During my junior year in college, I developed a dull but constant ache in my lower back. These days any type of pain or discomfort sends me straight to WebMd.com where I soon discover I likely have some fatal disease and should probably get my affairs in order before I become too debilitated to function. But when I was twenty, and before the Internet existed, I carried on bravely through all types of illness. The ache in my back was nothing more than an annoyance, but when I started having to pee every fifteen minutes, I decided something might really be wrong.
I called my doctor and described my symptoms to the physician’s assistant. This was back in the days when you could call a doctor’s office and actually speak to someone rather than navigate a computerized labyrinth of menu options designed to keep you as far as possible from a live human being. The PA said I might have a prostate infection and that I should make an appointment with a local urologist. I had never heard the word prostate before. To me it sounded like a legal term, like something you might have to present in court. It was a good thing there was no Internet back then because if I’d known where my prostate was located and the method of examining it, I would have stayed in my dorm room until I died a slow, painful death.
I walked into the urologist’s office with the carefree attitude of a guy entering a barbershop. I had no idea of the horrors that lay ahead of me. I was wearing my standard college uniform: baggy shorts, a Metallica t-shirt, and high top sneakers with tube socks that rose up several inches above my ankles. The urologist was a towering bear of a man named Dr. Griffin and he nearly ripped my arm out of its socket when he shook my hand. Dr. Griffin asked me a few questions then told me to disrobe. My high-top sneakers were double knotted so I left them on and slid my shorts and underwear off over them. When I took off my shirt, I looked like I was ready to compete in a nudist colony 5K.
What occurred over the next five minutes is too ghastly to recount. All I’ll say is that when the examination was over Dr. Griffin held out a box of tissues and I quickly removed one and used it to wipe the beads of sweat off my forehead. “They’re not for that,” Dr. Griffin said. He then gestured with his hand as if he were telling someone to pull around to the back of his house. I left the office with a prescription for antibiotics and the expression of a man who’d just survived a near-death experience.
Next spring I’ll turn fifty and my doctor has already warned me that I will need a colonoscopy at some point during the year. But it’s doubtful I’ll ever make it to that appointment. I’ve recently developed a persistent cough, and according to the Internet I probably only have a couple months left.