“We take swollen testicles very seriously here.”

Chapter 4/ 2007

“We take swollen testicles very seriously here.”

The City of the Angels has been good to me, the heavy arms of its warm summer air always around my shoulders, its long fingers holding my hand as we walk the perimeter of the Hollywood Reservoir at high noon.  The twigs crumble beneath my cowboy boots, my eyes hypnotized by the light being sucked into the water rhythmically caressing the shore.  Like the heels of my boots pushing the whimpering pebbles beneath them into the dry trails of the Reservoir, this pale and anxious Jew from New York can breathe out everything holding me down, can sucker punch every “no” thrown my way.  After my walk, or on days when the rains have flooded the Reservoir’s perimeter with mud, the Angels immerse me in the hot water of my shower and bathtub.  The back of my head lying against an oblong foam pad, purchased for a discounted $2.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond, my ears swallow Billie Holiday on dark unpublished writer days or Julie London on trouble with the straight boyfriend days.  I sink up to my neck in the hot water, a thin stick of pomegranate incense burns the air with its smoke.  I smile with the knowledge that, contrary to the protestations of the members of my writing group, I do surrender to things, as long they cover me in a warmth as powerful as an Extra-Strength Vicodin or wrap their arms and legs around me, the way the boyfriend does after one of our Viagra enhanced workouts.

Nothing can touch me in the hot water or on my walks around the Reservoir.  I have always been lucky that way.


A week after leaving the crone and the professor, I stood in the shower, my eyes smiling at the warmth of its salmon and pink tiles, my fingers washing my balls, thinking, as I sometimes do when soaping up the jewels, of the boyfriend seated at his glass topped desk a few miles away, my eyes watching his fingers press the buttons on his phone’s console with the same determination he uses to unbutton my shirt while whispering like Miss London singing “Black Coffee:”  “You’re my best bud…you’re the one.”

The shower’s water hit me hard, pounding its fists into my back.  My stomach churned, I hadn’t done all I wanted to do with my life.  My gut twisted in upon itself, my intestines tightening and quivering as the water beat angrily against my naked body.  It was too late, everything I have not yet experienced washed itself down the drain.  Since the night before, my right testicle had quadrupled in size, its swollen mass as hard as a rock.  I have been a nurse for thirty years.  My life as I knew it was over.

Three hours later, my doctor tried to determine how extensive the hernia was by attempting to maneuver his fingers up into my scrotum.  He stopped when I told him I was going to hurl on to his thick black hair and Oliver Peoples glasses.

“I can send you to the ER at Cedars and they can operate tonight,” he said.  “Unless you’ve eaten earlier.”

Damn the tuna fish sandwich I had for lunch.  I proceeded to the twenty-four hour CVS on Sunset and Fairfax, picked up my Vicodins and went home.  Ever since my shower, the pain had become a river of red-hot iron traveling up and down the length of my lymph nodes, it’s ferociousness bringing me to tears quicker than Gena Rowlands’ mad scenes in “A Woman Under the Influence.”

I call all the surgeons on my insurance plan, but the best I can do is book an appointment two weeks away.  Telling them I am a nurse seems to push the available appointments three or four weeks into the future.

“Don’t you dare work,” my doctor tells me when I inform him about the wait for surgical intervention.  “You can really mess yourself up.”

In a narcotic haze, I lay in the tub reading biographies of Kim Stanley, Louise Brooks and Tuesday Weld.  I do not think about money, about what all this is costing me.  Lucky me, I know that when the surgeon goes in, it will be more than a hernia.


“We called your insurance company and your deductible hasn’t been met…we’ll need two hundred and fifty dollars.”

The receptionist is white, young, chubby and unable to make eye contact, in spite of her heavy green eye makeup.

“Thanks for asking me how I feel.  The pain is real bad right now.  How long is the wait for the doctor?”

“How will you be paying your fee today?”

“I met my deductible at my doctor’s office two weeks ago.”

The receptionist’s pupils dilate.

“Not according to the computer,” she says.  “If you’re right, we’ll apply your payment to your co-pay.”

My balls are killing me.  It’s like a cold hand which, when not squeezing the right one, pulls and twists the left one.  No empty seats in the waiting room.  I didn’t dare take a Vicodin because I had to drive to the surgeon’s office.  I give the receptionist my credit card.  I stand for an hour, then sit for another before I see the surgeon.  The cold hand will not let up on me, not for a second.


“I don’t know what that is, but it’s not a hernia,”  the surgeon says.

Tell me something I don’t know.

The surgeon sends me to a urologist a few floors below.  The office takes me right away, no waiting, no requests for a credit card. I must have dome something to please the Nursing Gods.

“We take swollen testicles very seriously here,” the medical assistant tells me.

Younger than the surgeon’s receptionist, she has curly brown hair and a gleaming engagement ring on her finger.  Her sweet just graduated from high school voice stills my gut.

“It’s a hydrocele,” the urologist says.

His olive hands draw two testicles on the white paper of the examining table.  His lab coat must be new, it is the whitest one I have ever seen.

“Totally benign.  We’ll get the swelling down with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.  If it doesn’t return to normal we can drain it across the street at Outpatient Surgery.”

I look at his teeth, glowing whiter than his lab coat.

“Don’t work until it goes down,” the urologist commands me.  “We don’t want to jiggle anything around.”

It had better go down.  When I had a small cyst at the base of my finger removed, my HMO, Health Net, charged Outpatient Surgery at Cedars-Sinai twelve thousand dollars.  Frustrated with having to call Health Net to argue about getting every Ativan prescription and Azithromycin pack filled, I had changed my insurance to a PPO.  Their two hundred and fifty dollar deductible is bad enough.  I learned from the colonoscopy how scary the twenty percent co-pays are.

Lucky man that I am, I never get sick.  At least not until I got an 80/20 health insurance plan.


For the next two weeks, I eat Vicodins, soak in the bathtub to reduce the swelling and read the plays of Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill and William Inge, interspersed with the autobiographies of Jane Fonda and Colleen Dewhurst.  For reasons I try to ignore, the boyfriend comes over daily and, within ten minutes of his arrival, manages to look lovingly at my huge balls as his left hand searches in his pocket for a Viagra to gently place in my mouth.  After I’ve shown him who’s boss, he holds me tight, asking in a suddenly deep voice how my writing is going.  I do not answer.  I adjust my balls, bite his ear, close my eyes and fall asleep.

The swelling goes down.  The hardness softens.  The boyfriend does not come around as often.  He says he is consumed with work.  Thing is, we know we love each other. No matter how much time we spend together or apart, we can not say the words.  We both have our reasons.  The surgeon’s office begrudgingly agrees that I did not have to pay them the two hundred and fifty.  They want to hold on to it for when I have hernia surgery.

“After the treatment I got in your office, I wouldn’t let that guy touch me if he threw in a face lift guaranteed to make me look like Emile Hirsch.”


Time to begin the job search.  Again.

I leave the credit card bills on the table by my front door for a week or two before opening them.  I draw a bath.  I have not written since the agency sent me to the crone’s.  I boil water in shining stainless steel pots on my stove, pouring their contents into the steaming water of my bathtub, which is never sufficiently hot, leaving me unable to get enough heat into me.  Billie and Julie sing their blues, but like the heat, their voices have stopped seeping into my bones. I can not seem to let go and fly.  The bills, the elusive boyfriend, the pain undeterred by Vicodin, the money I have charged in the past month and the steady job I do not have keep me stalled on the runway.

There are no arms on my shoulders, no legs wrapped around me.

I can not feel any warmth, anywhere.



Filed under Memoir, Personal Essay

3 responses to ““We take swollen testicles very seriously here.”

  1. It is really a great and helpful piece. I’m glad that you shared this with us. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Shane Pitsenbarger

    Glorious writing!!

  3. Dan Kirkpatrick

    Magnificent goods from you, man…excellent. I like what you are saying, it’s entertaining and you keep it smart.

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