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Sunday, 16 March 2014

Down under II

Your body is a little factory, full of moving parts you know nothing about. So is mine. 

We all have a fair grasp of what's happening on the outside - heads, hands, genitals, feet and so on, although even they do strange things sometimes. I have no idea why my right leg keeps trying to do the elastico, when it knows I trip over the ball every time.

But our insides are pretty much unknown territory. So when the doc tells you the plunger of your hypothalamus has stopped reciprocating so take these tablets and come back in a month, we say thanks and go away.

But as time passes, I have to tell you, certain parts of your insides draw themselves to your attention. Down in the nether regions, guys, between your scrotum and anus is a featureless stretch that you never see or think about, as a carefree youth. So when you start getting pains there, as I did when I was 40, you have no idea why and you visit the doc.

"It's your prostate," he says and you go "So that's where it lives." 

You have heard of it, because prostate cancer killed Frank Zappa, and you knew it was something to do with the reproductive system. Now suddenly you've a good reason to find out more.

The prostate's job, it seems, is to make a milky fluid, mix it with sperm and insert the resulting semen into the urethra, bound for parts unknown, during ejaculation. 

A healthy human prostate is slightly larger than a walnut and occupies a space just below the bladder and wrapped around the urethra - the tube that carries urine to a toilet bowl or beer can, depending where you are when nature calls.

Which brings us to the first sign that something's not right with the walnut. Nature calls more often. As the years advance the little guy grows to the size of a tomato, an apple, even a grapefruit, and starts squishing your bladder and reducing its capacity. It's called benign prostatic hyperplasia and it's a nuisance. But it's not dangerous.

Prostate cancer is, and the symptoms can be similar. To get some idea which one you've got, the doc feels your prostate with his finger, and at this point viewers of a nervous disposition might want to look away.

Because there are two ways in to the walnut, as you can see from the image up above (that's not me, by the way). One is through the anus, the other up the urethra, and here's where nature for once gives us a break, guys. 

Because I'll guarantee if the urethra was wide enough to take it, that's where your doc would be sticking his vaseline-lubricated wiggly little finger. Think about that.  

But it's not wide enough, thank god, so he goes up the anus instead. Which is intrusive and a bit disturbing, but not in the least painfulOnce he's in there and feeling for hard bumpy bits on the outside of your prostate, it's fine. I recommend thinking about the football scores and avoiding eye contact till it's over.

When I was forty what I had, it turned out, was prostatitis, which is one of those medical terms that means nothing. It's not cancer and it's not hyperplasia. It could be inflammation or infection. Basically the prostate is irritated, for some reason, and is telling you about it. So the doc gives you antibiotics and either they fix it or time does, and you forget about it for another 20 years. 

Then a few months ago mine gets irritated again and I leave it for a while then phone to make an appointment. "The only doctor available this week is new in the practice - Dr Davidson," the receptionist says. "That's fine," I say and toddle up to the surgery the next day at the appointed hour. 

It feels different this time, so I'm a wee bit worried as I sit in the waiting-room, reading Country Life and sincerely hoping the guy on the cover, carrying a gun and two dead pheasants, has a prostate the size of his brainless head. 

"Mr Blane," the receptionist calls and I head along the corridor, knock, enter and do a double-take. Dr Davidson is a slim, short-haired blonde woman, who looks about 15 but is probably 25. 

"Have a seat," she says. "What can I do for you?" 

Normally slow and steady, rather than lightning-fast, my brain zips ahead to the next five minutes and acts decisively for once. 

"I've come for my flu injection," I tell her.

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