It was early in semester two last year when I felt a rather painful sensation in, of all places, my penis. I got up from my seat in Fisher, went to the bathroom, sat in a stall, and waited for the pain to subside — the sounds I heard during the interim were not pleasant. After ten or so minutes, the pain had dulled enough that I felt I could resume studying. I went back to my desk, wrote down some notes that I never looked at again, and wondered when the pain would be gone completely.
Two months soon passed.
I tried to ignore what I felt, but the pain I was experiencing — which had also extended to certain other areas of my body — did not abate, and was becoming debilitating. So I went to visit my family’s doctor. He asked me some questions, told me to collect my urine in a small container — by that point I felt like I was pissing out of a straw — and come back in a couple of days.
“The tests came back negative,” he told me at our next appointment. “I’m going to have to examine your prostate.”
I took off my pants, lay prone on the bench, and the doctor who used to give me jellybeans when I was a kid put his hand up my ass.
“Well I didn’t feel a mass,” he declared after his examination, “which means you have non-bacterial prostatitis — an inflammation of your prostate.”
“Oh, okay,” I said.
“No one knows why some men get it,” he said.
“Right. How do I treat it?”
“You just have to manage it the best you can.”
Managing it did not appeal to me. When I got home I searched up Prostatitis. WebMD was no help. Turning to Reddit, I quickly found a community of people who suffered from the condition and clicked on the first post.
“Brothers,” it began. “How long have you suffered?”
I flitted through the comments. Some had suffered for a year, some five years, some a decade.
Shit, I thought to myself. The prospect of being not only hamstrung, but also impotent and mentally addled — I could not think about anything else besides getting pain-free — was somewhat alarming to me.
I trawled through more posts by pain-wracked dudes, proselytising their reasons for their prostatic woes — they were unconvincing.
What is wrong with me? I asked myself.
I tried to figure it out: I had torn my hamstring two years prior and it had not mended well, causing the tendon connecting to my ischial tuberosity (the bone you sit on) to become inflamed. My sciatic nerve (which runs all the way down your leg) became irritated shortly after. Could the same, I wondered, be happening to my pudendal nerve?
One’s pudendum is the area of one’s body of which one apparently ought to be ashamed… The embarrassment associated with pelvic-related dysfunction is why the pelvic physio I eventually ended up seeing believes that some people wait several years before seeking help.
When they do seek help, their doctors can be dismissive of their pain, or simply ignorant as mine was (the pain I had for a year had nothing to do with my prostate). As a consequence, many do not get the care they need.
It was only by stumbling upon an article on pudendal neuralgia, written by a physio at the clinic that I ended up attending (conveniently located one train stop away) that I found out there were people who could help me.
Unfortunately for many, help is not one train stop away. Carol Bennett of Pain Australia, a group that advocates for those with chronic pain, told me that “access to effective pain management is the exception rather than the rule.” Whilst people suffering with chronic conditions in metropolitan areas usually live close by to the specialist care they need, those in regional areas usually have to take time off work to travel, or make do with online consultations.
To ease the financial burden, Pain Australia recommended to the Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce in 2019 the introduction of a multidisciplinary Chronic Pain Management Plan item, which would help cover visits to multiple allied health professionals. It was denied.
We’re fragile things, and there are people who aren’t getting the care they need. For their sake, I hope whoever wins this upcoming election rises to the occasion.