Heath hell

I am no stranger to physical pain. During an injury-plagued decade playing Sunday League football I broke an ankle and a wrist, cracked a rib, dislocated a shoulder and tore cartilage in a knee. Then there is the random violence I have suffered over the years, like the time I was beaten up by a gang of queerbashers and thrown in the River Thames, or the three separate rapes I endured courtesy of an on-duty policeman, a drunk navvy and a psychopathic antiques dealer. On top of this, road traffic incidents inflicted multiple cuts and bruises in a high-speed motorbike crash and when I was knocked off my pushbike by a hit-and-run driver, and serious health emergencies have included surgery to remove a burst appendix and two weeks in Intensive Care following a lung infection.

After that lot you would think, would you not, that I’ve got a high enough pain threshold to put up with the discomfort of the routine ‘procedure’ I undertook last week in the Short Stay Unit (SSU) of the University Hospital of Wales (UHW) in Cardiff. But, on the contrary, this was more excruciatingly painful and nightmarish than all the above combined – and then some.

I checked in to the SSU’s reception at 7.30 in the morning, nonchalant and perky; I checked out at 8.30 in the evening, a wincing, wan, weepy wreck clutching a box of max-strength co-codamol and vowing to my partner as we drove home that I would never, ever enter the UHW portals again, except in a body-bag. I was in a state of shock for quite a few days as the physical memory shuddered through me like the flashbacks of a bad acid trip and it’s only now, over a week later, that I feel able to emerge from my hot, dark cave under two huge extra-thick duvets, come off the co-codamol and return tentatively to a vague approximation of what passes for ‘normality’ in these parts.

What on earth, I hear you ask, was this ‘procedure’? Ooh, you nosy bugger! Ok, I’ll tell all. But first, as per the contemporary fashion, a trigger warning:


To remove the bladder stone, they went in via the urethra. To reach the bladder a long tube (a cystoscope) was inserted deep into the cock and then the urologist, with the help of a micro-camera, got going on the stone with a laser. The stone, a rock-hard, black ovoid the size of a 10p piece, was broken up into manageable fragments small enough to be scraped up and sucked out via the cystoscope. When that was done the cystoscope was pulled out and replaced with a catheter. The process took about an hour. Of course, at this point I felt nothing because I was completely unconscious under general anaesthetic. Hell only began in the recovery room an hour later as the anaesthetic wore off and I slowly came round. The pain is actually indescribable – just try to imagine the sensitive, delicate inner tube of the penis being tortured by a cruel sadist with razor blades dipped in sulphuric acid…and you’re not even close…

In my naivety I told a nurse that I was bursting for a pee. She responded by pointing to a slowly filling bag of dark liquid adjacent to my bed. I was peeing! Via the catheter! And each droplet stung like a nest of scorpions. The consultant breezed in, informed me all had gone according to plan and handed me a test tube containing the stone’s shards like it was some sort of souvenir. Oh well, I pondered mordantly, I can always display it on the Welsh dresser as a conversation piece.

After a while I was wheeled back onto the six-bed ward. There, blokes who had already gone through various unspeakable urological treatments moaned in agony behind curtains, while those waiting to be taken to the torture chamber silently contemplated their imminent fate. It was now mid-day, and for the next FIVE interminable hours I lay there in extreme soreness and vexation wishing I was dead. Then a nurse arrived to remove the catheter…

She told me to inhale deeply through my nose and exhale through my mouth. I did so. She told me to keep doing it. And then, suddenly, the catheter was yanked out. The entire thesaurus of English vocabulary simply doesn’t have the words to adequately describe this experience. It was akin to having a length of barbed wire scraped and twisted within the shaft. The pain was so off the scale that I couldn’t even scream.

Shortly afterwards the consultant swept by to tell me I could go home as soon as I’d had a proper pee without the catheter. And now the problems really began. I had just spent hours being drained of every drop of urine by the catheter and now I was expected to micturate like a carthorse into the spout of a cardboard commode. What made the task even more difficult is the fact that I’m one of those who is burdened by the quite common phenomena called paruresis (aka ‘shy bladder’, ‘urophobia’, ‘bashful bladder syndrome’, etc.). I have, for instance, often been in the Millennium Stadium bursting for a piss and gone to the gents at half-time, but the moment I join the shoulder-to-shoulder row of geezers taking a slash in the trough my urine actually defies the laws of gravity and retreats back into the bladder. For me weeing to order is near impossible – but on this occasion I had to or I would be up the Heath for eternity!

Then ensued another couple of hours of sheer hell, drinking gallons of water and endless cups of tea, padding around the SSU corridors in my jim-jams trying to get things moving, and desperately trying to free my mind of any stressful thoughts. Over and over again I felt a piss was imminent, but just as soon as I stuck my prick in the commode the feeling disappeared. Eventually, I managed a modest but adequate trickle of pink-coloured liquid that was just about enough to satisfy the nurses, and at last I was released, I mean discharged…

Lessons? There are none. Outcome? Dic’s poor dick is recovering.