On the morning of the 20th of December 2013, intense pain woke me up – it was like nothing I’d ever experienced.
I was doubled over on my hands and knees and was throwing up – it was like I’d been kicked in the groin by a football a million times over. I knew something was seriously wrong.
I was just 14 years old and had no idea what was going on. I’d had sore testicles before – something I’d put down to puberty and changing hormones – but this was different.
I called for my parents, who were still sleeping in their room next door, and explained what was going on as best I could. No teenager wants to discuss their genitals with their parents, but the sheer intensity of the pain meant that awkwardness was no longer a concern.
I’d vaguely heard of testicular torsion before, but it wasn’t something I was too familiar with. It’s relatively rare, affecting between one in 4,000 and one in 25,000 people with testicles, and tends to affect children and teenagers rather than older adults.
“Testicular torsion occurs when the testicle rotates and twists the cord that supplies blood to the scrotum,” explains Dr Sanjay Pandey, Head of Andrology and Reconstructive Urology at Kokilaben Hospital in Mumbai.
“It can occur suddenly, sometimes it occurs after vigorous activity or exercise; at other times, there is no apparent cause. The pain is severe, often excruciating.”
Though not life-threatening, it’s an emergency. And, as Dr Pandey adds, “the longer the torsion goes untreated, the more difficult it becomes to save the testicle from permanent damage and removal.”
All I can remember from my own experience is stumbling into A&E clutching an empty tub of Celebrations that I’d been using as a makeshift sick bowl. From there it all goes a bit fuzzy.
I vaguely recall being blue-lighted to a nearby hospital for urgent surgery, but other than that the pain was so intense that I’ve blocked almost everything out.
Fortunately, there was no lasting physical damage. The surgeon saved my testicle – it’s a bit smaller now as a result, but that’s it. And after some time spent recuperating in bed post-surgery, I was fine to resume normal activities.
But mentally, things were different. I was 14 years old, a difficult age anyway. I was going through puberty, and all the changes that it brings, and I’d long felt insecure about my perceived masculinity – or lack thereof – so having testicular torsion and almost losing a testicle felt like a cruel joke, kicking me while I was down.
I’d be lying if I said the whole ordeal didn’t have a real effect on my mental health.
While I was able to get back to physical activity after a few weeks, once I turned 16 or so I was worried about having sex because I was worried about somehow re-twisting a testicle. As a result, it took until I was 19 for me to lose my virginity – of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but were it not for my anxieties I’d have probably had sex at 16 and not given it a second thought.
Dr Pandey describes the experience of testicular torsion as often being traumatic for young patients, in particular when they do lose a testicle: “The sequence of events and the speed with which everything occurs only adds to the distress.”
After a medical emergency like testicular torsion, you might be feeling any number of emotions.
Licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist Chase Cassine suggests “loss of self-confidence, shame, shock, emotional numbness, worry, depression and anxiety and signs of stomach issues and sleep disturbances” as being among them. And I can definitely relate.
The thing is, because testicular torsion isn’t something we often hear about, there’s a lot we don’t know – even if we’ve had it ourselves.
A few months ago, at the age of 23, I went to hospital because I had testicle pain and was scared I was going through testicular torsion again. After examining me, the urologist explained that it would be impossible for it to re-occur because of the way the surgeon fixed my testicles back in place. If I’d have known this already, it would have saved me a lot of worry.
It needs more awareness. It disproportionately affects children and adolescents, and if they aren’t aware of what might be happening, it can make an already tricky situation that much more anxiety-inducing.
Imagine if it happens to a young boy who doesn’t know what’s going on, and is too reluctant to tell his parents until it’s too late? With more awareness, we can not only reduce anxiety surrounding the condition, but get people seen and operated on faster, and normalise talking about often awkward issues too.
When parents have ‘the talk’ with their children, testicular torsion should be given a brief mention. Likewise, it’s worth including it in sex education at school. Educate children without scaring them – emphasise that it’s rare – and they can then tell their own children in the future.
“Because of the difficult and sensitive nature of this topic, many guys are afraid and embarrassed to seek support from others and from a psychotherapist,” says Cassine. “However, psychotherapy (CBT cognitive behavioural therapy) can be effective in providing a safe space for the affected person to process their thoughts, feelings, and emotions and with the aid of psychotherapist work to resolve it.”
And, for those struggling with body dysmorphia in the aftermath, a prosthetic testicle is a possibility.
It’s coming up to a decade since I had testicular torsion, and of course, my life is totally different now. It’s something I’ve very much been able to put behind me as I’ve grown up. But, I wish I’d seen it discussed more when I had it – maybe things would have been different.