oOh My Testicles!

Documents one man's journey through healthcare in a third world country


1. oOh My Testicles!

I stood, hands on hips, gauging the handiwork of a job which could have been finished in hours but was now in its second tedious week. The bedroom was a small, airtight furnace with four walls of rough concrete slabs coated with splashes of vibrant orange and yellow, yet an impasto of the previous green, once a source of easy flattery, still peeked out mockingly. Brushes, rollers, tins, cloth, cardboard and blotches of paint were scattered everywhere, the latter across the dusty grey tiles, on top of the cupboard and on my arms and face. Mumbling, I tested the ladder’s sturdiness with light bounces on the first rung and, with a languid nod, purposed that the task would be completed before the new bed and executive tempered glass desk arrived at dawn. Renewed, but still muttering angrily, I scurried up the step ladder and carelessly leaned my two hundred pound frame against the top cap.


Without warning, a searing pain struck. My goodness, what was it? It was neither my stomach nor appendix, but my testicles. No… it was only a testicle, my right ball to be precise. I became stunned and only through divine intervention regained my balance, but not my composure, and with wild gesticulations six feet above ground level, I grasped the ladder. I still do not believe that being either shot or knifed is as painful as the pangs which, like little red devils armed with electric pitchforks, stabbed the areas around and through my groin. Given man’s proclivity to intently guard his genitals, I hastened to cup my source of dismay, movements which catapulted the tin of paint off the ladder’s platform to the woe of the tiles which became a brilliant sea of orange. A more urgent matter had surfaced and I wobbled away from my duties to my parents’ bed which, sadly, was empty.


The ramifications of critical illness are phenomenal for it is as crucial as death, engaging as marriage, and as lonely as a graveyard. Even the sluggard struck by a pandemic is forced to adopt science, diet or philosophy. I had on one occasion even heard of an ascetic atheist who wept bitterly that God would lighten his burden when death was at his doorstep. Subject to such conditions, man has the capacity to change, and I did that night, although I must admit only temporarily, and without hesitation I will go as far as wagering that a man would more readily agree to lose a finger, maybe even both hands and legs, to save his manhood, because the penis, like the vagina, remains the single gateway to sinful pleasure, matrimonial joy and procreation.


I am neither proficient with medical terms nor homeopathy but as I lay besieged by soreness, I concluded that there wasn’t a single identifiable incident where I had heard a male complain about a testicle; it was always their jewels at risk. I lay discomforted and spent a sleepless night careened on my left. When the sun peeked inside, I telephoned Roxanne to take me to the doctor and, no, this couldn’t wait until later.


To my pleasure, we arrived at the general practitioner’s office at seven-thirty sharp but this joy was short-lived as Dr. Narine was the best and cheapest in town; even though both gates to the establishment were closed, there was already a host of pallid, reticent folk lined against the borders of the compound and staring inside with blank, watery eyes as if beyond the shut, brown door was life itself. At the entrance was a pony-tailed, red-skinned chap who was conspicuous not only because of his height but also because he was slouched over the gate in agony, his legs spread apart, holding a handful of crotch. Maybe he had a ball problem too, I thought.


At seven-forty-five on the dot, a giant of a man barged out of the office, locked the brown door behind him and without a word to the anxious patients, snapped open a heavy-duty lock and almost flung the main gate open. While he fussed over the side entry, the sick filtered in disorderly and manned the free locations closest to the entrance. Interspersed among the huddle, Roxanne explained to me that each morning, except on Sunday, Dr. Narine’s son opened the gates at the exact hour, and for a brief moment, forgetting that she had a toddler in tow, I became worried that, perhaps, my cousin was not as well as she appeared – how else would she know this? Without warning, my testicular pain struck and I impatiently unsettled the crowd with hurried excuses, and in the southwestern corner of the courtyard, I sat on a weather-beaten concrete bench which joined another at an acute angle and was shaded by a gaudy metal shed. I don’t know whether minutes or hours passed but I must have dozed off because when my eyes opened there were about a dozen people sitting with me. Roxanne was to my left, her backside halfway off the bench, an unfamiliar novel (turned to page one) dangling in her hands; to my right was a fat white man, engrossed in an oily roti, and a disinterested East Indian lady to whom he was complaining that he was here only to secure tablets to curtail his cholesterol and blood pressure; an unlikely couple was sitting on the adjoining bench. Then there was the red-skinned fellow, still slouched against the open gate and casting wild sideway glances as if he’d had a premonition that he would be robbed.


Suddenly the giant swung open the office door and a funereal torpor engulfed the courtyard but Roxanne lurched from her seat and hurried across the courtyard, intercepted a woman at the entrance and disappeared inside. Seconds later she returned with a dog-eared yellow card, fit for the bin, and held it up for me to read. I said:


“Oh, he works by a number system?”


“Yes, he does!” Roxanne was legendary for her abrupt sentences and purism. “You see, Lyndon, a lot of people arrive early. He’s an excellent doctor, you know, and quite cheap. It’s only forty dollars per visit.”


“That re’l cheap,” I confirmed in colloquial Trinidadian dialect. “It good to see it have ah doctor that still care about poor people.”


The white man adjacent to us coughed but Roxanne continued:


“He also does a lot of nice things for children. Every December he sponsors a party with lots of toys and–” I interjected:


“Roxanne, you know, girl, I’m really worried about my testicles. I feel I’m going to lose them. Can you imagine what it would be like to have one balls?”


“It’s one ball,” she corrected, “and no, I can’t imagine what it will be like.”


With a chuckle of my own, I added:


“Especially in our family, girl. I mean, you could imagine the heckling that would take place?”


“Lyndon, don’t blight yourself. You will be okay.” She explained that inside the office she had secured position six but the unpleasant red-skinned lady whom she had intercepted had protested even though she herself had managed to lift card nine. However, Roxanne, being the good Christian that she was, had conceded to the lady’s tantrum and allowed her to take her place but they didn’t exchange their cards. While I bewailed, she joked: “I got a six for a nine.”


Time crept by.


One hour later, I was an impatient patient and unable to further bear the moans and groans of the sick so I stood and walked to the door, distributing more weight to my left foot. The reception area was a small, hermetic room filled with females sitting in chairs lined up along the walls as if it were a wake, and to the centre was a rickety coffee table, partially hidden by a dishevelled stack of outdated magazines that might have been there since the inauguration of the practice. A lopsided poster hung from the partition facing the entrance and dictated in handwriting as crooked as a stick that the office was twenty five years old. To the left of the poster was the door which led to the doctor’s office with a yellow number five (the current patient) drooped on it. When I stuck my head further inside, I noticed the secretary’s desk nestled in a small rectangular area filled with dozens of cream boxes holding patients’ profiles and barricaded with a crude burglar-proof gate because times had worsened.


I signalled to Roxanne and she closed her book on page one and scurried across just as Patient Five exited the doctor’s private area. You might recall that my Christian cousin had, through verbal contract, allowed the red-skinned woman to proceed ahead of her without exchanging cards. I watched as Patient Nine hurried towards the door, slapped her card to the protruding nail and disappeared. It is only now as I write this, two days after I had been discharged from Port of Spain General Hospital, that I can appreciate the comedy of the ordeal, however, at the time I was incensed and exclaimed:


“Jeez-an-ages! The person with card ten going and think they next!”


I abandoned the thought and focused on an archaic television which was fastened to the far corner of the wall that met the security gate. The stupidest programme I had ever seen was being aired, a game show where the winners were promised a spectacular trip to New Zealand; however, the genius twist to the apparent daily broadcast was: the contestants were homosexual couples. A girl of no more than six sat next to her mother, absorbed by the host and lesbian duos as they exchanged infantile questions and incongruous answers. Roxanne, guided by an impetuous force, declared:


“How absurd!”


I utilised the distraction to enquire whether or not she believed that any of the other patients were here to lose their testicles.


“They’re all female,” she scolded and flipped her book open to page one.


In the process of time, Patient Nine exited with the same red-skinned fellow who had been hunched over the gate.


Immediately, an elderly East Indian lady stood, dusted the front of her shocking-blue sari and hurried to the door while my cousin ambled towards her. I looked on from the outside as Roxanne, all business-like, stalled her and professed:


“Excuse me, ma’am. I’m sorry but we are next. I have the number six.”


The tanty looked at Roxanne and the unbalanced number nine then matter-of-factly announced:


“I have number ten! The door have number nine so I am next!”


Without another word she hurried inside.


Not only did my heart crack but my pain also escalated and I silently hoped that the senior citizen did not have an end-of-the-year grocery list of maladies. To my surprise, however, Roxanne signalled for me to follow and, with an impetus, I tailed her and the old lady who was already unleashing a catalogue of lamentations. Inside the aseptic but sterile office we tiptoed past the diseased woman and the seated doctor into a smaller, drearier room screened with an indeterminate pattern of white, floor-length cotton curtains and wooden walls. Inside, the antiseptic was thicker and there was a bed, as narrow as a gurney, wrapped in a seamless, white sheet (which I secretly hoped I wouldn’t have to lie on), a frayed ottoman – which Roxanne occupied – a table decorated with flagons, and varnished shelves which housed oodles of ancient medical apparatuses. Like a curious but cautious kid, I inspected the unfamiliar articles until my eyes landed on a shoebox filled with bloody cotton swabs. Immediately my interest was deadened and I gingerly navigated to the bed adjacent to Roxanne whose eyes were still glued to page one of her book. I said in a nervous whisper:


“Roxanne,” and when she looked up, I continued, “I’m really scared about losing my testicles.”


I laughed; when I’m nervous I laugh.


The doctor entered. His name was Shiva Narine and he had a face as ancient as his apparatuses, a sharp Roman nose which accented his stern eyes, and thinning but long hair. He didn’t possess the kind, gentle aura of a pristine doctor on a television advert who had supposedly taken the Hippocratic Oath. Rather, Dr. Narine had wild, beady eyes which danced between Roxanne and me. He must have ascertained my nervousness because, with a raspy voice, he enquired of me:


“Whom am I seeing today?”


Dr. Narine’s voice was a cauldron bubbling with the air of simplicity, experience and reassurance which I had been yearning for. Then, without warning, nostalgia swept over me and I was a child sitting on the hassock Roxanne now occupied, my tiny legs swinging to and fro, conscious of the concerned eyes and fidgeting hands of my mother, and aware of every cold jab of the dreaded chill ring of Dr. Narine’s stethoscope. Roxanne cast a fleeting glance my way and the doctor’s horn-rimmed glasses turned upon me, culminating the nausea that had temporarily subsided in my stomach. I hesitated because while it was tolerable to discuss my dilemma with my female cousin it was awkward to do so in the presence of the doctor.


“Well?” he inquired.


I stuttered my poignant testimony and to my disappointment, for I had hoped to be cured by word of mouth, Dr. Narine instructed me to strip and lie down. Then he vanished behind the wooden partition. I stripped to my boxers, sniffed my armpits and, somewhat satisfied by the resulting scent, lay down. The bed was a trifle too short and, discomforted, I bent my feet and curled my toes against the wall. Behind the panel I heard the doctor enquiring about the old lady’s family – and tanty giving him the whole rundown about who married, dead and have more children and for whom. I thought: is he mad? Did he not know that my testicles were aching? For the first time, I felt like no one was taking my problem seriously. The doctor reappeared abruptly and scolded my disobedience.


“Should I take off my boxers?” I asked.


“How else do you expect me to see the problem?”


He disappeared again and, behind the partition, the long lamentation of Patient Ten resumed. I arose from the bed, as with the croaking of old furniture, and tugged the curtain shut until a disinterested Roxanne vanished from view. I removed my boxers, cupped my groin and lay down again, trusting that the bed sheet wasn’t also celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary and had been sanitised since its last usage.


Dr. Narine, the beloved workaholic, reappeared, equipped with surgical gloves and, unknowingly, he became the first of many who would inspect my testicles over the next few days. The sensation of the pungent, moist latex was not arousing, as I had dully and fearfully imagined it would have been, yet stupidly I concluded that this was due to the masculinity of the medical expert. I closed my eyes, but failed to gain comfort within the darkness of my mind and Dr. Narine must have sensed my distress because he said:


“Do you know that the last time you were here you were two years old?”


A severe squeeze jolted my privates, as if he intended to learn why I hadn’t visited more frequently, but before I could shriek a response, he pried:


“Does it hurt when I do this?”


I nodded; his index finger and thumb felt like a vise clamping my right testicle.


He probed around some more, squeezing my testicles here and there like a medicine ball, then suddenly stopped, removed his gloves, told me to clad myself quickly and, without waiting for me to do so, retracted the curtain, revealing Roxanne. He assumed the tone of a calm businessman but his face betrayed a strenuous mark which worried me:


“This is serious. You have a condition known as testicular torsion but, thank goodness, it’s only rudimentary. You need immediate surgery or you will lose your right testicle.” When he perceived my confusion, he smoothly flipped to the argot of the grassroots: “It have lines that does carry blood to your balls. Sometimes they could twist with motion. It does not have to be a strain; it can be anything and when that happens it becomes kinked, thereby preventing blood which keeps the testicles alive. If they don’t get blood for a long time your balls could die and you basically have to cut them off.”


Dr. Narine looked at me; I looked at Roxanne; she looked at Dr. Narine. He paused, patted his pockets as if he had lost something and finally found the pad and pen he sought in his shirt jacket. He scribbled some hurried, illegible lines, tore the sheet from the pad and passed it to me.


“Take this to Mount Hope,” he ordered, “and they will treat your situation as an emergency… you know you’re the second case of torsion I’ve seen today!”


His revelation, though astounding and melodramatic, neither surprised me nor offered the quantum of solace which I sought; at least, however, I hadn’t been the first naked man he had examined for the day. Without warning my world smashed into the sun and, ironically, Roxanne and I had heard ‘testicular tersian’ during Dr. Narine’s extensive discussion. For the next few hours she and I would quote ‘tersian’ to persons monitoring me via cellular phones, a word which I thought sounded like all the males of Sparta had succumbed to groin injury.


I paid Dr. Narine forty dollars and filtered out of his office, past the patients in the reception area and back into the open environment where life was in full swing – strangely, the thought which bothered me the most was: why was the secretary behind a locked gate and it was the doctor who collected the fees? Things were as they had been earlier: gravel-laden dump trucks were still swerving madly through the intersection as if it were an empty stretch, inured taxi drivers were hustling prospective passengers, ribald dogs were sniffing each other’s backside, cosmopolitan sots were soliciting – ‘a lil small change please’ – those scurrying to work, thick and thin crowds were huddled around doubles men – the crowd’s thickness dependent on each vendor’s reputation – and the sick were still filtering to the doctor. Things were as they had been, only busier, with a myriad of cars and people and a bigger, yellower sun, gleaming as in a touristy poster but to the natives it was just another hot day and another cause for the remark, ‘Gosh boy, it hot like hell eh?’ Agitated by the din of man and machine, I dialled my boss and relayed my heartrending dilemma which required immediate surgery.


“It’s known as testicular tersian,” I said confidently, spelling the ailment slowly and suggesting that he Google it. Any other memory I have of Dr. Narine’s office is fragmentary for there are gaps I cannot explain and answers I have denied for questions I cannot recount, but there are fears which are alive, even to this day.


Roxanne was driving along the westbound highway on the outskirts of the neighbourhood where I lived and little did I know that I wouldn’t be returning home for a few days and if someone had prophesied this I would have laughed despite my pain. As a transient Trincity slipped past I wondered about my executive tempered glass desk and new bed. After a series of mobile conversations and the speedy exchange of shaky ideas among female relatives, my fate was decided: I was to be taken to Mount Hope, the same hospital where my mother had intrepidly survived the labour pains I had administered a quarter of a century before. I was intimate with the place, having attended a college which, oddly enough, had been housed at the medical facility. Without warning, I began sobbing and vainly attempted to console myself by glancing between the blinking digital display on the van’s dashboard and the fleeting outside world, hoping that time would freeze or my pernicious dream would end.


It was nine o’clock and I still had my two testicles.

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