It’s 2:00pm on Wednesday, March 18th. I’m in Takayama, Japan. I’m in a Red Cross hospital. In 18 hours they’re going to remove my left testicle and the tumor growing from it. A man with a milky eye is staring at me.
“Jo-?” He says it too short, little more than a grunt, and I repeat it for him. This time he holds out the vowel, “JO-o-o-o.” Sounds have specific durations in Japanese, and I suppose they do in English too, because no one ever gets my name quite right. But the nurse gets close so I nod and he introduces me to the woman who will be caring for me the next few days, Izumi. Raquel grabs on to her name and thanks the woman for doing the job my wife is so good. The rest of the nurses giggle. Raquel looks relieved that it’s not so serious that no one can laugh but I think it’s too early in the day for this shit.
Izumi comes out from behind the station to measure my height. She needs a foot stool to reach above my head. We go to my room. The bed is too small, so Izumi rolls it away while I stand dumbly and look at my roommates. One is snoring. One is in a wheelchair. I will learn the last of them is blind. Because I’m willing to share a room with them, I won’t have to pay a penny to stay in the hospital overnight. It’s 2:15. Maybe I should have asked for a private room.
It’s 2:45. Izumi has already taken my blood pressure and prodded my swollen testicle. She tapped it once, like I would test on eggplant for ripeness, and scribbles a paragraph in Japanese. I pull my pants back up.
At 7:00, they stick a needle in my arm that they’ll use to deliver drugs and fluids during my stay here. I’ve spoken to the doctor. I finally got the courage to ask how many times he’s done this operation before, an inguinal orchiectomy. He ticked on his fingers “about twenty?” he said, and I was able to breathe easier. Izumi giggled. “First time?” she asked.
It’s 9:00 and the hospital is quiet except for my snoring roommates. I’m not tired. I miss my wife. I want a beer. I dream I’m in a nursing home and all of the fish in the aquarium there can’t remember how to eat. A bright orange fish jumps out of the tank and bites me in the crotch.
I wake up. It’s 6:30 AM. I’m ready to get rid of this fucking testicle. It’s funny how fast we forget our loyalties.
It’s 7:21. A nurse gives me a pain killer through the needle in my arm. It’s very difficult to read or write. I’m staring at the T-shirt I’m wearing. I’m supposed to be wearing a robe. I don’t know how to change because I’m connected to a bag of drugs by a long tube. A nurse comes and helps me, trying not to giggle. I smile at her.
I lose track of time. They take me to the Operating Room. It’s big and empty except for me in the center of it. I sit up and they stick a needle in my spine and inject an anesthetic. The doctor touches a cold wet piece of gauze to the right side of my abdomen and asks if I can feel it.
Yes, I say, angry that I have to say yes.“OK” he says, “can you feel this?”
They’ve completely numbed the left side of my abdomen. They nod to eachother and I lay down, my arms are extended on either side, as if to be tortured. They cover me in a blanket and remove all of my clothes. They hang a curtain below my neck so I won’t have to watch them remove my testicle, but I can see my reflection in the glass light fixtures above me. They’re shaving me. They’re swabbing my penis with iodine. The nurse apologizes for the music and puts on Taylor Swift instead. I don’t know how to ask for anything else. I try to focus on the words to “Shake it Off.”
I try to look away as they slice into my abdomen with a scalpel. I try to look away when the doctor reaches into me with one his frightening devices. They remove the testicle. I’m relieved.
How much longer?
“Ten minutes,” the doctor says.
My heart rate drops to 39 beats per minute. They ask in broken English if they can give me an injection to raise my pulse. I say yes and try to stay awake. The injection doesn’t work, so they give me another one. My pulse raises to 47 bpm. The operation is finished. My temperature is 35.2 degrees Celsius, about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m very cold and they move me to a heated bed and roll me out of the operating room. The nurses bow as we pass.
It’s 2:30. I can feel my legs. The painkiller they gave me intravenously has finally set in. It was thick and white. Reminded me of either milk of the poppy or semen. I waited too long to ask for it and Raquel had to watch as I wreathed in pain after the local anesthetic wore off but before the drug set in. She left when I was still sweating and groaning. I’ve only been in that much pain once before. I shouldn't have waited.
It’s 4:30. I wake to find a nurse draining my catheter. I didn’t even know I had a catheter. I try to sit up and feel myself urinate. I have no control over it. I’m very embarrassed but he pretends like he doesn’t notice.
A little later the doctor asks if I want to see my testicle. I nod for some reason, and he brings it in a Tupperware dish. My testicle is a yellowish ball dwarfed by a large pink tumor growing from it. I’m relieved it’s not inside me anymore.
If you ever feel anything wrong, go to the doctor. Time is your best weapon.
Looking at the tumor, I can’t help but think about why I got testicular cancer. I blame myself, what I’ve eaten, that I’ve not exercised enough, my great uncle, my luck finally running out. Raquel blames Japan, the diet, the radiation, the mercury in the fish, the universe. We’re both wrong I think, but it hurts too much not to blame anything.Raquel visits me before bed. She’s happy I’m not in as much pain, so am I.
It’s 9:00am on Friday and the doctor is about to remove me catheter. “Painful,” he says and yanks the tube and I groan and try not to squirm as he pulls and pulls and pulls. At least this explains why I couldn’t control my urine. Asshole had that thing so far in it must have been in my bladder. An hour later and it burns like I’m pissing out barbed wire. But this is nothing compared to how I felt yesterday. At least I can walk.
Raquel visits and asks when I can go home. I’m so happy to have her that I want to laugh and cry, but it hurts my abdomen to do either so I just tell her soon. She leaves and I go to sleep.
It’s 8:00am on Saturday and the doctor says I can go home, I just need to watch for swelling. “If you get headache, drink water, then call us.” OK. I think I understand. I hobble to the elevator and find the payphone and call Raquel. She’s out at kindergarten graduation. I hope she has the car. I don’t want to be here anymore but by the time I make it back to fifth floor it hurts to sit up.It’s 11:00 am and Raquel and Kuniko are here to take me home. The nurses ask if I want to stay for lunch. We laugh. It still hurts.
Outside, I thank Kuniko and hug her for her help but she’s too short and it hurts to bend over. I get in the car and look at Raquel. She’s so beautiful, and I’m so happy to have her. She drives me home.
J. Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama with his darling wife. He is hoping to go home in April, but is awaiting the pathology report. Most of his posts aren't this depressing, but shit happens. Click here to read about when he was diagnosed by a man who didn't speak English, here for a car accident, or here for a much more entertaining penis festival.