We went home the day after the operation – I had a big plaster on my belly for the next week or so, and had to go back to hospital to have the stitches removed. Oh, and I caught chicken pox from the hospital!
Straight after I don’t remember anything being different, however as my childhood went on I became more withdrawn, afraid to go anywhere or do anything without mum or dad with me, lest people forced me to do anything. I had memories which I couldn’t make sense of, which I thought about and tried to piece together. My dreams were haunted by thoughts and flashbacks of the surgery.
I was a “sensitive child”, and spent my childhood a hypochondriac, terrified I would need another operation. Every time I went to the doctors as I child I expected to be told to drop my trousers and they’d want to examine my testicles (surprise, they didn’t) and send me for surgery.
I’d started to associate clinical touch and attention as a way people showed love and care to me. And the feel of smooth gloved hands slipping against my skin, I yearned for that sensation.
Memories of the operation experience haunted me. Memories slowly returned: I could remember sensations on my leg, sounds of metal instruments and bright lights. The gaps in my memory really frustrated me.
Masked faces terrified me, so did people moving around me if I couldn’t see them, and not feeling in control. I wouldn’t be apart from my parents, and didn’t feel safe if I was.
In summary: I lived in a continual state of panic and anxiety. Forget sport, my heart rate was high the whole time.
For over 25 years afterwards, I couldn’t sleep in a bed which wasn’t against the wall without fear – I couldn’t relax if ‘people’ could walk round both sides and “get to me”. Even when I was living on my own.
I was terrified of being anywhere with strangers and without a parent with me. When I tried explaining to my mum she was like “get over it, your operation’s a long time ago, I’ve forgotten about it”. And even at this young age of 6 or 7 I was embarrassed about having had an undescended testicle. It was starting to define who I saw myself as.
I’d been given a Ladybird book called “The Nurse” before hospital with photos of a girl getting ready for an operation and inside the theatre, and as I hit puberty (early at 10) it was a particularly scary-but-thrilling book. It was the sense of powerlessness, the inevitability of the story’s progression, and the situation being totally out of her control that did it. The pictures my brain created were so arousing.
My self-confidence wasn’t helped when I was 10 by being out with another boy and a girl. The girl’s baby brother had just had surgery for an undescended testicle, and she was making fun of him and saying how wrong he was. I can still watch the scene like a movie and feel my reaction inside, certain this was how every girl would react and terrified lest she found out and scorned me. It was made worse because I thought her very pretty.
I wanted to tell her, I wanted to tell another girl. In the end I found another girl to tell, and she didn’t want to know. I found that even more rejecting.
My retractile testicle which they hadn’t operated on descended permanently when I hit puberty and it became too large to ascend. For the next decade in cold weather it’d still pull up hard, which was wince-inducing.
I started to wish that girls had a similar operation so that they would feel ashamed and disgraced too. I used to lie in bed dreaming I was operating on a girl – a naked girl – and she had to lie there as I told her to and submit to me holding her down and anaesthetising her and operating on her ovaries. Sex didn’t really feature in the dreams, it was more about control and shame and feeling I was as good as others.
My self-image got even worse after puberty. I thought any girl would reject me – why would they choose me when they could have someone who was born perfect down there? I’d had an undescended testicle, I was damaged goods – it didn’t matter it looked ok, I knew I was wrong.
After a few abortive girlfriends (I wanted to explore their bodies like any teenager, and found it hot imagining subjecting them to surgery and them being powerless under my hands — but I wouldn’t take my trousers off or let anyone near my genitals. That didn’t satisfy them, and they thought me weird) I met my partner who has been amazing. But it still takes time – I am not good at responding sexually or feeling desire. I rarely get sexually aroused, and get my best erections thinking about the surgery. I flinch away if she runs her hands over my lower abdomen or scrotum. Once she tried to blindfold me and I had a meltdown, panicking about not being able to see, hearing footsteps around me and being unexpectedly touched. This is 25 years on, yet the terror is still under the surface.
For years my sexual excitement has been tied up with the memories (and still is). Want a strong erection? I’d think of latex gloved hands running over my inner thigh and scrotum. Want to be aroused? I wouldn’t dream of having sex with a girl, I’d dream of getting her to undress and passively examining her. Touch and being examined was love, sexual love, as far as my brain knew. Now, after years of therapy, this has faded, but ‘normal’ sexual arousal has not replaced it.
I put this in so you understand how linked together everything was. I’m glad that surgery for undescended testicles is now performed at a much earlier age – that must help it be less traumatic for the child and keep the sexual identity aspect apart from what’s been done.
What have I done? Years of therapy is the truth. Perhaps I would’ve turned out like this anyway, but the trauma (three different specialists termed it PTSD) has affected every area of life.
Did I try and tell people how I was feeling as a child and as a teenager? Yes. Did anyone understand and do anything? No.
The flashbacks fade and then come back, but I still feel I belong to the past and now isn’t real.
How does the PTSD affect me? This summary I found on the internet explains how I existed:
As an adult, **** has difficulty trusting others. His body experiences any conflict, no matter how minor, as life-threatening: he goes into full panic if anyone disagrees with him, corrects him, or separates from him.
He used to get very angry and yell at, or cut-off, friends who couldn’t meet his demands. He was a black-and-white thinker: people were either good or bad (his beliefs changed depending on whether the person met his needs or not); the world was a dangerous and hostile place and he felt the constant need to protect himself from its onslaught; his bosses all were “maniacs” and the people he managed were all “lazy.”
The slightest changes caused him anxiety, he was in psychic pain most of the time. He recalls that once his dentist had to reschedule his appointment because of an emergency, and he wrote a four-page letter to him, chastising him for his inconsideration.
**** recognizes that he was a very difficult person to be around. Once he was able to understand at both the intellectual and emotional levels how his traumatic childhood contributed to his symptoms, and once he let go of self-blame, he was able to blame others less. After several years of therapy he has become a more gracious friend, employee, and manager and has begun a new relationship. He still has to work on respecting other people’s boundaries and his own, but he’s proud of the progress he’s made so far and plans to continue moving forward.
Physically the now-descended testicle has grown well and when examined twice by specialists (once when I was 10, the other when I was 24, and thought I’d found a lump) they’ve commented how well developed it is. It aches sometimes particularly in the cold when it pulls up – it’s stitched to the scrotum and the stitches pull sometimes. Plus I think it’s stitched in back-to-front… ah well!
I don’t know how fertile I am, and wait to find out.
I’ve written this up so you know what it’s been like for one person. Clinicians talk about surgery in terms of an event being done to an object. I want to show that the emotional dimension can have a huge effect for a lot longer than when the surgery happened.
If you had a similar experience, are a surgeon/medical professional, or in a mental-health related field (whether doing research or who might be able to help), I’d love to hear from you.