The Philadelphia Inquirer den 3 aug 1999



Prostate problem “destroyed” his life.  

I’ll call him Tony. It says something about the shame and embarrassment he feels that he refused to tell his story unless I cloaked his identity. On the outside, he looks the picture of health and vitality. Cinematically handsome, with a square chin, broad shoulders, and a beautifully tapered muscular torso, he could easily earn extra money modelling underwear for Calvin Klein.The truth is not so pretty: He is flat broke, he is in agony, and there are times he wishes he were dead. “This has totally destroyed my life,” he told me the other day. "If someone said to me, you are going to die tonight, I wouldn't care. I'd say OK. Everything that made me happy has been taken away." The "this" that has wrecked his life is prostatitis - an infection or inflammation of the prostate gland.

Prostatitis has been called a silent epidemic. It is the most common diagnosed urologic disease in men and half of  in the United States will be treated for prostatitis during their lifetime.  Prostatitis accounts for two million doctors visits  annually, but that’s probably the tip of the iceberg. A young man’s disease, it often strikes studly guys in their 20s and 30s, their sexual and reproductive prime. Feeling invincible, guys in general -and young guys in particular- have a hard time acknowledging health problems, especially when it involves the area of the body that’s the focus of male pride. Consequently, prostatitis tends to go underreported. By one estimate only one in 40 young men with symptoms will seek help!  

Prostatitis can have several causes: bacteria from a bladder infection, sexually transmitted disease, or urine backup from an enlarged prostate. It comes in several forms and can range from mild to severe. Some cases can be cleared up quickly with a simple course of antibiotics. In other cases, it can become a chronic, incurable affliction that causes misery for a lifetime. Symptoms of bacterial prostatitis include fever, chills, and pain in the lower back or pelvic area, aching muscles, fatigue and frequent and painful urination. Symptoms of nonbacterial prostatitis include vague discomfort in the testicles, urethra, lower abdomen and back, discharge from the urethra, blood in urine or ejaculate, low sperm count, sexual difficulties and frequent urination.

Four years ago, Tony seemed to have life by the tail. He was living in a beautiful house. He had a gorgeous girlfriend and a job he loved. He had plenty of devoted friends, who appreciated his ready wit and buoyant personality. He was young, attractive, and full of energy and high hopes. But something was beginning to bother him. Sexually, he didn't have the same verve, the same pep. Concerned about his flagging libido, he went to a doctor. When the physician, an urologist, touched Tony's prostate, Tony yelped. "I went through the roof. It felt like he was jabbing me with an ice pick."  

The doctor's diagnosis: Tony had prostatitis, an infected and inflamed prostate gland. He sent Tony away with a prescription for antibiotics and said he should feel relief within days. Three weeks later, after no improvement, Tony returned. This time he was put on another antibiotic. And so it went, month after month. By the end of seven months, I was taking so many pills they were canceling each other out," says Tony. What's more, he was now in pain all the time, as if someone were twisting a knife inside the most tender parts of his body.  

Desperate, he began visiting experts up and down the East Coast. He traveled to New York City and to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Sometimes he'd wait weeks for an appointment only to be told by the doctor that there was nothing he could do, that Tony would just have to live with it. Or that it was all in his head, don't worry about it. By now the pain was so constant and excruciating that it was all Tony could think about. Finding relief became an obsession. Unable to perform sexually, he lost his girlfriend. Because of the time and money required to find a cure, he had to quit his job and move back home. He stopped going out. Bewildered by his strange behavior, some friends drifted away.  

Tony, meanwhile, read everything he could get his hands on about the prostate and prostatitis. In some instances, he disco-vered he knew more about the latest drugs and treatments than many of the "experts" he visited. Spending every cent of his savings, he journeyed to other parts of the country, and even went to Asia. There, he was nearly cured by a combination of prostate massage and an antibiotic that seemed for a time to work.  

His tolerance for pain has become phenomenal. "I don't complain and I won't complain," he says. For months, he walked around with an IV tube threaded through a vein in his arm into his heart, mainstreaming high doses of powerful antibiotics. To conceal his condition, he wedged the IV pump under his arm and wore baggy sweatshirts, even on torrid summer days. Proud of his body, he worries about the possible side effects of the drugs: ruptured tendons, kidney failure, and deafness.  

Equally vexing has been the attitude of many doctors. Some have yelled at him, told him to get lost, that they can't help him. One kindly physician told him, in the presence of his disbelieving sister: "The only way you'll get relief is if you get a gun." "I'm beyond frustrated," he says. "My life is completely on hold. I just live from doctor to doctor. I can't drink. I can't go out socially. I have no relationships with women. It's destroyed my personality because the only thing I care about is getting rid of the pain."  

Tony decided to tell his story to give courage to other men, to focus attention on a largely neglected malady. The National Institutes of Health are finally sponsoring prostatitis research, but it's peanuts compared with what's being spent for AIDS and breast cancer. "It's an unglamorous disease," says Tony. "Because men fear ridicule and rejection, they're afraid to talk about it. It's an underground, anonymous plague."  

Prostatitis, he believes, ultimately will prove easily curable. All it takes is commitment and concentrated research. "We should take a lesson from the AIDS community. Those who scream loudest get the most funding. If men 50 years ago had been as vocal as women are about breast cancer, prostatitis wouldn't be I around today."  

Tony hasn't quit his own search for a cure. He's aiming to go to Tijuana, Mexico, for a thermal treatment that he hopes will be effective. To raise the $5,000 for the trip, he is ready to sell his last asset, his car.  

Before I left the other day, Tony showed me a souvenir from happier days, a framed photograph of him and his girlfriend.  She's a striking woman with a centerfold figure. "Wow, what a babe!" I said. "She sure was," said Tony wistful - then he took the photo and placed it on a shelf, face down.


Art Carey, Body Language


Distributed free as a public service by The Prostatitis Foundation, 1063-30th Street , Smithshire, Il  61478, USA


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