There’s something heart stopping about walking into the doctor’s office to check on your test results, only to have them yank you into an exam room so they can run more tests.
My tale begins … heh. “Tale.” In retrospect, that’s kind of funny – or should I say in hindsight, since this relates to my prostate.
Come to think of it, I should start this story with an advisory: If you get freaked by medical tales – heh, tales again – you might want to tread lightly here. I’m going to do my best to tell this story in a way that will keep things at least PG rated, so bear with me.
Now, the prostate is a gland that has to do with the male reproductive system, which is why females rarely have prostate problems. (In my research I discovered women do have something called a Skene’s gland, which is sometimes called the female prostate. I don’t think that’s what anyone has in mind when they think of equal rights.)
The prostate is about the size of a walnut (which reminds me of a joke – um, no. Can’t do that one.) It surrounds the urethra and so can cause problems with urination, which can really put your life in the toilet. When doctors are checking it – there’s no good way to say this – it’s best inspected by a rectal exam, which I assume is almost as unpleasant for the doctor as it is for the patient. Thus the “tales” jokes. Okay, go back and read the earlier paragraphs again, I promise they’re funny now -- although probably funnier to people who don’t get the exams.
But you should get the exams. Unless you’re a woman.
When I went to get my blood tested, my mind was nowhere near my prostate. (I know people whose heads are always near their prostates.)
My employer has established a wellness clinic, which allowed me to get a free blood screening, and I just can’t pass up free stuff. I’d had one done years before, which took me months to pay it off; if this one hadn’t been free I might never had gotten it. But it was, so I figured what could it hurt to get checked?
Turns out I have tiny little “rolling” veins, and afterward you could tell by the bruises on my arm how much it could hurt. But they did get the blood, and I was very happy to get that part of it over with right up until the moment I walked back into the clinic and they wanted more blood. It was like a lawyer’s office, with needles.
It seems I had high PSA’s. Well, of course I have high PSA’s! I do public relations work for the fire department and for the American Cancer Society Relay For Life (cue ironic music), it stands to reason I’d be surrounded by Public Service Announcements. They need blood for that? Are we starting an advertising account for Dracula?
Um, no. This was Prostate Specific Antigen, a protein that’s often elevated in the presence of prostate cancer and other disorders of that gland. What a pain in the butt. (Get it? Never mind.)
Because they didn’t have a baseline to go by, they wanted more blood to run another test. “Is it still free?” I asked. It was. “Do I get a sucker?” I did. “Okay, then.”
The upper limit of PSA in a healthy man is generally supposed to be below 4 ng/mL. I know what you’re thinking: what the heck is ng/mL? I suppose it’s some of that newfangled metric stuff. What mattered was that mine was closer to six and a half, which might have made me happy if I was playing the stock exchange. Several things could cause false positives, so another test was in order. They wanted to know if the count was the same, and they wanted to know if there were a lot of free radicals in there.
I thought James Bond wiped out the free radicals in “Never Say Never Again”.
They also wanted to do one more test. The Big One. By which I mean, you hope the doctor doesn’t have a big finger, or that Big One means a big tube of KY jelly. Yep, the dreaded rectal exam, the one fingered wiggle stab, the straight man’s scare, the Probe.
Every man reading this just winced.
The nurse practitioner who was to give me this medical goose assured me that she used to do this exam for a living, and was thus very experienced at it – and is it any wonder that she changed jobs? But, of course, the key word is SHE.
You could argue whether this exam would be better done by a male or female. As a person who considers himself non-homophobic, I thought I’d have been more comfortable with a male, who at least (I presume) would know what I was going through. (Later I discovered, nope – it was equally uncomfortable either way.)
Regardless of issues of sex, as she slapped the gloves on all I could think was: “Man – she has long fingernails”.
Long story short (heh), my prostate was located right where it was supposed to be, and I’d rectummend the exam to all men over 40, just in case. However, the second test revealed that my PSA’s were still elevated, and that my free radicals might be preparing a terrorist attack. Does this mean I have prostate cancer? No, although I’m schedule for a biopsy, just in
In other words, it means more tests. This time I’m going to have to pay for them, and with more than blood. I thought about protesting, but I didn’t want the urologist to think I have a stick up my butt. Of course, a few weeks later he checked for himself.
Oh, come on! Might as well laugh at this stuff – at least, as much as anyone ever laughs at my columns. Maybe, after the biopsy, I’ll be able to pull another column out of my --