Archive - Medical Oddities RSS Feed

The Procedure

In the early spring of 2005, when our daughter Evie was still just a brand-new, shiny beautiful baby, I had a vasectomy. I’ve mentioned this particular procedure before, but I promised then that I’d tell you that story sometime. Today’s your lucky day.

I don’t know if all urologists are like this, but because mine, Dr. Samuel Little (everybody make your own joke) was awesome, he put us through a grueling consultation beforehand. Basically, he did everything in his power to try to talk us out of it. I don’t know if dudes get vasectomies and then have second thoughts after it’s too late, but that was totally not going to happen in our case. He said, “Have you seen those billboards between here and Dallas that advertise reversals? That doesn’t work. With the procedure that I use, it’s a done deal. When you…”

I interrupted, “Enough small talk. Let’s light this up, Little. You need us to sign anything?”

He said, “I’m serious. It’s important that you realize this is completely final. You really need to take time to think through…”

I cut him off again. “Hey doc, let’s me save us all some time here. Here’s what we’re gonna do: You’re gonna cut into me, and you’re not gonna just snip things and tie them off. What you’re gonna do for me is you’re gonna completely remove whatever plumbing you find in there. Just totally rip it out. Whatever you do with what’s left over after that is your business.”

He looked at us gravely for a moment. Then he smiled. “That’s all I had to hear. Let’s do this thing!”

When we tried to explain to our boys that Daddy was “having some work done,” we even told them we were doing it because we didn’t plan to have any more children. Kenny, our oldest, asked, “Why not?” I told him, “Because Mommy and Daddy only wanted a girl. And we had to go through two boys to get one. Now that we finally have her, we just can’t risk any more boys. Do you understand?” He nodded quietly. He really seemed to get it.

A friend who had already had his procedure told me that I should ask for Valium to settle my nerves. I’m here to tell you: That’s always good advice. Dr. Little (smirk) wrote me a script for exactly 1, and he told me to take it on the morning of my procedure on my way to his office. Check and check.

By the time we got there on the day, I was already feeling pretty good. (I’ve told you before how much I enjoy a nice Valium.) During our consultation, Kendra had asked if she’d be allowed to watch the procedure, and Dr. Little (hee hee) told her it was fine with him, as long as I didn’t care. I didn’t, so as Kendra and I strolled into the little examining room together, baby Evie in tow, sleeping peacefully in her teeny car seat, we discovered a lovely set of icy stirrups all ready for me. Events are a little hazy, but I’m pretty sure I was buck-naked and looking around for a gown before the door was even closed behind me.

A very polite older woman (who I assumed was a nurse) explained that she’d need to dry shave me a little (gesturing slightly)  “down there in your area.” She asked if that was okay, and I was all like, “Who am I to argue? We’re all professionals here, right?” (Honestly, it’s a shame that aspect wasn’t covered in the orientation video; I would gladly have managed that little pre-prep task myself and saved them the trouble. Probably not dry, though—more likely moisturized and Aloe-scented.)

When Dr. Little came in, a big grin on his face, we were pretty much ready for launch. He surveyed the manscape, made sure he had all his favorite tools (syringes, scalpels, knitting hooks, scissors, hammer, chisel, Brandy, that sort of thing). We bantered a little to set the mood. He asked if I was ready, and I said, “I guess so. Although usually, by the time I find myself in stirrups like this, my date’s already treated me to a nice steak dinner and a bottle of wine.”

Before we got started, he said, almost as a random aside, “I have a doctor interning with us who hasn’t gotten to watch a vasectomy yet. Would you mind an observer?”

I said, “No problem. The more, the merrier. Bring him in. And if you’ve got anybody else out there who’d like to watch, I’m cool with that, too. I had the sense your receptionist was kind of checking me out. Maybe some folks from the lobby.” (I’m not making any of this up, by the way.)

Dr. Little said, “Great! Thanks.” Then he opened the door and invited in the hottest lady doctor I’ve ever seen in my life, probably all of 28 years old. (Apparently she’d taken a couple years off of supermodeling to knock out a medical degree.)

Before we go any further, let’s take a quick head count of all those present, shall we? We have myself, Kendra, Evie, the older lady nurse, Dr. Little, Dr. McHotterson (not her real name), and of course my two knobby knees, which at this point felt a little like they were floating up and scraping up against the ceiling. Add a few red plastic cups and some nice electronica, and we’d have a full-on frat party.

The actual procedure probably took just a few minutes. We continued visiting throughout, and at one point I remember Dr. Little telling me I was the most entertaining patient he’d probably ever had. (What can I say? If you slip me a narcotic, roll me over on my back, hike up my skirt, and break out the knives, my brain-to-mouth filter goes haywire. Honestly, it’s a lot like when I write for my blog, only I’m not wearing pants. No, wait a minute… It’s exactly like when I write for my blog.)

Because my view was blocked by draping, I just kind of had to take the audience’s word for it that everything was working according to plan. Kendra asked if they had a mirror they could bring in so I could watch, like she did when our babies were born. I assured them that wouldn’t be necessary. (As if I haven’t already spent enough of my life checking out my business in the mirror! Am I right? Who knows what I’m talking about?) Anyway, at one point, Kendra said what Dr. Little was pulling out looked kind of like spaghetti. I guess I can picture that—of course that wasn’t the first time I’ve been covered in pasta below the waist.

Dr. Little (woo hoo) held up a section and offered to let Kendra snip it. She considered, but only for a second. She’s much more frugal than I am, and I think she wanted to be sure we were getting our money’s worth out of this guy.

He finished up, cauterized something, tucked some things back in, and buttoned my accoutrement all back up. The entire show was apparently a great success. I can only presume the applause was for his work and not for my contribution; I’ve never received that much “golf clapping” at any other time that I can recall. In any case, nothing too dramatic must have happened because Evie managed to sleep through the whole thing.

The assisting staff gathered up all the medieval weaponry and the buffet leftovers, cleared out the room, lowered me off the rack, and finally gave me, Kendra and the baby a little privacy, so I could collect myself and re-gird my loins (what was left of them, anyway). I was a little sore that day, but I slept a lot, so I don’t remember much of the rest of it. What I do remember was the next morning, when I awoke feeling like Donkey Kong had throttled me with a hockey puck slapshot to the pills. But that’s where my original story picks up anyway, so I can stop here. Besides, just between you and me, I think I’ve probably told you quite enough already.

Have you ever had a procedure with an audience? How did it go? Did everything come out okay? If you have one, what’s your narcotic of choice for having work done? Why do you think it is that you never see a really hot doctor unless it’s on TV or when you’re at your most vulnerable?

Laser Eyes (Part 2 of 2)

(This is Part 2 of a 2-part story. Part 1 is here.)

The day of the procedure, you have to have someone there to drive you home, either because your eyesight’s not at 100% until your corneas can heal over (which takes a few days), or because they give you Valium to mellow you out for your time in the chair, or I guess possibly because, you know, they’ve blinded you. So Kendra went with me. It was mid-afternoon, and several other people were also there, sitting around in the big, executive-looking waiting room, either to have their own eyes blasted or to drive their groggy loved ones home. We checked in, then strolled casually to some comfy chairs, each of us selecting a magazine to peruse while we waited.

During our previous visit here for the initial consultation, they had led us into a maze directly behind the waiting room, a kind of hodge-podge of doctor’s examining rooms and tiny negotiating rooms like they sometimes have at car dealerships. But today, when my time came, a young woman took me to a completely different part of the complex. This place was in a storefront-type building in a strip mall, so the entire front was a wide tinted glass wall that faced the parking lot. She led me down what was more or less a long hallway, the wall of windows immediately on my right. So they could regulate the temperature along that wall, the windows were covered floor to ceiling with copper-colored metal shades.

Where the hallway ended, we turned left and passed a couple of restrooms. She took me into a large, dark room where there were three or four permanently reclined chairs, the kind you lie in at the dentist. She directed me to a chair, then brought me a couple of Valiums and some water in a tiny Dixie cup, the same kind you’d use in the bathroom to swish after brushing when you were a kid. She said I’d need to wait for it to kick in, checked her watch, and promised she’d come back to get me in a few minutes. She left, and I lay back and closed my eyes.

I drifted there for several minutes, ruminating lazily about all those tiny details I’d be able to make out now, things I might have been missing before, and gradually it also dawned on me that my bladder was approaching its full holding capacity. You know what it’s like when you’re lying in bed and you realize you need to go; once you’ve had just that initial thought, you’re past the point of no return. When the girl returned a few minutes later, I sat up and asked her if I could use the restroom before we went back. She looked…concerned. “Uh, number one or number two?”

I chuckled. “One.”

Still she looked perplexed. “Do you think you could hold it until after?”

I chuckled again. “Not bloody likely.”

She furrowed her brow, contemplating. “Okay. Do you remember where it was? We passed it coming in.”

“Sure,” I said, dropping my feet to the floor, which seemed much spongier now than when we came in.

She lunged at me and slipped her arm under my armpit. “Whoa. A little wobbly. Do you need me to get you some help?”

I played it cool. “I’m fline. Smeally.” Outwardly, I was being polite, but inside I was thinking, Seriously? I’ve been going to the bathroom myself now for like, what? Three hundred years? And also, Wow. Her face is kind of melty.

In spite of my stubbornness, she insisted on helping me back out into the hall. As soon as I saw the men’s room there at the corner, I knew I’d be fine. I walked towards the door. And overshot. Badly. Although I managed to get my hand up to keep myself from falling—at first, anyway—in so doing I grabbed a handful of metal blinds. I then promptly raked down them as I crumpled to my knees there at the windows. And this in full sight of all the terrified people down the hallway in the waiting room.

Try to imagine the sound of dragging your hand ceiling to floor across metal blinds pressed against glass in a long hallway. This sound was not unlike that. You’d probably imagine this to be a very loud, very dramatic kind of noise. And you’d be right. Every face cranked towards me, wrenched in horror. I can only imagine their thoughts, What in the world’s going on back there?!?

The girl helped me up and wrangled me into the men’s room. “Are you sure you’re going to be all right? I can get somebody, a guy, to come help you.”

“Scromningulaind,” I assured her, waving her off dismissively. “Nit’s vend.”

She slipped out and closed the door, I think unconvinced. I placed a hand on the wall and conducted my business. In my memory, I had perfect aim, successfully navigated and with no undue overspray. Of course, for all I know, it was into a trash can or a sink or a drain in the floor or against the wall. But I’m sure it was fine. I finished up, I think put everything away and closed up, washed what I’m pretty sure were my hands, and staggered back out into the hall.

She was waiting there for me and helped me into another dark room, where I lay into yet another dentist chair. A doctor I couldn’t see gave me some instructions, which I obediently followed. Honestly, at that point, they could have handed me a gun, Jason-Bourne-style, and told me to shoot a hooded guy in the corner and I would absolutely have done it. (For all I know, they did.)

The actual procedure was kind of a blur, dark, with lots of popping noises and weird lights. The only part I remember vividly is that when they fired the laser into my eye, it looked like my eyeball filled with gray ashes—from the inside. That was the only moment I was frightened about losing my eyesight. But I was also very drowsy, so the feeling passed quickly.

I don’t remember leaving that day. I don’t remember whatever instructions they gave to me. What I do remember was awakening the next morning in my own bed, rolling over, and seeing my alarm clock—clearly—for perhaps the first time in my life. I cried a little. It was the best money I ever spent on myself.

Have you ever been high in public? What happened? Were authorities involved? When you write “gray,” do you spell it with an “a” or with an “e”? (I anguished over that decision today.)

Laser Eyes (Part 1 of 2)

(Today is part one of a two-part story. Part 2 is here.)

I’ve had poor eyesight for as long as I can remember. Primarily farsightedness. My mom took me to get glasses when I was in the third grade. I wore them for exactly one day and then never put them on again. Finally, when I was 16, although my eyesight was decent enough that I passed my driver’s exam, I couldn’t deny that I really couldn’t see safely at night. So I caved and got contact lenses. (That’s a story perhaps I’ll tell you another time.)

When Kenny, our first child, was about to be born, Kendra convinced me that I couldn’t risk not being able to see at his birth, particularly if he came in the middle of the night and I didn’t have time to get my contacts in before we’d have to leave the house. So I went and got glasses again. I spent a lot of money and selected very carefully. But later, when I saw the pictures from the hospital, I just couldn’t stand how I looked with them on. I think the problem is that if I wear glasses large enough to offset my nose, it looks like I’m trying to be all Hollywood. And if I wear glasses that are “cool” and the appropriate, “normal” size for the rest of my face, it’s impossible not to notice that they could fit handily into either one of my cavernous nostrils. Although that might make for convenient storage and quick access, it’s hardly practical. More importantly, it’s ugly.

So, still burdened by contacts and my backup ugly glasses, one day at work I was discussing my dilemma with a friend who told me about Lasik, laser surgery for your eyes. He had had it done, and he said (and this is an exact quote): “It’s the best money I ever spent on myself.” I didn’t need a lot of convincing. This was some twelve years ago, when Lasik was still pretty expensive—something like $1600 per eye—not like today, where you can have it done in the back of a van that comes to where you work, and if you bring in a Dr. Pepper can, you get a 10% discount. But after some research (and seriously begging Kendra), we set it up. And this is where our story begins…

Now, I don’t know whether you’re familiar with Lasik, but if you actually listen to what happens during the procedure, although the assistant tries to make it all sound routine, my consultation went something like this:

ASSISTANT: The Doctor has performed this procedure more than 38,000 times over the last 22 years…with-an-82%-success-rate.

ME: Excuse me? What? What was that last part?

ASSISTANT: Nothing. Here’s how it works: Using a highly precise scalpel, in an in-office procedure, The Doctor will make a minuscule, half-moon shaped incision…directly-onto-the-cornea-of-your-eye.

ME: I’m sorry. Did you say…

ASSISTANT: Then with another very precise instrument, The Doctor will open the flap he’s created…exposing-the-inside-of-your-eyeball-where-it’s-possible-although-not-likely-and-anyway-we-have-a-really-good-success-rate-and-it-almost-never-happens-that-infection-could-be-introduced-and-you-could-lose-your-sight.

ME: Uh…

ASSISTANT: Then The Doctor…blasts-a-loud-banging-super-high-intensity-laser-directly-into-your-eye-burning-away-living-tissue-and-kind-of-carving-it-into-a-shape-he-likes-and-thinks-will-probably-help-you-see.

ME: A…

ASSISTANT: Finally, The Doctor…blasts-the-dead-flesh-out-with-a-shot-of-air-and-lays-the-flap-back-over-and-because-the-surface-of-your-eye-is-basically-aqueous-it-uh-more-or-less-heals-itself.

ME: So what I hear you saying is that…

ASSISTANT: Do you have any questions?

ME: This “Doctor”: He’s like a real doctor, right?

ASSISTANT: Real enough. He’s got like a plaque in his office and everything.

ME: Um… Can I get a Valium beforehand?

ASSISTANT: We wouldn’t have it any other way.

ME: Do I need to sign anything? Like a waiver or something?

ASSISTANT: (laughing) Oh, my God. That’s hilarious! YES! Like, a bajillionty forms! I’ve heard it’s less trouble to do a house closing on a haunted mansion that’s a portal into hell and where serial murders were committed.

ME: Let’s light this candle.

Coming on Friday: The Actual Procedure…

Have you ever had a procedure done that the staff acted was like a completely simple, normal thing, but was actually terrifying? Have you ever had a procedure performed that was against your better judgment, but your vanity wouldn’t let you off the hook? Which do you think is better: Taco Bell or Taco Bueno? Justify your answer.

The Dander Chronicles

All my life I’ve suffered with dry skin. When it comes up, people always want to sort of compare notes. “Yeah, my skin gets real dry, too.” They simply don’t understand. They couldn’t. My knuckles will crack, split, and literally bleed. In the wintertime, when it’s worst because moisture is scarce, my vampire threat level climbs to DracCon 8. I guess it’s because the vampires can smell my blood practically bubbling to the surface. One even once told me it tasted like Strawberry Tootsie Pops—right before I staked her through the heart. (The spike notwithstanding, it was a precious thing for her to say, and it meant a lot to me.)

When I was a kid, probably in the second or third grade, my mom took me to a dermatologist. He had a big office in a tall, scary, shiny building. (The same building where years later my wisdom teeth would meet their end and a few years after that, I would attempt the GRE.) He checked me over thoroughly and pronounced his grim diagnosis: ichthyosis vulgaris. It’s a real thing. You can google it. It would be cooler if it had something to do with Jesus, like those little Jesus fish on the backs of people’s cars. Sadly, it does not. Loosely translated, it means simply “common fishy skin.”

When I was little, my calves used to build up what looked like scales—that’s the “fishy” part. I also have ichthyosis’s sister condition, keratosis pilaris, which manifests as little bumps on the backs of my upper arms. During the dry season, my feet used to shrivel up like feminine Chinese royalty of the Tang Dynasty (the historical empire, and not the Chinese heavy metal band). Had I desired to procure a fine young prince, this would have been ideal. Unfortunately, the pom girls were far less impressed. (One might actually say “appalled.”)

Over the years, my patient mother procured for me every type of remedy she could discover, from greasy slather-ons to all-natural herbs I had to pop daily like vitamin candy. (In case you’ve ever wondered, apparently cod liver oil pellets cure everything.) Counterintuitively, the most common ingredient in the prescription-only lotions we tried was…salt. I have no explanation for why. One of my least favorite was an unholy mixture of Aristocort and Aquaphor that our pharmacist blended together in his secret lair behind the counter, like some kind of metaphysical alchemist. It cost as much as a car payment, and was about equally as effective at helping my skin. (As the car payment.) The best solution we ever found was simple Lubriderm (which is also sort of Latin, meaning “lube for your skin”—ew). It was effective because it was cheap enough that I could keep it basting on me 24/7 like butter on a turkey.

When I was young, I was afraid that no one would ever love me because I had shriveled old man hands. (It honestly never occurred to me that my forearms also looked like a chimp’s, which would more likely be a turnoff to most chicks. I never had that condition diagnosed: Pilosus monachus telum? Pan troglodytus keratinis Popeyetis?) No matter. I got lucky. In the years that I met and courted Kendra, we enjoyed more than average moisture in the air. Plus, it seemed darker outside than usual. Both were factors which contributed to me reeling her in. (I used to tell people we had to get married because she “got me in trouble”—until she made me stop.)

Then after we were married, because ichthyosis vulgaris is hereditary (Thanks, Mom!), I was afraid of having children for a while. I didn’t want to risk making my kids suffer with it as I had. Sadly, my progeny have a host of other hereditary dysfunctions to worry about, such as a predilection to wear pants too short for them and extreme dislike of vegetables, which often expresses itself as outbursts riddled with violent language. (Only the dislike of vegetables part comes from my side of the family. The profanity-laden tirades are second-generation, passed down from their mother.)

These days I’m fine. According to reliable sources (like the Internet), ichthyosis vulgaris wanes during mid-life, storming back with a vengeance in old age. So I’ve got that crescendo of life suffering to look forward to. I lotion after every shower in the winter, using modestly priced off-the-rack lotion. I use a file to sand down my fingertips and any dry nubs trying to sprout crystalline structures on my skin’s surfaces. If not for my OCD-like hand washing tendencies, one might never be aware of my condition. Fortunately, perhaps for us all, my strikingly handsome face continues to distract onlookers from all my other shortcomings.

What about you? What sort of medical curiosities do YOU have? What’s your favorite flavor of Tootsie Pop?