The “lessons” began with this
question, Why is there blood in my urine? (This is what I was asking
myself as I peed into the toilet.) and that question subsequently
led into all kinds of exploratory adventures which included a decision
to accept a bit of doc ordered intervention, which I initially refused
to buy into.
“You’ll need to wear a catheter and a bag for
four weeks.” (This determination was made by the young doc at the
Urology Clinic in Albuquerque after an exam showed that I am a urine
retainer and at that moment had two liters of urine in my savings
account bladder. Not good.)
“I’m not doing that doc. I’ve done it once
before and it was an infection producing nightmare.” (This happened
years ago, maybe seven, when I wore a VA provided cath & bag for 14
days.) “I’ll just cath myself (not a fun experience) a few times a
week.” Uh-huh. (This ego declaration shows how much I knew about how my
body works urine-wise. Five times a day is usual.)
This response produced a bit of a tussle but
she gave up and sent her assistant in with the lethal looking self-cath
equipment, a handful of hard plastic rods.
However while she
was out of the room Elizabeth and I talked it over calmly and
came to the conclusion that I would, in reality, probably avoid doing
my self-inflicted torture and should probably give the bag a shot for
This made the doc happy, I guess, but not me.
Wearing a cath and a bag is, even if temporary, a life changing
experience. One must wear a bag strapped to a leg into which urine that
would usually go into the bladder drains…..all the time. At bed time
the leg bag comes off and you then hook yourself up to a larger “floor”
bag via a three foot tube and you drain into that all night. Next
morning, detach from the floor bag, which is full with about 28 ounces,
and hook back up to the leg bag. Fitful sleep is normal, intermittent
stabs in the head of the penis, something like a sudden needle attack,
is also normal under these conditions. So is blood, both in the bag and
on the tube and around the head of the penis…and down the leg. And
there is that constant awareness that there is a tube inside of a very
delicate place. Yes, it hurts now and then when you least expect it but
mainly I try to describe this as “discomfort” so as not to feed my
The doc also turned her nose up at a medication
I’ve been taking for twenty plus years for this prostate enlargement
condition (Terazosin) and offered this other stuff (Rapidflow). Well
why not I thought, though I got an intuitive hit (it may have just been
a suspicion) that she had been sold on it by a drug pusher.
When I checked it out on the Net the consensus was
that there was not a dimes worth of difference between the two except
for one thing, the one she was boosting cost five times as much! A
three month supply of Terazosin runs about $50 max. Same amount of the
new stuff? $245.
On to the “more to learn” part.
Did I mention my fear-and-panic response to all this?
Oops! Left that out.
Initially I thought, “Probably a UTI.” And
stayed relatively calm with that idea in mind. But the culture turned
out negative, NOT a UTI. Decidedly bad news. Immediately did some
research on all other possibilities, most of them quite bad and having
a Big “C” attached to them. Anxiety mode ensued.
By the way, I’ve had this tendency to store
urine for quite some time, maybe for the same twenty plus I’ve been on
the Terazosin. In all that time I’ve had TWO UTI’s. One caused by the
V.A. cath, the other by––––well who knows, maybe the swamp of stored
urine, but it also seems that I must be regularly draining and
replacing the urine in the swamp ‘cause it hasn’t been causing much of
a problem……up to now. (If that indeed IS the problem.)
With all the onrushing darkness created by my
imagination over this issue there was one small beam of light. Because
each liter of urine weighs two pounds I lost four pounds (and a few
inches in waist measurement) in about ten minutes. I don’t recommend
this approach for weight loss but it was, “one small light”.
Two days after the cath & bag initiation
while in the midst of dinner, I realized something about my character.
For quite some time now while eating, especially for the first bite of
food, I experienced almost choking on the first mouthful. I thought
maybe I had some kind of blockage in my throat or maybe a bubble of air
I had trapped somehow. Sometimes I felt I was strangling. That day I
realized what it was, I would take a bite of food, and before I got it
down my gullet I had already taken another bite and it was in my mouth
and on its way down following the first. I was gulping my food. I had
no idea I was doing this. I mean I did notice I was usually the first
to finish a meal but I thought that was because I am a light eater. But
on checking this out with Elizabeth she said she had noticed that, “You
do eat fast.” I then determined to slow way down, take a bite and put
the fork down and wait till I had swallowed it before picking up the
But this wasn’t just about a bad eating habit,
which is why I’ve brought it up, this was something I did with all of
life, rushing ahead with a current experience barely digested to begin
biting into the next. I did it in conversations, I was a “quick-wit”
after all, with arguments (jumping to conclusions before all the facts
were presented) with all kinds of life experiences. A
let’s-get-this-over-so-we-can-move-on sort of thing. And now this, I
was, without any further information, already making assumptions about
my inevitable slow and painful death because of my fear-based leaping
Note: Pause here and join me in a leapfrog into
the present (all the above was written at the onset of “the problem”.
I am writing this now two and one half months later.) I have now
returned to the care of the V.A. because we could see that any further
pursuit of this thing with the Albuquerque clinic was going to run into
Big Money. I get free care at the V.A.
Before I get into what has most recently
transpired I should mention that when this scary stuff first showed up
Elizabeth talked me into seeing a “Chinese Medicine” practitioner, an
herbalist actually, and we started down the path of “alternative
medicine” which, I determined, we would use in conjunction with
whatever the V.A. came up with. I now have a regime of eight different
bottles of pills most of which I take two of three times a day. Are
they making a difference? To date I’ve noticed no change in
anything…however, I am assured, this approach takes time and one must,
as all Chinese philosophy teaches, be patient.
So, I persist, adding to
the pill intake another version of Terazosin called Tamulosin, which
doesn’t have the side effect of lowering blood pressure, and a small
blue pill, Finasteride, which promises to shrink my prostate (someday),
the possible culprit in both urine retention and the inability to pee.
Oh! Did I not mention that? Yes,
as a result of any number of things, maybe the in-dwelling cath, maybe
just more swelling of the prostate, I haven’t been able to pee since
June. This has resulted in the necessity of the “ceremony” of
self-cathing. This is not the same kind of ceremony as flossing. This
involves a far more elaborate dance–––––and a good deal of relaxation
and concentration. Oh, and SLOWING way down.
The tube, about one eighth in diameter and a
18” long, must be inserted in the penis and (slowly) fed through the
urater into the bladder. This must be done at least five times a day.
One of those times usually occurs around 2 or 3 AM because our bladders
are filling all night long and should be emptied before max capacity is
reached. (That, in an average male bladder, is about 18 ounces. I had
been retaining as much as 32 ounces.) After awhile you just learn how
to do this thing and develop a tolerance for the whole routine. BUT!
Care must always be taken lest you contract a UTI. (Which, it seems, is
almost inevitable given the number of times you are being invasive and
the pervasive existence of germs in the environment. So, now and then a
course of anti-biotic is necessary.)
This brings up the choice between just keeping
the in-dwelling cath going or getting it out and selecting
self-cathing. Each has its pluses and minuses. In-dwelling means you
don’t have to get up at 2 AM, and don’t have to go through the
“ceremony” five times (or so) a day.
(Research says, in-dwelling causes more UTI
opportunities than self-cathing. I found this to be true. In 5 months
of self-cathing, 5 times a day on average, I had one UTI.
Self-cathing sets you free of a bag-on-the-leg
all day long and a 3’ tube connecting you to a bag at night, which
means you can only sleep on your back and one side.
By the way, the Finasteride could begin to
solve the problem of a swollen prostate so I could pee on my own
without resorting to surgery. (more on this later) BUT! It takes up to
6 MONTHS to begin to work. (I thought the Chinese stuff was slow.)
In the meantime at the V.A. I’ve been through a
cystoscope procedure, that’s the camera in the penis and into the
bladder, which discovered two “lesions”, these can also be called
“tumors” but this word conjures up more demons than the former so
should not be uttered by the attending doc……but is…..and was.
These were small and seemingly benign. But they
had to be biopsied and the site cauterized by a procedure called a
TURPIB. (Trans-urethral-resection-in-bladder.) This happens under
general anesthesia and is not fun. The procedure itself is painless,
the recovery is a bit of a challenge….another in-dwelling cath for
about four days, blood-in-the-urine, general discomfort as recovery
from major surgery can be, for about five days.
A C.T. Scan was also undergone and this was
good news at least. No cancer in my kidneys or associated structures.
(A little easy breathing took place here.)
Assuming that the biopsy turned up nothing
threatening, we still had to deal with the inability to pee….and after
talking to a friend who has been through some of this, my PSA was, and
has been, about 4.7 for years, his was 20! He underwent the TURP
(Trans-urethral-resection of the Prostate) and he swears by it.
I am now, if there are no other problems to deal with, on that road.
So! Attention all men reading this
(and the partners who support them). Men are big into one really bad
habit; denial. I have men in my men’s group who are getting up three
and four times a night and are not dealing with what this means. This
is a “sign”, and not a magical one. This is a swollen prostate! And as
you age, you will have to deal with it. Maybe not as intensively as I
am having to but odds are you may indeed be on the same track if you
live long enough. Men over 65 have an 80% chance of wrestling with all
of this. My advice, catch it early before you’re holding an 18” tube in
your hand and fearing the worst.
Post biopsy of bladder “lesions”,
“High-grade Papillary with no invasion”, meaning they didn’t grow
through the wall of the bladder. (that’s the good news). Also good
news, they got it all. Bad news? This stuff has a tendency to come
back. Treatment to prevent this, or at least postpone it is radical (of
course). But not quite as bad as traditional chemo. Now it’s about a 90
day wait till the next look into the bladder to see if it has indeed
come back, at which time this option may be put into play.
Scary of course….BUT! I could claim at this
point that I was cancer free. Have to be checked out every three months
for a year to really be "cancer free", but catching it early is really
not a huge problem. Yes, it's a surgical procedure but better than
Dec 5th up-date: The follow up procedure
on the 16th of November showed no return of cancer! (We celebrated!) AND, all
"labs" show signs of very good health (we celebrated some more!)
AND....now it was on to the next step.
In order to be able to pee normally there had to be
a reduction of the size of the prostate. Medication can shrink a
prostate (Finasteride) but it takes 6 MONTHS to work, IF it works. I was
into month 5 and no signs of improvement. Even if it can work you
have to stay on this med for life. It DOES have side effects but
nothing horrible.....lowered sex drive, yes even lower than the natural
age related lowering, and there are some others.....and maybe have to
continue some cathing.
The surgical intervention, the TURP, a kind of rotor-rooter of the prostate, works very well,
according to a friend who has had one, and according to all the
research we've done. So we decided, that would be next.
The operation took place on the
7th (the "Day that would live in infamy!" but not for me).....and it's
recovery time now. That means a few days of wearing an "in-dwelling"
catheter (again).....not a lot of fun, but endurable, and a wait to see
if all will work normally upon its removal.
December 12th up-date:
Today the "in-dwelling" cath came out and I have, for the first time
since June, been able to pee on my own! And for the first time in
almost 50 years, this prostate problem will no longer be a nagging
presence in my life! More to come....what a physical AND spiritual
journey it has been.
December 26th up-date: I'm
about through writing about this (thank God) at least I THINK I am.
Everything is working according to plan. Had a (minor) set back last
week, temp rise, chills, major vomiting for about 20 minutes. All of
that passed in three days. Went to the VA today to submit a "sample" to
make sure this wasn't some response to an infection (post-op). It's
rare but can happen. Now, if all's well in that regard (won't know for
two days) then a "follow-up" on the 6th. Then nothing till March when
we check to make sure cancer has not returned. (If so, another surgery.
If not, another 3 month wait.) So far so good. Looking forward to
wiping this page out of my life.
February 4th up-date: My
"follow-up" with the V.A. was an appointment with the doc who
did the deed (the TURP) and he said; "You're the 'Poster-child' for
this procedure!" in other words (though I liked the "child" part) I'm
through it! No more pills, Chinese or otherwise. I'm chipping the
porcelain, as we used to say in our 20's, (at least SOME guys said
this) and good to go. (in every sense) Next is the cancer check in
March, but that seems minor right now. We're giving thanks.
“You Americans and Your Guns….”
the Canadian border official as he was confiscating the two pistols I
had forgotten I had behind the seat in my truck. I was traveling to
Victoria, BC on a sightseeing venture after a Men’s Weekend on Whidbey
Island, Washington. It was part of an extended road trip that
originated in San Antonio and wound up through Chicago, Milwaukee,
Casper, Wyoming and then Whidbey where I was the sweat lodge leader for
the weekend. The guns belonged to my San Antonio daughter and I had
totally spaced that I had stuck them in my truck and hadn’t really
intended to be carrying them on this trip at all. And now they were
gone, and they were sort of expensive and, as noted, didn’t even belong
Embarrassing, and a costly oversight. But what
stuck with me, even all these years later, I’d guess that was in the
early 90’s, was how we were seen by people outside of our culture. “You
Americans and your guns.” Yeah. What th’ hell is that all about anyway?
Well, we know damned well what it’s about. It’s
about our being sold on the concept of fear beginning with the gun
manufacturers, the gun lobby, the “Second Amendment” fanatics (and the
gross distortion of that bit of our Constitution which serves their own
ends) the fear-mongering media, the politicians who have their own
vested interests to serve, and our romantic notions of what and who we
are as a nation. i.e. we got where we are by virtue of having more and
better guns (don’t forget “guts”) than the other guys. We outshot the
Brits, the Indians, the Mexicans, the Spanish, the South, the outlaws,
the Germans, the Japanese, the Italians….then we got outsmarted by the
North Vietnamese…..uh, but let’s not get into that.
Fact is, GUNS, more and better GUNS will keep
us and our families “safe”. (It says that right here in this gun ad and
in our Wild West culture.)
No matter what the statistics say, we are all
safer when we are armed and ready. “…..if we’re trained!” says one gun
advocate friend of mine. (Let’s not get into the fact that cops are
“trained” and yet that hasn’t prevented a few of them from shooting
unarmed people when they feel threatened.)
“All those mass shooting wouldn’t have happened
if there had been some good person present who was armed!” goes another
claimant. The fact that Gabby Gifford was shot when three “good people”
who were armed stood around her and made no difference in the outcome
doesn’t seem to enter into this pattern of thinking.
When that border inspector said what he said, I
(sort of) remember thinking, “Hey, I’m not like those gun nuts
Americans. I just happen to have a couple of guns in my truck. I don’t
do this routinely.” That was true in that scenario. But it wasn’t true
a few years later when I did routinely carry a gun. And it changed me
for a time.
If someone got aggressive in traffic there was,
somewhere back in my thinking, a thought that went like this, “Hey!
You’d better not get pushy, I’ve got a gun.”
That’s a different response than I would have
had if I hadn’t had a gun. Sans fire power I would, and do, think,
“What a clown. I’ll just stay away from that one.”
As it turned out, I preferred the latter
response because I realized that the only way the former thought was
going to take me would be a road to greater and greater escalation.
Seems our society is having the same experience.
The fallout for me from the Men’s Weekend, 2017
well I’d think, that by the time I hit my 8th decade in life I’d have
it all figured out……the “all” being Life & Me of course. But no! It
took yet another Men’s Weekend to dredge up some hauntings from the
past and exhumations of long buried feelings to make things
“interesting” yet again post gathering.
To wit; despite being told, even assured quite
often of late, that I, yes ME, I have made quite a positive difference
in a number of lives it was only after “owning” that affirmation in
front of people that I was then plunged into some deep work on myself.
The circumstances were that in the midst of our
regular Give-Away Ceremony at the end of the weekend I stood up to have
my say about how I saw and experienced the event and somehow got around
to admitting that maybe, just maybe, some people came to these things,
Long Dance, Vision Quest, Men’s Weekends, etc. not only because we,
Elizabeth and I, do interesting stuff, but because of me and what I
have to give or “teach”, though I still shrivel at the “teach”
thing…offer maybe, but teach, that seems like a stretch too far. Seems
Anyway, there I was, standing up in front of a
bunch of people saying, not from ego but from honesty, that maybe some
would come to experience……me! This is a tough claim for me to stake.
Of course I know what I want to do ALWAYS is to
be clear and authentic. I know I’m not really the brightest bulb in the
Spiritual chandelier, maybe I’m simply a clever guy, not in the
manipulative sense, just that I’m able to tell a pretty good story and
have got a memory storage unit full for just about any occasion. (None
of them fictionalized or embellished to suit some hidden agenda.)
I’ve got some wisdom about life too, and I really, really want to
help. I take that Emerson line, “…to know one person has breathed
easier because you lived.” to heart. In the end I want that to be said
about me. I can’t imagine a higher honor.
And, as with any of us I’ve got some crap in the closet, so my
work is to keep trying to clear that out, sometimes by ‘fessing up,
sometimes by just letting it go. I chose what works best for me and
don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach.
But my standing up there and saying that I
MIGHT have to accept the possibility that some people being attracted
by how I do me and thus how the workshops I, and we, present have some
power to support change, seemed incredibly risky. But I did it………and
then Pandora’s box was opened. By me.
And here came the flood of guilt and shame.
First of all, whenever I end an email to
someone I close with; “Love from our OZ! to yours.” I capitalize both
letters in Oz to create a picture of those emerald towers, and I add an
exclamation to communicate its singular importance, i.e., that the
Emerald City represented Hope, and that’s what I “hope” our place and
what we create here represents for all who experience it. After all,
that’s what it has been for us. But…!
Yes, there was a “But”, a fly in the ointment,
a shadow in the spotlight that always bothered me about that allusion.
In the end, the Wizard was unmasked as a fraud and I wondered if deep
down inside I wasn’t one too.
Why would I think that? Because one of the
themes of the weekend, or for that matter, many a weekend I and we have
created, has been “Who do you THINK you are?” because in that question
there is both the power of self-delusion and the potential for change.
And who did I think I was? Over the years; a kid who was dancing as
fast as he could, working on an honest choreography of life. A kid with
so-called shameful secrets, in short, the guy behind the curtain. By
the way, in my experience that “shameful secrets” thing is usually very
subjective. Though there might be some things any of us would concur
ARE things to be ashamed of, many are, objectively, quite ordinary
blunders that we, standing outside the experience might see as having
little or no real shame potential at all. Often confessions of these
things to others might be met with, “What’s the big deal?” responses
which are not helpful. Because though the event itself may not
objectively seem to be something we would consider to be worthy of
condemnation, the power of how we have felt about it, over time,
becomes more and more discomforting. What may have been a small weed,
fed with enough guilt food, becomes a sequoia.
So! The guy behind-the-curtain; his being
exposed as a fraud, I came to realize, wasn’t the end of the story nor
was it how it turned out. In fact he was an honest man, a bit of a
bumbler to be sure, but an honest man who had taken on the task of
creating a place of Hope, and the job he took on was the promotion of
that idea. He didn’t work for personal gain, unless you consider his
role as The Great and Wonderful Wizard of Oz! a kind of ego payment. He
felt the need to create that fašade because he had little confidence
that his simple personage would be able to sell the concept. He wasn’t
a “fraud”, he was a man with a great heart who wanted to help in the
only way he knew how, with showmanship. We can fault the smoke and
mirrors, but certainly not the intent.
Well, that’s not me, i.e., I don’t do smoke and
mirrors, I just do me and I hope there’s enough communicated about the
value of honesty and the power of personal risk in the service of
highest purpose to be worthy of the title, “The Wiz”.
As my Italian grandmother used to say to me
over and over again, “Non cha be shamed!” At the time, I thought is was
something that came out of her experience of being an immigrant in a
time when Italians were were seen as “….lower than Negroes.” (an
observation made by W.B. Duboise). But now I know that it’s a
one-size-fits us all.
I’m owning that one, and gifting it to you as
well. No matter what, when it comes to our self imposed and inflated
sense of guilt about ANYTHING; “Non cha be shamed!” and love from
us here in OZ! and from the guy who stands in front of the curtain.