Category Archives: Health

I go to the doctor, Pt. II

(Part I of this series over here.)

A few days later I meet with a urologist at Beth Israel Deaconness. His offices are on the 3rd floor of the hospital, in “Surgical Specialties.” That gives me pause. Surgical. Cutting. I’m just going to have someone look at my testicle. Why does it have to be in a surgical office?

I meet the receptionist. She’s sitting in a row of desks that face the ‘waiting room’, which is four chairs against a wall with a small magazine rack on the wall. Sports magazines mostly. Her desk is separated from the two others by narrow dividers, like what you find separating the lie-flat seats in business class on airliners. So the situation in this space is 4 chairs lined up looking at the 3 desks. There’s just something not very feng shui about it.

I don’t wait long before being shown into a room. Desk against wall with computer monitor. Chair beside desk. Farther into the room is an examination table. Again, there’s a rack on the wall with magazines. I meant to bring my own New Yorker but forgot it at home. So I pick up Rolling Stone and start leafing through that, thinking about the writer who brought about the downfall of General McChrystal in Afghanistan.

The doctor comes in. He’s youngish. Early 40s? I wish he were older, and hope my face doesn’t belie how I feel. When you’re in a situation dealing with authority figures, you want these authority figures to be older than you. How can they have authority if they haven’t had as much life experience as you’ve had? Now, of course there’s not a lot of logic to that last statement, but this isn’t about logic. It’s about what you want from someone who is going to tell you what to do or has some power over your life. Someone you’re counting on for good advice, to know what he is doing. And to be good at it.

He asks me stand up and pull my pants down. This is unnerving. I know this is coming and have even thought about it in advance. But still, it’s so uncomfortable to stand up in front of a person and expose yourself. Why couldn’t they have found something in one of my arms instead? He puts on the latex gloves and reaches for my testicle. I don’t know where to look. I find myself standing up on tiptoe as if making myself slightly taller will relieve the pressure of him squeezing my testicle. He doesn’t have to ask me if it hurts; that’s quite evident from my body language.

He reads me the report from the ultrasound folks. Most of what he reads might as well be Lithuanian, plus he reads it fast. Because? He thinks it’s a waste of time to read it to me, or he’s just impressing me with how fast he can read? Though he also talks fast, which I find a little annoying. What ‘s the purpose in running quickly through information which is all new to me? Problem here is that he’s a doctor and it’s not new or news to him. Perhaps he’s bored by this news. He adjusts the computer monitor so I can see the images. I’m looking at the inside of my scrotum. Lots of black and white. But then lots of white on the testicle. Reminds me of looking at dental x-rays where all the white stuff is fillings in your teeth. New stuff. Extra stuff. Not original. Not natural. Not good.

There’s a mass on my testicle. It doesn’t belong there. From the ultrasound, there’s no way to tell what it is, but clearly there is something that is “not testicle” inside my scrotum. The doctor then mentions that we’ll probably want to remove the testicle.

Whoa! This is not at all what I expected to hear. (I have a vision of the “Surgical Specialties” sign that I passed to enter the office.) In fact, I get a little woozy shortly after he talks about ‘surgical removal.’ My mouth goes dry. I look toward the examination table and say, “You know, I need to lie down for a moment.” He leaves the room and I lie down on the table, feeling bad for wrinkling up the paper that will have to be discarded before another patient can lie down here. And feel foolish for reacting this way to the news. Then I’m worried that he’ll forget about me as he moves on his next patients. Someone comes in and offers me some water. I accept. I pick up the Rolling Stone magazine again.

In a while the doctor returns. I say “I’m sorry,” and he quickly says, “No need to be sorry. This isn’t easy to digest.” “No, it isn’t.” He seems somehow a little friendlier now. More on my side.

But then he quickly moves on. Decides we need an MRI to get a better view of this mass.

I tell him I’m participating in the Pan Mass Challenge and it’s less than two months away and I’m concerned about doing some medical procedure that’s going to keep me from doing the ride. But as soon as I mention I’m a bicyclist, he tells me his brother is a “Cat 5 bike racer.” Cat 5 is Category 5, meaning a beginning bike racer. But still, a racer. More macho than me, a mere recreational rider. I think the doctor mentions this as a way of creating a ‘biking bond’ but it sounds to me like he’s one-upping me via his brother.

He tells me that his receptionist will help me with that and then he picks up a digital recorder and dictates—at lightning speed—a letter to my general practitioner, giving him the details of what we’ve seen so far and also that he is recommending an MRI.

Next up: the MRI.


Beth Israel Deaconness

feng shui

I go to the doctor, Pt. I

I go to the doctor for my annual physical. Everything is mostly fine. But I’m in my 50s. Things start deteriorating. I still hear the sound of his index finger rubbing his thumb near my ears, though. That’s his acid test for hearing. Once you can no longer hear the fingers gently rubbing together, it’s time to go the hearing aid folks. Cholesterol is fine. The only problem seems to be that my Vitamin D is low. Vitamin D! The sunshine vitamin. And here I try to get outside every day to expose my skin to sunlight, the best source of Vitamin D for your body, and somehow I have failed at this. (Though it seems the medical profession has increased what they consider the minimum amount of Vitamin D needed. Last year I would have been fine; now I’m deficient. Oh well.)

He examines me and then he examines my scrotum. There’s something unusual about one testicle. It hurts when he squeezes it. (More than it would generally hurt when someone was squeezing your testicle!)

I’m in the ultrasound lab the next day. First one woman puts goop on my testicles and then starts running the ‘wand’ over my scrotum. It hurts. My testicle is sore. And now that so many people are paying attention to it and squeezing it and pushing at it, it hurts even more.

Another woman comes in.

Then another woman comes in. I just about can’t bear it. The only good news is that each new woman is more attractive than the previous now. But still, I’m lying there on my back, my balls exposed and covered with jelly. And people looking at the inside of my scrotum on a computer monitor that I can’t see.

I’m trying to breath regularly to alleviate my discomfort. I want to scream out. Finally I say, “Is it mostly women who are drawn to this profession?” They laugh.

Apparently they do look at scrotums all day.

And this the day after I saw the movie “Please Give” which opens with all manner of breasts being put through the mammogram machine where they get squeezed flat. Not sure why they opened the film that way. Can you reasonably equate breasts with testicles? I don’t know. Either way, either sex, there’s a lot of discomfort for our body parts when we interact with the healthcare system. Of course my testicle wasn’t getting squeezed flat…thankfully.

They’re going to send me for an MRI. I ask what that will be like. “Are you claustrophobic?” “Mmmm hmmmm,” I nod. Have already envisioned some medieval-type torture gadget that will pinch my testicle. I’ll be writhing in pain. The second woman who came in says, “It’s noisy, but rhythmic; it puts me to sleep.” I don’t give a shit about the noise. I don’t want some machine crushing my balls. “Your head won’t be inside” number three says. (Number four—young, very young—only came in to show the numbers 1 through 3 how to capture an image from the imaging machine.)

Next up: visit the urologist.

(Part II of this series over here.)

Why I ride in the Pan Mass Challenge

I started riding in the Pan Mass Challenge (a 200-mile two-day bike ride in Massachusetts, USA that raises funds for the fight against cancer) because I had gotten back into biking after a long hiatus, I had friends who were doing it, and because I was now in my 50s and thinking more about how to give back to people rather than getting for myself. Apparently that happens to men of a certain age. Less concern and worry about their place in the universe and more concern about how to help others.

The thinking also went: “I’m going to be out there biking because I like doing it and I like how it makes me feel and how it makes me fit and since I’m putting in all these miles (and time), I might as well see if there’s a way to somehow be helping someone simultaneously.” Enter Pan Mass Challenge. Perfect fit, really.

Then reality sets in. You’ve got to be in pretty good shape to ride back-to-back centuries. (A century in bike parlance is a 100-mile ride.) As a result you have to ride a lot to get in shape for that weekend. You end up riding more than you would otherwise ride just to stay in shape. Which is good. On the one hand. On the other, you end up putting in more time in the saddle than you otherwise might want to. Other things don’t happen or don’t get done. There’s only so much time in a day. As I get older, this is more and more apparent to me. (As I tick off only 3 of the 7 items on my to-do list.) Either I’m slowing down at getting things done, or I just have wildly unrealistic expectations. Or: combination of the two.

But you ride for the cause. Money raised goes to fight cancer. You don’t know anyone who hasn’t been affected by cancer in some way. Think about that. No one. Everyone you know and everyone that all of the people you know knows doesn’t know anyone who hasn’t been affected by cancer. Follow that geometric progression out. As far as causes go, it’s a no-brainer.

But really, the main reason I continue to ride is my presence on the road. And not just my presence. But all those bicyclists out there training every day, every weekend. People see them. Pedestrians see them. Drivers see them. These folks who see the bicyclists–and many of the bicyclists wear Pan Mass Challenge jerseys from past years–will think of the Pan Mass Challenge and the cause it supports and they might think about someone they know who is currently undergoing treatment for one kind of cancer or another. Moreover, people have told me how people undergoing cancer treatments see each of these bicyclists as a ray of hope. Why? Because they care. They care enough to go out and ride their bike and ask colleagues, friends, and neighbors for money to help find a cure for cancer. Person on bike = hope. It’s physical, it’s visceral, it’s emotional. It’s helpful.

There are those Saturday mornings when I’m waking up and thinking, “oh, I’d like to sleep a while longer,” but there’s a group going out at 8 a.m. I want to ride with. So you get up. And as the summer progresses, the rides get longer and longer. Here’s the thing: by the time you get to the first weekend in August and you’re going to ride nearly 200 miles over the course of that Saturday and Sunday, you want a couple of similar weekends under your butt. So you go out and ride 80 miles on a Saturday and then go out again and ride 80 miles on Sunday. And somewhere in there you do a century ride or two as well. Then you’re ready. (Though I’m pretty certain a lot of riders go into the weekend not nearly well enough prepared. But you know, their hearts are in the right place and you hope it hope it isn’t too hot and that they don’t stress their bodies too much.)

Then there are the systems. The PMC has great systems. It’s easy for people to donate online. It’s easy for me to set up. I keep the same link year after year. When someone donates, I get an email right away. (This is a recent development.) Meaning the PMC team is constantly working at improving their website and how it works and how money gets funneled to the cause. (Sidebar: I donated money to a friend who participated in a 2-day cancer walk. Never heard from her. But knew she was the kind of person who would send a thank you note. When I asked her about it, she said she had sent a thank you note via the fundraising website. I never got that email. Bad system. Life’s too short to work with causes that don’t have good systems in place.

One last thing. It’s the people who come out to cheer you on. They are the best fans. Lining the road, clapping. And the best part, the folks who say “Good job!” or “You’re doing great work!” You know, this is the kind of encouragement you never get at work. But that you should get at work. It’s a good lesson, really, for everyone. Encourage the folks you work with. Tell them–out loud!–what a great job they’re doing. Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you’re great. Tell everyone else first. Who doesn’t want to participate in something when you know you’ll get positive feedback from everyone. Everyone! I’ve been thinking about this aspect of the ride for a while now. Maybe this encouragement from the roadside fans has more of an impact on why I sign up each year than I’m willing to acknowledge?

Every year during the hot days of mid July when I’m out there pushing my bike (and my body, 210 lbs!) up a steep hill, I ask myself “Why am I doing this?” A couple weeks later I get the answer when I’m standing in a parking lot in Sturbridge, MA with a few thousand other cyclists and we’re waiting for a State Police officer to sing the National Anthem at 5:45 a.m. and you look around at all the people and think of all their stories and why they ride and, well, it’s a great feeling. A lot of people making a difference in the world.

Then when January of the next year rolls around and it’s time to decide whether to sign up for the Pan Mass Challenge again, it’s always that first weekend in August that you remember, not the months leading up to it. Sign up again? Sure.

You can support my ride at this link:

Pan Mass Challenge again…redux

CIMG1088, originally uploaded by erikorama.

It’s that time of the year again. Starting fundraising activities for the Pan Mass Challenge. Pasted in below is the email I sent out to folks asking them to support me in this year’s ride:

Dear Friends,

I’m participating in the Pan Mass Challenge for the fifth time this summer. Last year’s event raised over $30 million for the Jimmy Fund, which in turn supports cancer research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. It is the single largest contribution made to the Jimmy Fund, representing almost 50 percent of the charity’s annual revenue.

The 2-day, 192-mile bike ride (not a race!) from Sturbridge, MA to Provincetown, MA, will again take place the first weekend in August. While it is in fact an individual athletic event, it is in spirit a huge community gathering. More than 5,000 riders will participate this year. They are helped on their way by 2,800 volunteers. And all the PMC folks are in turn supported by citizens who line the route across Massachusetts to cheer on everyone. Of course we’re also supported by people like you who have donated money in previous years to help in the fight against cancer.

I hope you can do so again. (And if you haven’t donated before, please consider helping us this year.)

To donate online, go to this address:

My donor ID is EH0050.

Thank you for your generosity. (100 percent of your donation is tax deductible.)

If you prefer to donate by check, please make it out to “Jimmy Fund” or “PMC” and mail it to me at the address below. If you’ve got any questions, please email me:
erik [at] erikhansen [dot] com

You can get more information about the Pan Mass Challenge at this web address:

My photos from the 2009 ride can be found here:

Thank you again for your support.


It’s been confirmed: beans do make you fart


Here’s some late-breaking news from the South African Advertising Standards Authority.

Like your smile?

Biked to the dentist yesterday for my semi annual cleaning. Cold here in Boston, but no snow on the ground, so safe bicycling. Great dentist. He’s a bicyclist, who says I can bring my bike up and store it in the office while I’m in for my appointment. (Not that I took him up on the offer. I ride an old bike around town, not high on the list of “most stolen” bikes.) But then I had to update my health form. I hate that shit. “Why can’t I do this online?” I asked. The receptionist gave me a withering look. “You’d still have to fill it in,” as if to say, “What is your problem?” So I took the clipboard (a device I feel is the last hurrah of male authority implementalia in existence. clipboard!?) So I filled it out, checking “no” to everything (high blood pressure, asthma, hang nails)(I mean why does my dentist need to know these things?) until I get to allergies, where I check yes and then write “Chocolate” because good dark chocolate does make me sneeze (god knows why). And then the biggest surprise of all, the last question reads, “Do you like your smile?” And this makes me smile. It’s such a friendly question, but also very perceptive vis a vis a visit to the dentist, since the answer says everything about how you feel about your teeth. What’s a smile if not a center stage display of your pearly whites? I checked “Yes” that I like my smile. Handed in my clipboard to the receptionist, sat through the tooth scraping and polishing biked home with a smile on my face. And cleaner teeth.