At the end of my freshman year, I had a damaging experience. The kind of experience that changes the way you look at life forever. I will never be the same.
On May 27 of the year 2000, I had a catheter put in.
With no anesthesia.
I’ve debated telling this story for a long time. It is painful and embarrassing, but hopefully reading it will give you some comfort some day in the future when you too have to go to the bathroom. Very badly.
After school freshman year, I stayed at Yale to race with the lightweight crew team. In the course of those days I developed a condition known as a hernia, which is basically when your intestines try to break free from your abdominal cavity and produce a golf ball-sized lump in a surprising area of your body. Mine was where my leg meets my torso. My crew coaches would not let me go to DUH because I’d be pulled from the team, so I had to undergo a physical examination by the medical experts at Payne-Whitney.
In other words, I had to drop trou for Patty the trainer.
As I stood there, pants at my ankles, with my two coaches and Patty staring at my genitals, I wondered “Wow, can life get any more painful and embarrassing than this?”
Why do I even bother asking questions like that?
I was diagnosed by Patty, after some prodding that was humiliating and also kind of exciting, to have a minor hernia. She said that I could row with it. I raced in Eastern Sprints and then headed back home to Maine to have surgery.
Here’s a little life tip for you, my friends: Never go to Maine for surgery. Seriously, do it yourself first.
In Maine, I was operated on by a guy whose name I don’t remember, but whom we will henceforth refer to as Dr. Douchebag. So Dr. Douchebag does his thing, they patch up the hernia, etc, etc. I find myself waking up in the recovery room with my mother and father leaning over me.
This would be a pleasant, soothing way to wake up, if it were somebody else’s parents. Mine, however, aside from not being married and not liking one another one bit, are not a patient pair of people.
“Look, he’s awake. Let’s get out of here,” my dad said.
“LET HIM REST, ROD, HE JUST HAD SURGERY!” screeched my mother. I looked appealingly at the nurse, who informed me that I had to walk a lap around the recovery ward and “vacate my bowels” before I could leave.
“All right, kid, vacate those bowels. Let’s go,” urged my dad.
“HE WON’T BE ABLE TO VACATE IF YOU PRESSURE HIM LIKE THAT!” reasoned my mother. I gripped the nurse’s hand.
“I think it’s fine if you guys want to get going. I can tell Chris just wants to go home,” she said. I almost kissed her.
So my mother and I returned to my home, and I sat around doing nothing for a couple of hours. At some point, I got up to go to the bathroom. This is where disaster struck.
I couldn’t pee. I stood in the bathroom patiently, incapable of “vacating.” I’d had this problem before, like at Fenway Park when you have to stand in a line with about 400 drunk truck drivers and try to pee in the gutters they call “urinals.” Once, the Harvard-Yale bus had to abandon me on the side of the highway outside of Boston because I couldn’t just use a Snapple bottle like everybody else. But I’ve never had this problem alone.
I turned on the faucet. Didn’t help. Sat down like an old man. Didn’t help.
Eventually I had to swallow my pride, and go tell my mother.
“YOU CAN’T WHAT?” she inquired.
“I can’t go to the bathroom mom. Something’s wrong.”
“LET’S CALL DR. DOUCHEBAG — HE’LL KNOW WHAT TO DO.”
The doctor told me to turn on the faucet, and to sit down. After I explained that I already tried that, we had the following conversation.
“Okay, well have you tried thinking about waterfalls? Firemen?”
“Firemen?” I asked, wondering how he knew that I was gay.
“Or, you know, fire hydrants.”
“That didn’t work.”
“OK, well then you need to fill up a bathtub with warm water,” he patiently explained, “and you need to sit in it, relax, and –“
“I am not peeing on myself.”
“OK, well then come back in to the hospital and we’ll get you fixed up.
So my mother and I drove back. It had been about another hour since this whole mess started.
“SO DO YOU REALLY HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM A LOT NOW?” my mother asked politely.
“WELL, I AM CERTAINLY NOT RECOMMENDING THAT DR. DOUCHEBAG TO ANY OF MY FRIENDS.”
“TRY NOT TO THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH IT HURTS, HONEY.”
We arrive at the hospital and are brought into a “room” in the ER, one of those little spaces with a curtain around it where you can still hear everybody scream. My mother was told to wait outside. I got back into a hospital smock and spoke with Nurse Nancy, who was very friendly.
“Now, we’re going to have to put a catheter in,” she said. “Don’t be nervous, it shouldn’t hurt too bad. I do this all the time.”
As horrified as I was by this prospect, she was just so darn nice that I was comforted. Until she whipped out the catheter. I was envisioning a tube something along the lines of a coffee stirrer. What she held looked more like a drum major’s baton.
“Don’t worry, I promise, it will be OK. Now, lift your smock. I need to wash the area.”
She then “lubed up” the catheter, and yes, she inserted it into my body. Imagine having to go to the bathroom really badly, and then getting punched in the bladder with someone’s car keys. This is approximately one-half as bad as it felt.
There was some fidgeting, and minor pounding as she attempted to work it in. Then, to my shock and awe, Nice Nurse Nancy pulled out.
“What are you doing?” I screamed as nicely as I could.
“There’s something wrong. It won’t go in. I have to get a bigger size.”
“What?” I shrieked.
“WHAT’S GOING ON HONEY?” my mother asked quietly from outside. “DO YOU WANT ME TO COME IN?”
“Don’t come in, Mom!”
So Nice Nurse Nancy tried a bigger size, figuring that the anesthesia during the surgery had somehow tightened my bladder. That didn’t work. Tried a still bigger size. Didn’t work. My Big Ben was beginning to feel like the Big Dig. Nancy declared that she would have to get Dr. Douchebag. My mother spotted her as she left the curtained room.
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING? CHRISTOPHER, WHERE IS SHE GOING? DO YOU WANT ME TO CALL YOUR FATHER?”
“Please don’t call my father!” I squeaked, my voice cracking.
Dr. Douchebag came in presently, with his sidekick, Male Nurse Bruce. Bruce had spiky blonde hair and big hands. After negotiating with Nancy, the doctor looked me over. It was one of those looks that you never want to see from doctors, the “Hm — I wonder what the hell is going on in there” look. I think the first thing you should learn in med school, before you even learn the skeleton song, is HOW TO AT LEAST PRETEND YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING. Dr. Douchebag apparently missed that lecture.
We went through another series of washings and proddings, until I started to consider charging admission to the opening of my urethra. At the breaking point, I whispered to Dr. Douchebag that I couldn’t handle it any more. At this time, I had needed to go to the bathroom for at least four hours, and my bladder had been rammed more times than the Gates of Troy. Dr. Douchebag decided that maybe we should numb the whole thing up.
I was thrilled to discover that this was an option, after an hour of intense pain.
So he filled a syringe up with “numbing jelly” and squirted it all inside of me. There is, apparently, a lot more room up there than one would think. I’m thinking of hiding the spare key to my Toyota up there from now on, and maybe a granola bar for when I’m hungry on the go. After this jelly procedure, he was finally successful in getting the catheter to enter my bladder.
There was much rejoicing.
“WHAT’S GOING ON?” my mother inquired. “WHY IS EVERYONE REJOICING? SHOULD I CALL YOUR FATHER?”
But the rejoicing was short lived. Once Male Nurse Bruce inflated the gas bulb at the end of the catheter — to force the fluid out of my bladder — nothing came out. The only result, in fact, was that I had to go to the bathroom so much I considered strangling myself with my hospital bracelet.
“That’s funny,” Dr. Douchebag observed.
“Yes,” I thought, “funny is exactly the word I would choose.”
“Bruce,” he suggested, “why don’t you press on Christopher’s abdomen.”
So Bruce complied, pushing down on my abdomen. We had a moment of awkward eye contact. Bruce was cute — maybe we could have dated. Except now I was lying completely naked on a hospital bed with my smock around my neck and a tube coming out of my groin with two old people watching, and he was pushing on my bladder to make me pee.
I realized with chagrin that Bruce was never a person I could make friends with after this. Then I passed out.
I was awoken by the soothing voice of my mother. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY SON!? I AM COMING IN THERE RIGHT NOW!”
Luckily Nancy cut her off at the pass. We were almost done, she said.
Dr. Douchebag informed me that they had flushed out the clog in the tube, which had come from the numbing jelly, and that I needed to stand up. I stood up. Male Nurse Bruce was holding a pitcher at the end of the tube sticking out of me. We all waited with in anticipation, because the change in gravity was supposed to make the catheter work. It did not do so.
“OK,” he said. “Why don’t you dance around a little to work everything loose.”
I kid you not. This was his medical advice.
So I did it. I began to dance a little, bouncing from my left foot to my right foot, holding my hospital smock at shoulder height, as Male Nurse Bruce tried to keep the pitcher below the end of the catheter and Nice Nurse Nancy and Dr. Douchebag looked on.
And then, at the most cripplingly embarrassing moment of my whole life, the catheter began to work. The clouds opened and there was sunshine, and suddenly I loved those three, who had violated me in every imaginable way. I wanted to kiss Male Nurse Bruce, but he was busy catching my urine in a bucket. Nice Nurse Nancy held my hand happily. Dr. Douchebag, I think, was trying not to laugh.
I think I might have cried.
So this is my last magazine column. Consider this a gift from me to you. Next time you’re in the car with your family and you have to go to the bathroom and you can’t use the Big Gulp cup because your mom will get mad, and you can’t stop because this is New Jersey and you’ll get lost if you get off the highway, think of me. n