When I found blood where it didn’t belong, I did what every man does instinctively: I ignored it and hoped it would go away. Men don’t panic. Men take the mature approach to any yucky problems down there. Maybe I would wake up to find that it was all a dream.
But blood kept appearing in my semen, of all places. I took the next manly step. I googled. The U. of I. (University of the Internet) narrowed things down to about two dozen explanations. I read that blood in the semen was usually a self-correcting and harmless occurrence. Simple plumbing problems and infections were the most likely causes, but cancer was a possibility.
I fixated on the cancer part. Soon any abnormal sensation in my body sent my heart racing. Even my little friend down there reacted. It shriveled up and retreated back into me like a sleepy little mouse that had lost its taste for cheese.
I made an appointment with a urologist. I had already concluded that I probably had prostate cancer. It made sense, and I deserved it because of my age, my life style, my diet, my lack of exercise, my irregular sleeping habits, and my failure to have a regular prostate exam. Yes. I had been inattentive and disrespectful to my health, and it was payback time. Evidently, my need to get up and pee in the middle of the night wasn’t enough to nudge me into getting myself checked out. Yeah. I deserved this. My trip to the specialist would be a formality. My diagnosis would be another lesson learned the hard way.
To complicate matters, I was living and working temporarily in Shanghai, China. Without local health insurance, the private specialist fee would cost me an arm and a leg. Maybe a third appendage. Payback.
I had three days to wait for my appointment. This provided ample time for my terror to set. I began planning my funeral and wondered if it would be cheaper for my siblings to fly to China for the service instead of shipping (air freight?) my body back to the United States. In the meantime, my genitals had pretty much disappeared.
On appointment day, a pretty young nurse led me to the examination room where a boy with glasses sat behind a big desk. He was, I thought, the urologist’s son who was there visiting and getting some quality dad-time. It turned out that the boy was the urologist himself, appearing fresh and dripping wet from urology school. I looked towards the door, but it was too late to make a run for it.
I told the doctor all about my symptoms and how sorry and ashamed I was that I had waited so long. As I spoke, I surveyed the exam room for objects he might use to punish me. I had no idea about what would happen, but I was fairly sure there would be probing. The young doctor spoke excellent English and was attentive and reassuring. He told me that blood in the semen is not so uncommon, but he would need to check things out.
I soon became a hand puppet, completely under the control of the young man with the glove and his lubricant jelly. This only lasted a few seconds. “Your prostate is good for now—not hard—but a little large,” he said. I didn’t know whether or not this was a compliment or if I should have thanked him but it sounded like positive news.
Then, snapping off his gloves and flinging them into a waste basket, he announced: “Now I’ll do a quick check of your testicles.”
You’ll do what? I thought. I hadn’t planned on this. I had only braced myself for one violation, had even popped a couple of aspirin before my appointment. And now this.
“Have you ever examined your own testicles?” he asked. Again, I didn’t know how to answer him. Maybe I should have taken three aspirin.
“Here,” he said, and he reached down and I took a breath. “Ah,” he said when his trained fingers stopped suddenly.
Ah? I thought.
“You have something down there. A small growth. Go ahead, you can feel it yourself. Compare it to the other side.” So I did, and sure enough there was something there. I looked up at the doctor, poised for the next bombshell.
“We’re going to need an ultrasound,” announced the young doctor.
I got dressed and had to wait nearly two hours to see the ultrasound technician. I didn’t bring anything to read, so I had plenty of time to think about my impending death. A certain resignation settled over me as I awaited my fate. Everybody goes around thinking they have a good hold of the truth. It’s usually not true, but sometimes things do come into focus. I knew the small round thing I had just felt between my fingers was going to be good or bad, sinister or safe, deadly or benign. It always comes down to this, I thought. Either we’re doing okay or we’re not. What other truth do we need?
The technician assigned to check out my private parts was a serious looking woman. She too wore glasses and looked like she wanted to get down to business. She wasted no time. Her machine was already fired up from a previous patient, and in her right hand she held what looked like a microphone. Then she turned to me and said something in Chinese. I shook my head as if I didn’t understand—but in fact I did. She pointed to my pants and made herself quite clear with a quick gesture: Drop ‘em, buddy.
The woman then handed me a small paper towel. I didn’t understand at first. Then I got it. This little towel was a swipe at modesty, but I only managed to cover up the main man and not much else. The white-coated angel of humiliation and her ultrasound machine held full reign over me. From any perspective, I was a ridiculous sight. I tried telling myself that she probably does this all the time, but that didn’t help.
Fifteen minutes elapsed in silence as she passed her Norelco-like device up and down and around my doomed manhood. At times, she held the instrument in one place while she studied the screen in front of her and made little grunting noises. My god, woman, say something. And then finally she stopped abruptly and simply said, “Okay.”
Zipping up, I looked at her and uttered, “Well?” I had ignored the language barrier.
“Okay,” she said again. Then I realized this was probably the only English she knew, and it could have meant anything—as in “Okay, pass the salt.” or “Okay, you’re a goner.” All the woman could do is cock her head towards the door without looking at me. Her job was done, and I grabbed my shoes and shuffled out of the examination room like Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking.
But this time I was lucky. “Okay” meant exactly that. The young urologist with his excellent English and friendly manner became my hero as he clarified what the technician had found: a small benign cyst in my left testicle. It needed to be watched but it was not serious. He concluded that I had an infection in my seminal vesicles, those curled up storage tubes we men have down there. This accounted for the blood. In short, I was indeed okay. I had dodged a bullet.
The doctor ordered a dose of strong antibiotics and some Chinese manufactured tablets, whose essential ingredient was bee pollen. Within a week, my infection cleared up completely.
Bee pollen, I learned, is full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients. It can reduce inflammation and is often recommended for an enlarged prostate and even prostatitis. Generally, bee pollen is supposed to help keep the prostate healthy. And whoever heard of a bee with prostate cancer?