So What Would YOU Do?
For a seasoned but still desirable gay man, I’ve got nothing fucken wrong with me health-wise. No cholesterol, no high blood pressure, no diabetes, HIV neg, still in decent shape, and younger looking than my momma would have admitted.
Except for one thing …
I have stenosis of the spine, a narrowing of the spinal column, which since last fall left me with excruciating, almost crippling pain shooting down the back of my legs and ankles whenever I sat or lay around too long and then got up. I had scoliosis as a teen, curvature of the spine, and at that time the treatment was wearing a brace and sleeping on a board. Now I wonder whether what I suffered at fourteen was a precursor of the hell I was living now. Epidural steroid shots, physical therapy (my gym regimen is a sane one) even laser therapy, I tried everything, but about the only relief I got was from popping Advils and a prescription pain reliever, Tramadol which doped me up.
Somedays, if it weren’t for my dogs, I felt like doing myself in. Only I wouldn’t do it quietly with pills or a gun. No, I’d park my Honda Element on the railroad tracks and wait for the next commuter train to come through. That way at least I’d be guaranteed front page on website news, papers across the country, and maybe be at the top of TV’s six o’clock news shows, that is, if I timed it right. (The 3:35 p.m. Tri-Rail coming in from Miami would work.) Though with my luck, that would be the day some nut tried to assassinate Obama and I’d end up on page 21. A terrible waste of a seven year old car with a book value of ten grand.
Okay, now there’s surgery, a less invasive variety which leaves connective, supportive issue in place, while opening the spinal column and relieving the pressure, with only a six week recovery which I discussed with two orthopedic surgeons and two other neurosurgeons. I was all scheduled to take the plunge thinking I understood and accepted all the possible risks when a comment a gym bud of mine in the same boat as I was made a few months ago started coming back to me: “When the surgeon told me I wouldn’t be able to have sex anymore, I said, fuck no.”
So I goggled and uncovered a National Institutes of Health study which looked at men who had had the same kind of surgery – decompression spinal surgery for stenosis – and concluded that there was a “significant increase” in erectile dysfunction among those where other factors for their ED were ruled out. It made sense when you consider you’re fucking around with the nerves in the lower part of the spine. Now Viagra can always help with circulation but there ain’t no pill out there to restore loss of sensation. What’s the point of getting hard if you don’t feel nothing?
So, did I try to find relief from my pain and give up sex FOREVER – or put up with my pain for the sake of my dick? I’ve always been a sexual creature, in spite of my nerdy demeanor, and I couldn’t envision a life where I had a piece of dead meat between my legs. Hey, it’s like somebody cutting your balls off.
One ortho surgeon agreed it might happen, along with a shitload of other problems; another neurosurgeon felt my risk factors with minimally invasive surgery for such consequences were low, and that study was probably focusing on men with more extensive back surgery which all four of the surgeons I consulted felt I didn’t need.
A recent issue of Men’s Fitness had a story about Dave Wright, one of the New York Mets’ star players, who, only in his thirties, is suffering from spinal stenosis due to a congenital problem. He was born with a spinal tube narrower than normal and I guess the stress on his body as an athlete accelerated its appearance. Admitting he was always in pain, Wright did the same shit as me, except for a far more demanding exercise regimen because of his profession. But one thing the story didn’t mention was surgery. Obviously, the Mets would have had the best surgeon in the world work on their money machine, but I wonder if Wright chose not to do it for the same reason as me.
Meanwhile my pain was getting worse and living on pills was not my idea of living. Plus one of the constrictions was so narrow I was increasingly fearful I might wake one morning and find I couldn’t walk at all.
So faced with my Solomon-like decision, what would YOU do?
I ended up picking the youngest (and cutest) and most progressive neurosurgeon of the lot and go under the knife. Date for my surgery: the Thursday of Memorial Day Weekend.
And since George was technically no longer in my life and had admitted that he couldn’t fly or drive down here if I had a problem (unlike me holding his hand), I was to face the most vulnerable moment of life, with the exception of a few friends, pretty much alone.
Wednesday: My Day of Reckoning