Lower Extremities

Heal, Fall 2007, Volume 1, Issue 2

Life is crazy, hospitals are crazy, and catheters are crazier still.

“I have to pee,” I said.

“I, uh, think you still have your catheter in.”

A male patient is never told before surgery that after he is sedated, a catheter is inserted into his penis. I imagine “catheter inserter” must be one of the worst jobs in the world, on the same level as cleaning out a liposuction machine or clearing a minefield.

I decided to take a peek to see what a catheter really looks like. During my previous surgeries, it had always been removed before I knew it had been there.

Using my good arm, I maneuvered my hospital gown until I could get what is referred to in Southeast Oklahoma as a “look-see.”

Ugh. There it was all right. This wasn’t exactly a Kodak moment. I felt, somehow, like a fish on a spear, a Mer-Man of sorts, the “catch of the day.”

Plus, I felt so ... violated. Who had done this to me? Every person in the hospital who smiled at me from this point forward would be a suspect.

All day and into the night I felt the urge to pee, despite the nurse explaining that it was the catheter that created the sensation, much like a baby sits on the bladder of a woman who is pregnant. As the second day was drawing to an end, I was still in agony. To make matters worse, new catheter issues emerged during the night. Issues that will require some amount of delicacy to explain.

It has been my experience over the years that men often awake in the middle of the night, more toward morning really, with — oh how shall I put this — a boner. This isn’t, necessarily, a sexual thing. It seems to have more to do with gravity and a full bladder, although one never really knows about those things. On this particular night, I awoke in my hospital bed at about 4:30 a.m. or so. And I was like ... WHOA! WHAT IN THE WORLD IS HAPPENING TO ME?

Without getting too graphic, let me just say that a catheter is bad enough without, well you know, but it is pretty much unbearable in that particular state. (One thing is for sure: I’ll never be able to eat another corndog.)

I tried to relax and concentrate on something that was so thoroughly nauseating and disgusting that it would somehow reverse the process. I imagined my anesthesiologist entering the room with a big hairy booger hanging from his nose. This seemed to help. Choir music. Yes! That toenail on my dad’s foot. Oh yeah! I was on the road to recovery.

At some point, I began begging them to make the catheter go away.

Finally, one of my nurses let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, and told me someone would be in to remove the catheter “soon.”

During the hour or so between my version of soon and my nurse’s version, I had time to contemplate the magnitude of what was about to happen. Someone was about to pull a tube out of my penis. Surely they would send in a man, wouldn’t they? But then again, that would be pretty weird and probably not all that gentle. Gentleness was a must as far as I was concerned. My heart began beating fast.

Enter a petite female nurse, approximately 20 years old. Oh my God!

“Are you ready to have your catheter removed, Mr. Chastain?”

“Uh-huh.” Damn. My voice had cracked, like I was a sophomore in high school.

“I, uh, think I’ll step out for a second,” LeAnn said. I didn’t protest. There are some things a man has to do on his own. As soon as my wife left, the little nurse went right to business. She reached under my gown as if she was a doctor and I was about to give birth. Her hands glided up the plastic tube until they rested at the very end of my, er, enis-pay.

“Okay. Get ready. You’re going to feel a sort of tug, and then a dull pain.”

How does one “get ready” for a tug and pain? I simply smiled and said, “Let her rip,” which, in hindsight and by the odd look the nurse gave me, was about the worst thing I could have possibly said.

There was a sharp pain, at first, but in about five seconds, the misery had ended and I was free from my bondage. The nurse left me alone with my blushing cheeks and sore wiener.

LeAnn returned. “So?” she asked.

I probably said something to show how tough I was, some­thing like, “Piece of cake” or “catheter, schmatheter.” But all I can remember saying was, “I gotta pee.”

I entered the tiny bathroom and, still wobbly on my legs and aching from my middle, I decided to sit down and pee, girl-style. People frequently die in bathroom accidents, for goodness sakes. Nobody wants to go out like Elvis.

I assumed the position and waited. But there was a problem. Some sort of gurgling began bubbling deep inside me, as if my pipes had a clog or something. I concentrated harder.

It began slowly — like a sputter. But then, after the first muffled gasp, a sustained burst of energy came from me, as if I had been consuming pork and beans for the last week. It tickled like all get out.

As the fart continued, I began laughing uncontrollably.

“What are you laughing at?” LeAnn asked from outside.

“My penis is ... farting!” I guffawed.

“Huh-uh,” she said.

“Swear to God,” I replied.

This is what cancer had reduced me to — a pathetic man with 15 tubes hanging out of my arm. A small woman half my age had just violated me. I was wearing a rolled-up gown, sitting on a toilet like a girl, and farting from my penis.

Whatever dignity I had left that day in that hospital bathroom. And yet, it all seemed very funny. Life is crazy. Hospitals are crazy. And catheters are crazier still.

In August 2001, Jim Chastain, an attorney and married father of two in Norman, Okla., was diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma in the triceps muscle of his right arm. While doctors told him one surgery would "likely" cure him, within three years her had three recurrences and five surgeries, one of which required taking the entire muscle. This exerpt from the chapter from his book I Survived Cancer But Never Won the Tour de France, entitled "Lower Extremities," occurs when he awakens from his third surgery. His wife, LeAnn, is with him.