A time like this last year I joined Muay Thai class, the Thai boxing combat sport. Lots of kicking and elbowing and screaming, “Aaaaiyaaa!” The workout was brutal. You jumped and did burpees and skipped rope barefoot, the rope whacking your toes and hurting like hell but you were not allowed shoes. The skin under your toes got tender and peeled but you kept going because well, ego and pride and there were girls in the class doing it barefoot. And these girls could kick and punch so bloody hard and scream “aaaaiyaaa” in their shrill voices. One day I swung my leg in a kick and felt a sharp pain in my back. I knew it wasn’t a good pain…there are no good pains. Well, there are but in this context, it wasn’t. That night I applied Deep-Heat and slept in a position of a cadaver. In the morning, I couldn’t tie my shoelaces without making a face.
The thing with having back pain is that one, people think it’s age. Two, everybody thinks that its cure is sex. Lastly, everybody knows someone who has or has had back problems. You will be surprised at how many people have back problems. This means that there is a lot of unsolicited advice out there on how to treat a bad back but also recommendations on who is the best bad back doctor.
I chose to see my regular physiotherapist, Brian. For a week, he dug his elbow on the muscle on my back, placed hot-packs on it, stretched it and sent me away with a muscle relaxant. I wasn’t getting any better so I went to a hospital’s casualty and saw a GP who sent me to do an MRI, a capsule they slide you into wearing those terrible hospital gowns which leave half your ass out. You spend almost an hour in this tube, listening to the radio over the loud thudding noise of the machine. It’s like being in a coffin with music. The doctor – a stern lady with bookish spectacles- looked at my scans and said somberly, “Your spine is not correct.” She was as warm as my key holder.
“Yeah. Not correct at all. You see here,” she pointed at a spot on my scan with an old biro. I couldn’t see shit. It’s like when they show you the scan of a fetus and they say, “These are the hands of your baby and these are her legs,” but it doesn’t even look like a baby, it looks like an amoeba. “There is a lot of wear and tear on your spinal cord.” The GP continued, “And the pain you are feeling is because this part here is pressing this here.” I wasn’t even concentrating, I was now looking at the area between her finger and thumb, it looked ashy, like it had baking powder. It looked resistant to lotion and/or assorted oils. I wondered to myself if her friends have not told her to try Arimis there. “Also,” she continued, “the shape of your spine is all wrong, it’s supposed to be S-shaped but you see it’s sort of straight.” She sighed and placed the scans on the side and tapped a key on her computer. “You might not be able to do your runs again,” she announced, because she’s the goddess of bad news.
“Never?” I asked alarmed.
“For a few years, at least.” She scribbled something on a pad. “Here, I recommend seven sessions of physiotherapy. You know where the physiotherapy department is, right?”
After my third session I realized the physiotherapist didn’t really put their backs on it. It felt like a one-size-fits-all approach. A routine. They would robotically place those electrodes on my back and then leave. No explanation. I felt like a battery being charged. Afterwards they’d ask me to raise my left leg. Then my right leg. Then hand me a sheet of paper with a drawing of back exercises. Meanwhile my back wasn’t getting better. One time in a bar, I mentioned to someone who was with a friend of mine that my back was ruined and he said, “Here, go see this chiropractor guy. He sorted my mom’s back for good.”
“Oh, great. How’s your mom doing?”
“She died last year.”
This chiropractor had a very swish clinic. We didn’t exactly kick it off from the word go. I found him self-absorbed. He seemed to divert the conversation to himself and yet he had a great back. He looked like he’d rather be in fashion and modelling than medicine. Like he knew more about Chukka boots than Lordosis. He also never once looked me in the eye. I know it wasn’t a date and not that I wanted him to stare deep into my eyes but it’s nice to look at someone who is telling you about his bad back. I sat in a very fancy chair, a chair that sagged in the middle, which is ironic because here was a chiropractor who should be championing for good posture. Anyway, sunk in that chair, I was telling him, “This problem started last month when I joined this Muay Thai class. It’s basically kickboxing, only from Thailand and everybody kicks and shouts, ‘aaaaiyaaa’…” and this guy was swiping through things on his fancy gadget that looked like an IPad but one that could twist and contort in all positions. Maybe he was online, shopping for more fancy seats. Or on Tinder, swiping, is it left, because he’s got very high standards. He didn’t look at my MRI results. When he asked me to lie on my back, he wore a rubber glove to feel my lower back. Gloves! I never went back.
I then went to see a much older and experienced spine doctor in Upperhill. His reception was full. His chairs were stiff. He was in his 50s and wore snazzy suits. The area between his thumb and finger was well oiled. And he was charming. He even looked at my MRI scan results. Gravely. Like he cared. Comforted by his professionalism I found myself reporting the first doctor to him. “She said I would never run again, at least not for a few years.” He chuckled as if that was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard in his long spanning practice. “Is that what she said?” Still looking at my scans with a creased brow, like one trying to thread a needle.
I said, “Yeah.” He then carefully put my scans back in the envelope. “Well, I can assure you that you will be able to run in a month or two, but you have to start by walking and swimming. Can you swim?” I nodded. Of course, I can swim. He sent me downstairs to radiology to check the density of my bones. The result showed that my bones had great density, thank you very much. He then recommended 10 sessions of physio, which I did, but still I wasn’t healing.
One day I went for a meeting and after the meeting, like all meetings, you have to tell someone something about yourself that isn’t about what you do, like a jail-term or something like that, so I told the lady about my back. She said she knew someone who had fixed her back. An osteopath, she said. I’d never heard of that word, let alone that branch of medicine. She spoke very highly of this guy, how he helped her back and the backs of many other people she knows. I Googled “osteopathy” in the car. I then called him and booked an appointment. I went to see him on Riverside Drive on a wettish Saturday when your car windscreen fogs out and you have to use the heater. He practices from his house, converting one bedroom into his small “clinic.” I found shoes outside the door so I removed mine and entered the house. His kids sat in the living room in their pyjamas, eating breakfast while watching cartoons on TV. I said, “Hey guys?” and they ignored me. Even my own ignores me when he’s watching cartoons. Something about cartoons that abduct our children.
Shortly, the osteopath walked into the living room with a muscular smile. He filled the doorway. He was a thick man with strong manly features. Most likely Lunje, I thought. Over his fitting t-shirt he wore what looked like the jungle green half-jacket that special unit cops wear. He was genial. We chatted a lot. I stripped down to my boxers and lay on the observation bed. He sat on a gym bouncy ball at the end of the table and inspected the soles of my feet while he kneaded them with his fingers. It felt good.
“You sometimes have a problem with your digestion?”
“Only when I eat beans, yeah,” I said.
“You like beans?”
“I like beans.” I said. “And chapos. And you?”
“Yeah, chapos are great.” Another chapo lover; we were going to get along. He pressed my big toe. “Remind me to give you something for your digestion, after. It will reset your digestion.” More prodding. We talked about my back. I gave him the backstory. (He-he). I told him about Muay Thai boxing and how you kick and punch and you scream “aaaaiyaaa.” He told me about himself and lots about his brand of complementary medicine that uses manipulation and massage of the skeleton. I believe he used the word “musculature.” He handles children born with skeleton and tissue problems, people recovering from strokes, accident victims and spinal injury patients. All this while massaging my feet. I got so comfortable and inspired that I even reported the doctor who said I’d never run again. He told me not to worry, that everybody who walks into his house is treated. “If I don’t sort your problem in one month, I will be treating you for free.” I loved his confidence.
“Your eyesight is not good.” He said, pressing a point under my foot.
“I see,” I said and tried not to chuckle at my own cheesy joke.
“Your kidneys look okay, so does your heart and other organs. Are you sleeping well?”
“Pretty much,” I said. “I know someone who had a back problem and she just did her surgery.”
“Well, surgery should always be the very last option,” he said, bouncing on his gym ball. I envied him. I wanted to bounce on a gym ball too. (Eventually he made me buy one as part of my treatment. Now I’m the guy who owns a bouncy gym ball. Life. You just never know). “Surgery is never the first solution. What caused her back problems?”
“I don’t know. Could be many things. Posture?” I said. “She’s also tall and loves her high heels. And she has big breasts.”
He said, “Hmm,” which I assumed was to the big breasts, so I ploughed on.
“They aren’t thaaat big. But I’m told big breasts can cause back problems.”
“Yeah.” I could hear the sound of cartoons from the living room. He told me about the causes of back problems, and why everybody should take care of their backs by sitting upright in a good chair and exercising their backs often. A bad back is worse than a bad leg. Or arm.
“I don’t like one of your testicles,” he said suddenly.
I raised my head up and looked at him. He was not looking at my testicles; he was still staring at my foot.
“Which one?” I asked, as if it mattered. As if I had named them and I knew all their likes and dislikes.
“The right one.”
“My right or your right?”
“My right,” he said. “It’s older than the left one.”
“They are all mine, I can assure you.” I attempted to stifle the strange news with a joke.
He kneaded my foot some more. Stuck his thumb right into it, as if looking for something. He bobbed on his bouncy gym ball.
“You can see the age of my testicles from the soles of my feet?” I inquired incredulously.
“Yeah. I can see your general health from the soles of your feet.”
“And one of my testicles, you say, is old?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Well, it’s damaged as compared to the left one. The reflexes that I feel on your right one is different from the left one. They are the same reflexes I’d feel on a much older man’s testicles.”
I chewed on this for a minute. It seemed preposterous; me with one older testicle? Impossible. My testicles were healthy, efficient, young and happy. This is nuts, I thought to myself.
“Where did you say you studied this osteopathy thing again?” I asked him.
“France,” he said. “For five years. In the 90s.”
I lay there staring at the white ceiling as he kneaded my soles, thinking about my poor right testicle – his right, not mine. That’s the thing with life; you go in with a back problem and they find your right testicle is older than your left testicle. That’s why some people never seek medical intervention, because doctors just unearth crazy shit: A simple headache becomes a septicemic plague. A stomach pain becomes gout. Pain in the shoulders and you are suddenly dealing with a hole in your heart. Don’t even dare go to the hospital for UTI, they will discover Coxsackie virus. Funny thing, prior to this I was feeling normal. Little did I know that I was walking around – opening the fridge, reversing the car, eating granola – with one old testicle. I didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or sad. It’s the last discovery I expected. And it sucked pipe. I just didn’t see myself as a guy with one older testicle. I mulled at how unfair life is. God, why me? Why not some guy who chases tenders at City Hall?
“How much older?” I asked the osteopath. He looked up from my feet. “How much older is that testicle?” I repeated. Now I was calling it “that” testicle because it had deeply disappointed the left testicle and myself. It wasn’t a team player.
“You said you are 41,” he asked, “this testicle could well belong to a 58-year-old.”
“Yesu!” I made a sound one would make if they dropped hot candle wax in your ear. He chuckled and said, “relaaax!”
I tried to think of all the 58-year-olds I know or have interviewed before. I tried to imagine a testicle belonging to a 58-year-old. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to. Hell, I couldn’t even imagine how it felt like being 58. Now I was disturbed.
“But why would it age faster than the other?” I cried.
“Well, many things.” He got off his bouncy ball and asked me to sit up at the edge of the bed. He stood back and stared at my back, which was to the window, so bright mid-morning light lit it up. “Damage is caused by many things, trauma is one of them. Have you ever had any injury on your testicles?”
I thought back long and hard.
“A ball,” I said.
“Yeah. Football. I was a goalkeeper in high school and that ball would frequently run into my groin.”
“You were a goalkeeper in high school!?” He asked disbelievingly, like most people do.
“Yeah! Maseno School, class of ‘95. You can confirm.”
“Were you very good?”
“Nah, I wasn’t ati memorable.”
“Yeah, could be one cause. It could also be a disease causing a blockage. Have you had any, er, reproductive or, er, activity problems.”
“No!” I said almost defensively. “Everything works just fine.”
He poked at my back. “Here, feel that?” He was touching a hard muscle. “You have muscle spasms. I can actually see it from here. Your muscle has contracted. You run and box, you mentioned. I bet you never stretch adequately. Also, your posture could be bad. You spend a lot of time on your laptop and if your chair is bad, you will kill your back.” He made me lie down on my belly, rubbed some oil between his hands and started on my back. “But this isn’t bad. I have seen worse. We will need about two sessions a week for three weeks, then you will be as good as new.”
I wasn’t interested in my back pain anymore. He could remove that muscle for all I cared. Now I was more keen about my right testicle. This was more serious than the stupid back muscle. A man can live without a back, but not an old testicle.
“Look, doc,” he was pressing my back muscles with his thumb, as if straightening it, “this right testicle thing. Uhm, is it common? Do you see many men coming in here with older testicles?”
“Oh yeah. It’s very common.” He said. I wanted to stand up and cheer. I always wondered why anyone who doesn’t support Gor Mahia would buy a vuvuzela, now I know why. I could have used one right then. “It’s a very common problem with men who live sedentary lifestyles. Office/ desk types. It’s a small functional problem. The more sedentary you are, the more damage you see in such areas. You don’t see this problem in those mjengo guys.” He was now massaging my upper back. “Also, if you cross your legs a lot, depending on which leg you cross, it will damage the testicle on that side.”
“Really? So crossing one’s legs is not highly recommended for men.”
“No,” he said. “Not often. But this problem can be reset if it’s not as a result of a disease, by simply self-massaging that particular testicle or just exercising and reflexes. Walking really helps.” He lost me on self-massaging. I just knew that’s something I wasn’t going to engage in. I have a busy schedule.
Long story short, the osteopath fixed my back. No more pain, unless I stop my back exercises and stretches for long periods. So constant maintenance and back exercises and stretches and good back practices like better posture. No slouching. No long stretches of sitting down. I also stopped crossing my legs a lot. My right testicle also improved greatly. It’s now about 48 years old, according to his estimation. It has lost almost ten years. (Yeah, a Curious Case of Bikozulu’s Nuts.) It’s in better health than it has ever been. I’m proud of it. To all the men out there, the desk types, stop crossing your legs too much, you are ageing your testicles. (These are words I never imagined I’d ever write).
That’s my story about the day I discovered my right testicle was older. I’m starting a series called Urban Lores. I’m looking for interesting and unique people stories. I don’t know what to call it but I have a week to give it a nice strap. I’d like to hear stories of people who are raising triplets or quadruplets and how it feels like to give birth to all those kids. I want to hear from a doctor who opens up brains, maybe even watch him as he does it – if it’s allowed. I want to hear from someone who was auctioned. How does one get there and how does it feel like to have men haul shit away as your children and yourself watch in pyjamas? I want to hear from a miraa driver who drives at break-neck speed. What goes through your mind? How do they function in normal? How do you learn to drive like that? What is death? I want to interview a mama mboga sending a child to university and talk money and planning and recalibrate the very idea of “a lot.” Or a single mother raising a special needs child. I want to talk to a pastor or a man of the cloth and ask him about his own sins and challenges. I want to talk to an old clerk at the water department who has been at it through four presidents and perhaps three generations. What does a guy who plays a guitar in the streets for alms think of life and dreams and passion? What gets a guy like that up each morning. I’d like to talk to a professional prostitute – male or female – and see where their ideals and ours cross roads. Or find out how many things they have in common with a bank teller at Stanchart. I want to talk to someone like Odumbe or Louis Otieno and salvage lessons from their stories. The odder the story the better. You guys get the idea? Interesting people with interesting perspectives. And if you can beat my old testicle story, even better.
Email me on email@example.com
Otherwise, happy New Year. I hope your souls are happy.