The Terrible Consequences Of Not Talking About Your Balls
The most humbling moment of my life happened on a Friday night when I was 10 years old. Earlier that day at school, I'd noticed a sharp pain around my groin region. More specifically, my testicles. But let's say “balls” from now on. Balls are simpler. 1) It's only one syllable. 2) It rolls off the tongue. 3) That's not what I meant by "rolls off the tongue." Get your mind out of the gutter.
The pain would come and go for most of the day. I thought 'Maybe I forgot bumping into a desk?' and 'Maybe I'm becoming a man?'
I'm a man now, and I can tell you it definitely wasn't that.
By the time my dad picked me up and took me home, I had already spent most of the day living a lie by attempting to ignore the intense pain.
The pinnacle of my home rituals involved eating popcorn and watching Family Matters. This should have been a great time, but on this particular night I couldn't laugh at Urkel saying "Did I do thaaaat!?" The pain was too much.
My mom was still at work, and my dad was in the other room. Mom was my preferred choice for revealing secret information, so I called her. There's not much for a kid to chat about with his mom, and usually if I lingered enough in a phone conversation she would cut in with a blunt, "What’s wrong?" I couldn't wait to hear the "What's wrong?"
I explained the ball situation, and she deduced that my drinking so much soda over the holiday break probably caused it. So I returned to Family Matters.
Still no laughs from the classic Urkel catch phrase.
At this point, there was only one option. I had to do the unthinkable and approach Dad.
Dad is a man, you know? He doesn't call his balls "balls" or "testicles." He calls them "The Family Jewels," which I'll admit is a little classier than "balls." It's family oriented, and you have to preface it with "the." Also, most importantly, it's not the word "testicles."
Men don't typically talk about their balls. And when we do, it's usually in a cartoonish way. We'll make jokes. Or laugh when the guys on Jackass inflict testicular harm on each other. (Steve-O shared some of his Theories On Why Getting Kicked In the Nuts Is Hilarious.) When I was growing up, watching strangers get hit in the balls on America's Funniest Home Videos was a favored pastime for my dad and I. I'm not sure why it never failed to make us laugh so hard. There must be something naturally funny about men, these pillars of testosterone, having such an obvious, dangling, awkward-looking weak spot.
When we laugh at footage of people getting hurt down there, we are also reminding ourselves of the prime directive. Protect the Family Jewels at all costs.
"The jewels hurt," I told my dad, getting straight to the point. "They, like, really hurt."
That was it, the most humbling moment of my life.
I was ashamed to be giving him potentially bad news on our estate. But pain has a funny way of overriding embarrassment. Literally the last thing I wanted to be doing was having a frank, medical conversation with Dad about my balls. But desperate times call for desperate measures. I hoped that since he was a man, he could empathize with my pain in a more immediate way. Men can be cautious and reserved when it comes to sharing our feelings, but we all know to take ball pain seriously.
The rest went by like an action film. Mom came home and the next thing I knew we were rushing to the hospital. The doctor's first thought was that I had a hernia. To be sure, he decided to assess the situation via touch. Meaning, he needed to apply pressure. On my balls.
I can't tell you how painful this was, and that's mainly because I don't remember the pain. What I do remember is that at some point my dad had to restrain me as the doctors scrutinized the jewels.
"I'm 99% sure it's torsion of the testicles," explained the doctor.
Sounds like a science fiction soap opera, right? Stay tuned for Torsion of the Testicles, right after Days of our Lives. In the medical world, you can also simplify it to "testicular torsion." But I'd rather call it "ball stuff."
"We're going to have to put him through surgery," the doctor continued.
I didn't think about it at the time, but as the only son in our little family, my "Family Jewels" were of utmost importance. I wasn't old enough to even think about having kids, though one of the doctor's preliminary questions was "Are you sexually active?"
That was a very shocking question to be asked at such a young age, with my parents present, in a hospital, with my balls exposed.
The answer was a definite no.
We agreed to the surgery. I didn't ask many questions. A doctor tells you to get surgery, you get surgery. Questioning the surgery would involve having another prolonged conversation with a male about my balls, and I had no interest in that. Go ahead, Doc, do what you need to do.
But today, as an adult, I'm a little more curious about my condition, and how serious it actually was. I contacted urologist Larry Lipshultz, M.D., the chief of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, who gave me the cold hard facts.
Here Are The Cold Hard Facts:
"A torsion occurs due to a congenitally abnormal attachment of the testicle to the bottom of the scrotum, which allows the testicle to twist and cut off its blood supply," explained Dr. Lipshultz.
Wow. What? My balls were being strangled! That happened to me! And the craziness doesn't even stop there.
Here Are The Cold Hard Facts (Continued):
"Absence of blood flow results in a sequence of events that ultimately will cause death of the testis if not treated as soon as possible," Dr. Lipshultz informed me.
Sweet Moses! "Death of the testis?" I'm getting a little dizzy just writing those words. To put it in less frightening language, if I hadn't developed the courage to tell an adult about the sharp pain in my balls, it's very likely I'd never be able to have kids.
The real scary part, though, isn't the grim medical facts of testicular torsion. It's how being silent about your balls can have disastrous consequences.. "All too often, parents do not recognize the severity of this situation," Dr. Lipshultz told me. Ignoring the symptoms can lead to a patient finally getting to an emergency room "too long after the torsion when the testis is no longer salvageable. In young men, fear of having an STD and embarrassment of being examined may prevent them from presenting to the ER in a timely manner."
That's one way of saying it. Another way is, being afraid of talking about your balls can lead to NOT HAVING BALLS ANYMORE.
As I was wheeled into the ER, the doctor put a mask over my face and told me to count down. I don't remember the surgery, thank God. What does ball surgery even look like? I don't want to know.
When I woke up, I had stitches on my "ballular sack." If you're one of the lucky few, you can still see the scar line going right down the middle. It took a few days for me to recover. I walked with a slight limp or with what some call "swagger."
My mom promptly began spreading the gospel of ball awareness to the other parents at the school. So surely everyone knew about what had happened to me.
At one point, my mom asked why I never told my teacher when the pain first occurred. "What, was I supposed to just walk up to her and say 'Excuse me, my balls hurt?'" I responded. We laughed.
The answer, of course, is yes. As men, we must never forget the prime directive.