by Jeff Winkler
Zero minutes after incident (a.i.)
Pain. Ow. That’s real pain. I move her off me and roll onto my stomach. Miscalculations have happened before; a few seconds of discomfort and then it’s go time again. I roll back over and look down to see if it’s go time again. I rise up off the bed: “Yeah, this… this isn’t right.” I sit back down. The woman beside me looks so horror-stricken, I try to sound especially calm when talking to 911. I don’t tell the operator it’s so swollen and purple that I’m afraid it’ll burst at any moment. Instead I say, in an even, measured tone, “My penis is the shape, size and color of a baby eggplant.”
10 minutes a.i.
She sits beside me as we wait for the ambulance. I’m holding an ice pack over my crotch. It’s 3 a.m. and the street is empty, so no one else sees me when I stand up and pee, relatively pain-free, on the flowerbed beside her front porch. Instinctively, we both know this is a good sign. We high-five.
20 minutes a.i.
“We see this every so often,” the paramedic tells me. “It happens a lot on the weekends.” His voice is flat. He seems, frankly, a little bored by the quality of this emergency. His attitude angers my companion, Jaci, and she starts to demand an ice pack. I signal that I’m okay. The medic pretends not to hear us. He looks so unhappy that, when I relay all the pertinent details of the event, I leave out the high-five.
40 minutes a.i.
Both Jaci and I love the overnight nurse, who says her name is Angel. I’m lying on a bed, covered by a sheet. Angel laughs at all my jokes. “Yeah, this is the biggest and best it’s ever gonna get.” “Scale of pain from one to ten? Like a four. I’m tough. Cocksure.”
53 minutes a.i.
Nurse Angel tells me I was lucky. It was quiet tonight, and the morning shift is about to arrive. The urologist is on his way. She says his name is Dr. Wang. “Dr. Wang is one of the best,” says Nurse Angel, reassuringly.
2 hours a.i.
For the fourth time, I ask my most immediate emergency contact to turn around. I lift up the covers so Dr. Hwang can examine my eggplant. He’s blasé about the whole thing. “We should probably just fix it. It could cause impotency problems in the future.” Then he shrugs. “Or we could leave it.” Do the surgery. After describing the procedure with graphic clarity, he says, “It’s a good thing you didn’t snap your urethra. This might have been serious.” Standing beside him, my companion is so pale, she looks as if she might faint.
2.5 hours a.i.
When my friend Chris doesn’t answer his phone, I call another number. “Hi, Mom. Sorry I woke you… Don’t be worried… Yeah… I need you to talk with someone just in case something happens during surgery… She’s… she’s my girlfriend.” My mom’s a nurse practitioner at a heart and vascular clinic. She instructs me to ask the doctor about Peyronie’s disease. “Tell your mom you should be completely healed in about five weeks,” says Dr. Hwang. “Your penis won’t look like a candy cane.” At least, that’s the rough translation.
2.75 hours a.i.
I’m scolded by the unpleasant morning nurse for asking my mom to talk to “your girlfriend.” I don’t know why she she objects or even why thinks it’s any of her business, and I’d ask her except the IV she stuck in me is making everything hazy. For example, I can’t even remember if Jaci and I actually told anyone it was our first time. We certainly haven’t had the “girlfriend/boyfriend” talk ourselves. Actually, we’ve only really known each other for about 24 hours.
5 hours a.i.
Jaci is standing over me in the post-op room. She’s trying to smile. (I later asked her what she did during the operation. Apparently, trying to find my room was a bureaucratic and maddeningly labyrinthine ordeal. This, she told me by email, was what happened when they finally let her see me: “Her: [Erupts in tears] Me: Can you not cry? Her: [Shakes head, kisses me] Me: Can you tell me a funny story? Her: No, I have no funny stories right now. You are shit out of luck. Me: Damn. [Passes out again]”)
8 hours a.i.
As we ride back to her house, Jaci rests her head against the taxi window. She looks amazingly fresh in the morning light. I feel coyote ugly with a fluorescent-lightbulb tan. She waits as I haltingly climb her front steps, and not-so-shortly thereafter holds me up as I change into her old Virginia Tech sweatpants. When she leaves to pick up my prescription, I lie in her bed, drifting in and out of consciousness. For whatever reason, nothing about this ordeal has yet been embarrassing, not even my new penis cast. Jaci returns a couple hours later, after hitting nearly ten different pharmacies. The hydrocodine was difficult to get, but the stool looseners were available at every location. I’m instructed to take one every morning. I experience my first wave of embarrassment, shame.
I think I ask if they are suppositories.
2 days a.i.
Jaci and I rehearse the story for any nosy friends. For purely pragmatic reasons, we start to use the words “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.” When my friend Chris finally returns my call, I make up a lie about what the emergency was, smiling at Jaci as I do. Once I get off the phone we kiss. I want to tell her she’s amazing but all that comes out is a grunt. When I get too excited, the pain is searing.
2 days, 12 hours a.i.
I‘ve now been at Jaci’s house for more than 48 hours. She even skipped work on a second day. She won’t let me have caffeinated drinks because “you need to keep hydrated.” While she’s out on an errand, I take a Coke from the fridge. An hour later, I’m being scolded as she has to all but carry me upstairs to the bathroom.
It takes five minutes to climb 15 steps. To pee, I must gently lower myself onto the toilet. The cast hangs like a weight, and the trickling urine soaks into the gauze. The burning is excruciating, and I punch the bathroom door repeatedly. I’m already sore and tired from having to sleep on my back. When the pain doesn’t wake me up in the middle of the night, the narcotic night terrors do. I try not to wake Jaci, but she’s always half a dream away, asking if I need anything.
At the street corner, I run into a colleague who asks if I broke it having sex. My denial is vehement. “Oh,” he says, genuinely apologetic. “I was just curious because it happened to a friend of mine.” I dig for details about his friend. Is he OK now? Did it happen on the weekend?
3 days, 12 hours a.i.
I finally return to my house. It’s an art collective; a converted warehouse harboring seven D.C. punks of varying crustiness. The idea is to make repairs and open the place up as a DIY arts center. We’re all suppose to chip in with the work. I gather my roommates together. Lifting my shirt to show them the scar on my abdomen from a previous operation, I parrot the clinical words Dr. Hwang used, peppered with random phrases from my lengthy and complicated medical history: With my one kidney, the Meckel’s diverticulum was unable to dissipate a blood clot causing aortic arrhythmia, which led to the ruptured penile corpus fracture and Peyronie’s disease. It was a freak accident.
The explanation is so convoluted with half-lies and near-facts that I begin to suspect I may actually have aoritic arrhythmia; I better not have Peyronie’s disease, Dr. Hwang. And while my roommates don’t catch it all, I make clear, with as much regret in my voice as possible, that I can’t do any heavy lifting for six to eight weeks.
3 days, 15 hours a.i.
I’m sipping a Coke when a text from Jaci arrives. “Fluids, Winkler. Fluids. And no caffeine.” She’s amazing.
4 days, 8 hours a.i.
Dr. Hwang and I barely say hello before my pants are down, although one of us does yell “Jesus Christ” when the heavy bandages of the cast are removed. The doctor writes a prescription for weak painkillers as I tell him about this great girl I recently started seeing. You can go back to work and the stitches will dissolve in time, he says. Remember, he adds, no sexual activity for five weeks, but you can go back on the prowl after that. No, no, I explain, no prowling, I’m gonna stick around for awhile. This girl’s something special. Dr. Hwang shrugs. “You could do that, too, I guess.”
4 days, 10 hours a.i.
Hobbling into the place where I work, I announce that while my doctor had said I shouldn’t work for three more days, I came in anyway. I give a rehearsed grimace of dedication. My boss insists I go home for as long as need be. At the street corner, I run into a colleague who asks if I broke it having sex. My denial is vehement. “Oh,” he says, genuinely apologetic. “I was just curious because it happened to a friend of mine.” I dig for details about his friend. Is he OK now? Did it happen on the weekend?
4 days, 12 hours a.i.
Jaci gets a sailor’s tongue when I relay the doctor’s comments. She’s sitting on her bed while I stand with my pants around my ankles. We’re laughing hysterically because my mangled member looks absolutely ridiculous. I love the sound of her rough, cig-worn laugh.
5 days a.i.
“You can-NOT repeat this to anyone else,” I say to my friend Mike, who I work with. It feels great to be sharing the truth with someone. “Ya wanna see it?” We scurry to the office bathroom.
There’s lots of black-and-blue bruising around the base and the balls. Dr. Hwang had used my old circumcision scar as a cut-here guide; dried streaks of blood crust around the ring of thick crude stitching that encircles the shaft and is tied up on the backside like a Christmas bow. Above that, bloated, shiny skin of deep maroon puffs out and up, as if I’d taped a half-deflated balloon to the top of the shaft. The whole thing looks exactly like a mongoose-slaughtered snake stuffed through a mini life-preserver. “Oh … WHOA!” says Mike.
Mike is the first friend I made in town. He loves things like body modification and getting drunk at Chili’s. It’s his last day at the office. I couldn’t find medical-grade weed, so this is his going-away present. Maybe a half-minute after I show him, just as I’ve gotten my penis back in my pants, Mike looks at me with eager, sparkling eyes. “Lemme see it again.”
6 days a.i.
Foreplay with Jaci is painful and sometimes I have to stop, grit my teeth and punch the bed. We know we shouldn’t be fooling around at all, but a week into the relationship we can’t resist, no matter what the circumstances. But the teeth-gritting and mattress-punching is clearly alarming her.
Jaci calls a urologist friend and tells her the whole story. I can hear her asking about other things we might do besides sex. “What about …” she trails off. The friend says to follow doctor’s orders, or risk tearing and permanent damage. After the call, Jaci looks dejected. Even after it does heal, she says, we’ll probably have to be careful. I tell her there’s no way in hell we’re just going to do missionary. Her face brightens.
1 week a.i.
In the mornings, we often walk to her favorite neighborhood restaurant for breakfast. At night, there’s a lot of near-naked pillow talk because we can only fool around for so long before it just becomes too painful.
Somehow the conversation turns to Margaret Thatcher. Somehow Margaret Thatcher becomes a recurring topic. Somehow Margaret Thatcher becomes our go-to sexual depressant. Somehow Margaret Thatcher ends up sitting naked on a suburban fence, legs swinging and twirling a top hat. Occasionally Reagan makes an appearance, too. There’s a lot of glitter involved. I invoke the former Prime Minister whenever I need to cool off. For emergency purposes only.
8 days a.i.
Getting the thing in and out of my pants is a delicate process involving several complicated maneuvers. Because of the swelling, I’m messily off-target, but at least now I can stand up and pee like a man — that is, all over the seat.
9 days a.i.
My friend Aaron calls. I’ve been out of touch with a lot of my friends, but, out of everyone, I should have called Aaron. The last time I saw him was at his birthday party, about an hour before The Incident.
Jaci was a friend-of-friend-of-Aaron’s. We’d first met out at a group-drinks thing a few weeks before the party. I got her number, left a couple voicemails and never heard back. A week later I saw her again. When I asked why she never returned my calls, she said she never got them. “Why didn’t you ever call?” she asked. I must have gotten her number wrong. Later, she dove in for a kiss and we necked until closing time. That was our first date. The next night we met up at Aaron’s party, before sneaking away with a stolen bottle of whiskey.
Aaron asks for an update. I spin out the entire yarn about the blood clot, then admit I’m lying. “Of course you are,” he says. After I tell him the true story, he insists Mike hasn’t breathed a word.
12 days a.i.
I’m off the antibiotics. I wait for Jaci at Bistrot Du Coin and have my first drink in more than a week. This is, weirdly, our first real date-date. We have escargot and foi gras. She says she wants to take me to a fancy beach party in July. There’s also a wedding soon and I could meet her dad at his upcoming birthday dinner. She tells me more about her mother, who’s visiting from Mexico. After all the stories, I agree: your mother is insane, let’s avoid her.
Chris calls as we’re browsing the second-hand book shop beside the restaurant. He’s drinking with an old mentor up the road. Would we care to join them?
Jaci and I knock back drinks like we’re on our tenth anniversary as we tell Chris’ mentor about how we met, about the blood clot, and how now she’s nursing me back to health. Chris thinks it’s a great “us” story. When Chris gets up to show my date the way to the downstairs bathroom, the mentor leans in and says, “Have you thought about making a deposit at the sperm bank? You should, you know. You never know what’s gonna happen.”
11 days a.i.
In complete, flagrant disregard of all the doctors’ advice, we don’t cool off. Jaci gives me a blowjob. The experience is fantastic but afterward I’m filled with regret. Maybe we shouldn’t have done that. I think about the mentor’s advice about the sperm bank. What if he’s right?
12 days a.i.
For most of this office bar-hop party, I’ve been relegated to a seat beside a colleague I’ve always found detestable. He keeps insisting we cheers the company. I’ve taken to calling him “Edgar,” for no apparent reason, sometimes to his face. The nickname makes less sense to him than it does to me.
At Hawk & Dove, I open the door to the bar’s small bathroom. There, at the only urinal, stands Edgar. He seems a little skittish. Then he seems a little angry. Actually, he’s yelling. He’s yelling because I’ve pulled out my purple, still-mangled penis and I’m cradling it in my palms, and turned in his direction, insisting he see how cool it looks. As he bolts out, I’m still pleading.
He doesn’t sit near me the rest of the night.
13 days a.i.
I’m limping again. The incision has opened in one place. It may have happened the day before and I ignored it. I read WebMD’s page on “gangrene.”
I’m limping again. The incision has opened in one place. It may have happened the day before and I ignored it. I read WebMD’s page on “gangrene.”
2 weeks a.i.
The stench emanating from my groin is so terrible that after peeing I have to scrub my hands raw to get out the smell. Yellowish ooze stains my underwear. The phrase “crotch rot” keeps circling my mind. My mom, the nurse, assures me that I’ll be fine until the doctor’s appointment tomorrow. I don’t tell her I may have lost the stitches as a result of fellatio. But I do ask what she knows about gangrene.
2 weeks, 2 days a.i.
“Well, this is all normal,” say Dr. Hwang. with a shrug. “Men get a boost of testosterone before waking up, which is what causes erections in the morning. It’s going to stretch the stitches a little and it may hurt, but you’ll be fine.” I don’t tell him about the blowjob either. Now that I don’t actually need them anymore, he finally writes me a prescription for a stronger painkiller. I’m excited at the prospect of taking them at work.
2 weeks, 3 days a.i.
I’ve only seen Jaci look so horror-stricken one other time. Maybe I shouldn’t have said, “I think I’m falling in love with you.” We’re sitting on her front porch. She says, maybe we’re moving a little too fast, we’ve had an intense two weeks. She just got out of a two-year mess of a relationship and didn’t expect to meet someone new so soon. I like you, she says, but we should be cautious.
2 weeks, 6 days a.i.
She’s been talking about this cookout for weeks. It’s a reunion of some of her college friends, and she says she can’t wait to introduce me to all of them.
We’re out on her patio, the nine of us seated around the picnic table. They’re a congenial bunch. As the sun sets, the conversation turns to awful first dates. One friend tells a story about a blind date with a guy who “forgot his wallet.” Another friend tells about one with an actor who practiced his monologues all through dinner at a crowded restaurant. Yet another said she’d been out with a colleague who, after a few polite drinks, said, quite professionally, “I’d like to take you to home and eat your asshole out. If we can’t do that, let me know.” Shortly thereafter, he cordially bid her adieu.
While the others laugh, the two of us quietly debate. “Baby, we own this one,” I say under my breath.
“They’re your friends.” I give a shrug like Dr. Hwang.
“Okay, okay.” She yells, “So here’s what happened on our first date.”
We tell the group to beat that one. Then we high-five.
3 weeks, 5 days a.i.
Since I can’t do much, we get creative. I’ve never given “the shocker” before, but it seems to be working great, for both of us. “I really like you,” she says afterward.
“Good to hear, Mrs. Thatcher.”
4 weeks, 6 days a.i.
An editor in New York wants me to come up for an interview. I tell Jaci the great news, then send an email off to work that contains words like “procedure,” “big needle,” “drained,” and “rest.”
On the train to New York, I read my bosses’ emails of unconditional condolence. The office once had an intern who, after missing several days of work, said she was having “woman issues.” No one believed her. She should have said she was having “man issues.”
5 weeks, 4 days a.i.
We’re on the rooftop bar again of where we first kissed. I’m beaming about the follow-up interview scheduled for tomorrow. Jaci’s congratulations sound hollow. I’ve seen that look before. Look, I say, New York’s not that far away, we’ll figure it out.
“Yeah, about that …”
Chris calls as I leave the bar. I meet him up the road at the Royal Palace, a strip club. He buys me a drink and I pour my heart out, telling him what really happened almost five weeks ago. On the stage, a dancer spins around a pole. Strip clubs are a lot more fun in the movies.
5 weeks, 5 days a.i.
I am officially cleared to fornicate, not that it matters much. Staying at a friend’s place in New York, we watch the last 30 minutes of No Strings Attached, then go to bed.
6 weeks, 5 days a.i.
I meet up with Mike and tell him how, last night, I used two fingers, gingerly, and didn’t flex much at all. Apart from the brief, intimate interactions with Jaci, my junk has been mostly just that for the past six weeks: an awkward thing attached to my hips. But now I’m starting to think about sex more often, and all I can do is drink a few beers and make a solo effort.
“That’s great. Ya gotta learn how to do it different ways,” exclaims Mike. “I love doing it like that at the base, real quiet. I do it in the Chili’s bathroom. It’s one of my favorite places to masturbate like that.”
I miss Mike at the office.
7 weeks, 3 days a.i.
I get several emails a woman I dated for a couple weeks the year before. In the emails she calls me a “disgustingly selfish jackass.” Also, “weird.”
7 weeks, 4 days a.i.
I want to shank somebody. Anybody. Edgar.
7 weeks, 5 days a.i.
I’ve apologized profusely to the angry ex and again to my mom for not returning phone messages. Tomorrow, I’ll call and apologize to Jaci for the drunk, vulgar, petulant text I sent the other night. It’s embarrassing to read. There are so many typos.
I’ve been saying “I’m sorry” a lot lately, and I’m not even having sex. In bed, I give it the first proper tug in a long while. I hadn’t really raised it completely in about seven weeks, so when I do and happen to look down mid-stroke, I’m convinced Dr. Hwang chopped off a couple inches. I’m also worried about straining too much. I picture it snapping every stitch and spewing out like a rusty, kinked-up hose.
I feel a little guilty about going through with the whole pathetic ordeal and try to get it over with as quickly. I throw the rag beside some dirty dishes accumulating in the corner.
Everything is almost back to normal.
7 weeks, 6 days a.i.
Jaci sounds peeved. “Would it have been better if I waited to break up until after we had sex again?”
Once, after explaining how Dr. Hwang cut along the shaft, peeled it back like a lollipop wrapper, crocheted the broken blood vessels, then yanked the foreskin back in place and sewed it all back up, a male friend actually fainted. I was pretty proud of that.
“Well, no. Yeah. No.” I hesitate, not sure which answer is most likely to get me back in her bed. My pride is that far gone. “Yeah, it would have been better.”
That’s when she tells me she recently “met up” with that old boyfriend of hers.
I snoop through Jaci’s Facebook profile. The boyfriend’s gotta be in his early 30s. He’s kinda balding. And ugly. He has a great position at the IMF. They have entire photo albums on Facebook.
8 weeks, 1 day a.i.
I’m just about to take a shower when my mom checks in. No, we broke up. … No, I still haven’t heard back about the job in New York… Yeah, the swelling’s gone. But now, where it was once plump around the top, the skin sags.
Gently, she suggests cosmetic surgery if the sagging continues to be a problem. Her sweetly clinical recommendation suddenly makes me feel ashamed and embarrassed. I’m staring into the mirror, completely naked. “It’s … I don’t know, Mom. It’s just … weird.”
I’m fully operational again, although there have been two directional miscalculations during sex. While barely noticeable as pain, the accidents trigger a panic, like some form of sexual PTSD.
I realize how lucky I was that I was with Jaci when this happened, how much worse the whole ordeal would have been without her. After all, she could have just pulled out a twenty and wished me luck with the hospital taxi ride. I still have her Virginia Tech sweatpants, now permanently stained, which I never did replace. Every time I wear them, I feel like a dick.