed–to pee. It wasn’t stage fright as much as the fact that my insides had become so enflamed that even a few dribbles of urine caused horrific shooting pain. I’m guessing it’s what the clap feels like, only this was less rewarding because I didn’t get to get down with those two nurses up in triage. Or the ball-washer nurse. Or Flo the Progressive Insurance Lady. Or even the doctor who examined me. Any combination of those would have been a much better pornographic film.

After twenty minutes on the table, the doctor decided he had to go in manually. Phase one involved a rectal exam to make sure my prostate wasn’t dislodged. Between previous medical exams, adolescent boredom, and overly experimental girlfriends, a few fingers have found their way up my butt over the years, so this was not a new experience.

But then came phase two. Because I couldn’t get the contrasting fluid to travel from my bladder to the cup, they decided to shove a catheter up my urethra and inject contrasting fluid with enough force to get it from the cup to the bladder. This was a very new experience.

The actual catheter didn’t hurt too bad. It didn’t feel great, but I could breathe through it. On the other hand, forcing contrasting fluid through my swollen, damaged urinary tract was by far the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.

To give you an idea of how significant that statement is, I once had a crown put on a tooth without anesthetic, the reasoning for which I won’t address here. Suffice to say that this was worse. Much worse. Mediaeval times worse.

And by the way, the doctor had never tried this particular procedure before, so it took him a couple tries to get the tube in deep enough. And five tries to squirt the fluid up my urinary tract.

Periodically, he would say, “Tell me if it hurts too much” even though he had no intention of stopping, as I white-knuckled the table and shouted back, “Of course it effing hurts too much! But just get it done!”

Eventually, he gave up. He may have violated my penis, but my bladder remained an exit, not an entrance. He couldn’t get the fluid that deep, so the viability of my urinary tract remained an issue. As he consulted with a urologist as to what to do next, I lay on the table, gasping, mourning the last of my dignity. Then I felt a familiar sensation in my abdomen.

I had to pee.

Back up on the table, I made like the Manneken Pis and let fly. By “let fly,” I mean I released an anemic dribble while experiencing searing pain second only to someone—that damn doctor, for example—trying to shove the urine back in. But that’s okay because they got their x-ray. My urinary tract was fine.

And so was everything else, more or less. They diagnosed it as a hematoma (kind of an internal blood blister), prescribed antibiotics, offered me painkillers which I refused, and sent me home.

The aftermath (where things finally got a little fun because of beer).

The next day, my left testicle would swell to the size of a small Yukon Gold potato. Between that and the stitches, I imagined this is what Frankenstein’s Monster’s balls would have looked like, had Mary Shelley written slash fiction. Within two days, the swelling would subside, but my entire scrotum and part of my penis would turn blue, then purple, then jet black—as if I had African American genitals—scaled to size, of course.

But as I left the hospital, I didn’t know any of that was going to happen. I just knew that life had kicked me hard in the nuts and I was well within my rights to curl up in that fetal position (finally) and cry myself to sleep.

But I didn’t do that. Instead, I found the loosest pair of pants I owned and met Dave for fish tacos and a pint of Dos Equis Ambar at Riviera Mexican Grill so I could recount my tale with him. And it was funny. And we laughed.

I had snapped a photo of my stiches because another friend wanted to see it. I showed Dave the photo and he suggested I put it on Instagram. While I was on my phone, I sent it to Facebook as well, assuming someone would report it and it would gone by the morning.

Three days and 61 comments later, I took it down myself. I’m told my testicle looks enough like a wrinkly elbow to pacify online censors, but enough was enough. Due to my inability to grasp Facebook privacy settings, the image had gone semi-viral. My ex-wife, not a Facebook friends at the time, had checked her feed one morning, only to be treated to an image she had been spent the last six years trying to wash from her memory.  She knew my penchant for exhibitionism all too well, but she still had to call and ask, “Why on earth did you put a photo of your balls on Facebook?”

Back in 2014, my divorce was the only experience that came close in terms of blows to the balls. In the six years since, there’s been so much worse. As I glide past fifty, friends and family seem to be passing with increasing regularity. Every time it happens, it hurts. And here in 2020, too many of my friends have experienced similar losses. Yet, we survivors keep going. We gather our breath, bury our loved ones, celebrate their lives, and laugh over beers in the aftermath.

That’s why I posted that photo. That’s why I wrote this post. That’s why, with as much pain as I was in, I opted for Mexican food over my couch. Sooner or later, life hammers each and every one of us in the nuts, hard. When it happens, you get back up.

And you laugh it off—simply because you can.