David recovers from prostatitis after 8 years of symptoms
It has been a pleasure working with David in his recovery from Prostatitis. I first met David in February 2019. Now 10 months later he is out of the dark rabbit hole of pelvic pain. He is living life once again safe in the knowledge that he is pain free
The pain struck early morning, a stabbing somewhere between my groin and belly button. I’d collapsed into bed the night before, rather worse for wear after a day downing Red Stripe and jerk chicken at the Notting Hill Carnival. Then quick as it had arrived, the sharp sensation disappeared. That morning in my early thirties was the first time I remember thinking something wasn’t right down below. It was the moment I tumbled headlong into the dark and seemingly bottomless rabbit hole of a condition called prostatitis, or chronic male pelvic pain.
Yet in retrospect the nightmare probably began some months before. The symptoms had crept up so stealthily that I didn’t notice their arrival. I’d somehow grown accustomed to the constant ache of a bursting bladder. Back then I worked as a writer for a national newspaper and spent an hour or so commuting across London to the office. It didn’t occur to me that I had to pee just before leaving my flat, then again upon arriving in work, and again after I’d sent ideas to my editor, and again before starting to write, and again, and again, and again…The constant need to pee meant I’d scouted WCs in the furthest flung corners of the building, where I could spend a penny without having to worry about what colleagues might think of my over-active bladder. I knew all the lavs in the surrounding area too, so if I popped out for a sandwich I could go before returning to my desk, my unsuspecting workmates none the wiser.
Diagnosed with prostatitis
The morning of the stabbing sensation marked the beginning of a significant increase in these uncomfortable symptoms. The sharp pain would return and disappear on a whim, while the relentless bursting bladder became unbearable. A trip to the GP was called for, and he referred me to the Jefferiss Wing sexual health clinic at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. After being poked, prodded and swabbed, the doctor there confirmed I had prostatitis, or inflammation of the prostate. It wasn’t an STI, which came as a relief for someone in a monogamous relationship. It was in fact a reasonably common flare-up that would usually settle with a month’s supply of an antibiotic called ciprofloxacin. Relieved it was nothing serious, I left laden with pills and started popping them straight away.
The medication did work, albeit for a week or two. After this respite I was dismayed when the pain returned worse than before. While chatting with the doctor at St Mary’s I had mentioned my medical insurance. On learning this she scribbled down the name of an imminent prostatitis expert who operated from a private clinic on Harley Street.
“He’s a bit of a legend in medical circles. If your prostatitis comes back, he’s the doctor you want to see,” she said.
I found myself rummaging frantically through my bedside cabinet, hoping I still had the scrap of paper. I was on edge, anxious about where this threat to my health would end up. Each morning I woke to be walloped not only with pelvic pain, but the dread of another day defined by the agony in my nether regions. Having found the number, I snapped up the next available appointment.
Googling prostatitis showed over 6 millions results!
Meanwhile I began researching the condition which, in just a few short weeks, seemed to be taking over my life. Googling prostatitis throws up over 6m references and I discovered it was an umbrella term for a range of conditions that inflame the prostate and, in turn, produce a mind-boggling array of symptoms from back ache and depression to fever and fatigue. If you’d like to know more, I feel the Prostate Cancer UK charity website is a good place to start. It’s also worth noting prostatitis sufferers are only minimally more likely to develop prostate cancer, which is of course a far more serious condition.
Through my investigations I was concerned to discover the largely hidden community of men suffering from the condition long-term. Some posted advice videos on YouTube. Others turned to forums, which were particularly dispiriting. One contributor revealed he had been forced to resign because he could no longer sit at his desk for the duration of the working day. Others were abandoning hobbies due to the activity exacerbating symptoms. Naturally love lives were dwindling and nerves fraying as bodies all over the globe reeled from the constant, blasted pain. I was shaken by this world of suffering, which had opened up before me. However, while I was tempted to reach out, I was also reluctant to set myself on that path. It wouldn’t be like that for me, I told myself; I wasn’t like the others. After all, I had an appointment with a renowned expert, and his clinic was on Harley Street.
There was something reassuring about the grand consulting rooms in London’s famous medical district that practically became a second home over the next few years. Sporting plush carpets and ancient book-filled cabinets, they were enough to imbue something as routine as an appointment about dodgy waterworks with a sense of occasion. I became very fond of the jovial, white-haired doctor who took me on as perhaps one of his most stubborn cases. He had devoted years to researching prostatitis and from the start it was clear he cared very much about my wellbeing.
Men are notoriously reticent to discuss health issues, particularly those affecting their privates. This buttoned-up attitude is unhealthy and perhaps if we were more candid about what’s up down under, more research would go into conditions like prostatitis. So in the spirit of openness, let me run through the four-step procedure to which I was subjected every time I visited the clinic.
4 stage prostatitis testing
With the small talk over, the doctor would direct me to the bed behind an antique screen, asking me to lie back with my trousers and pants down. After checking my testicles and groin he would take a swab before giving me two plastic pots with screw-on lids. These were to be filled with urine.
Unfortunately the toilet lay directly opposite the fearsome practice manager’s desk. It was always rather cringe-worthy messing around with pee-filled cups with only an ill-fitting door between us, the tinkling amplified by soaring Georgian ceilings.
With my bladder duly emptied it was back to the bed, where I’d bend over and think of Ireland as the doctor inserted a begloved, KY-coated finger where the sun don’t shine, performing a rigorous prostate massage. This procedure is the stuff of nightmares for many, but after eight years of prostatitis I’ve had more digits up there than most men have had hot dinners. Any discharge from the massage was duly collected and sent to the lab along with the other tests.
The final requirement was a semen sample, which on my first visit the doctor explained would be produced at a separate clinic nearby. I can still recall how he accompanied the news with that familiar shake of the wrist that can only be described as the internationally recognised sign for wanking. I scuttled off, relieved I wasn’t expected to retreat to the echoey loo to crank one out with Nurse Ratched lurking outside.
Waiting to be called to masturbate is a strange experience, but one I, and no doubt many prostatitis sufferers, have endured dozens of times. Typically a nurse with a clipboard escorts you to a room with a chair, bed, sink and plenty of paper towels and describes the process to follow. The parting shot is always the same: “There are magazines in the drawer if you need them.”
What red blooded male wouldn’t dive for the treasure trove of titillation the moment the door swung shut? The sample is delivered into another screw-top pot and either dropped in a basket as you skulk your way out, or sometimes collected by the nurse. I never quite got used to the latter.
The results normally came back a week later and I would phone the doctor, heart pounding, and wait to be told my fate. The first round of tests showed up various bacteria, and it took about a year of on-off antibiotics to clear them. Sadly the clean bill of health was short-lived. Even after the all-clear, nasties would show up with infuriating spontaneity and with the ache raging in my groin again, I’d settle for more antibiotics followed by the same tests a few weeks later.
And so this process continued. The seasons came and went. I trudged to Harley Street through rain, hail, snow and sunshine. It was an endless cycle of temporary relief, where I’d hope against hope the latest bout would be the last. Besides chowing down on antibiotics, I began experimenting with supplements reputed to aid prostatitis. The extent of the list stands testament to my desperation. At various stages I took vitamin C, vitamin B, cranberry extract, fish oil, saw palmetto, turmeric, alkalising powders (£30 a packet!), oil of oregano (oregano burps for several hours – not pleasant), quercetin antioxidant, pollen extract, pumpkin seed extract, apple cider vinegar, humic acid, fulvic acid, aloe vera juice and potent probiotics. None of them worked.
I also looked into alternative therapies, as well as world religions, surrendering myself to lower back massage, Mayan Arvigo abdominal massage, Buddhist meditation and Christian prayer. Eventually I caved and delved back into the forums, where a fellow sufferer had posted about the benefits of a fitness regime. I took up long-distance running, which at least supplied the pleasurable endorphins that come with exercise. I also limited alcohol and caffeine and ordered an anti-inflammatory cookbook from Amazon, determined to make any necessary changes my diet. But nothing stopped the pain for good.
The anguish that accompanies prostatitis cannot be understated. Looking through photographs of my eight years or so as a sufferer is tinged with sadness. I can usually recall if I was in pain and putting on a brave face that particular day. Countless trips with my husband were interrupted by sudden flare-ups, resulting in a frantic call to Harley Street to get a prescription faxed to wherever I’d ended up with an angry prostate and no antibiotics. During a trip to the Peak District I remember looking at the landscape from our holiday cottage with pains shooting up and down my legs. I was standing in glorious surroundings on a glorious day admiring a glorious view, and yet I couldn’t appreciate it. The joy of life was being drained away.
Thankfully I was never suicidal, but it would be lying to say my mind didn’t venture to a very dark place. I developed an unhealthy desire to sleep. Those precious eight hours of oblivion were relatively untroubled by aches and pains, not to mention the maddening cyclical thoughts of how awful that pain was, and whether it would ever go away. I found myself reasoning that if I relished sleep so much, and if life itself could never be enjoyed as before, perhaps I would be better off dead. Not an easy thing to admit for someone who cherishes the blessings of our short time on earth, but there you are.
Prostatitis flare ups
Each time the prostatitis returned I was floored with despair. My doctor despaired too; I know he was as frustrated as I was. Eventually, some eight years after we first met, he announced his retirement. The madcap medical wingman who had done his best to see me through some of the most trying times of my life was moving on. I still send Christmas cards.
The replacement was supposed to be an equally skilled physician, but I remained doubtful. His response to every flare-up was more ciprofloxacin. I’d been led to believe swapping back and forth between antibiotics preserved their efficacy, preventing bacteria from becoming immune. Having downed thousands of little white pills over the years, it’s no wonder names like doxycycline, cefuroxime and trimethoprim are forever engrained in my memory. Getting the same prescription every time just didn’t feel right.
The last straw was when a result came back clear from bacteria, despite my symptoms being as acute as ever. Besides the pain, fatigue and anxiety, I had started to sweat profusely. The latest development coincided with the start of a new job. I was mortified to arrive at the office with my shirt stuck to my back and sweat trickling down my legs. When I relayed all this to the doctor, his casual response left me dumbfounded.
“Besides killing bacteria antibiotics are anti-inflammatory. I’ll write you a script for ciprofloxacin. If it gives you relief, just keep taking it. The result might be incorrect and there could be a bug in there somewhere that hasn’t been detected.”
I wasn’t convinced, not when my insurance was paying for laboratory tests costing hundreds of pounds a pot. If they couldn’t detect bacteria, what was the point? My fragile faith crumbled. I was clammy, hurting and desperate. After eight years I still wasn’t well. It was time to look beyond conventional medicine.
Is the Pelvic Pain Clinic approach right for my prostatitis symptoms?
I had happened upon the Pelvic Pain Clinic website during one of my many searches for information about prostatitis. I was intrigued to read how its founder, Karl Monahan, was seeing considerable success treating patients using his own unique approach, and toyed with giving it a go. Now that antibiotics had failed me, I was ready to try.
My sessions with Karl have been truly remarkable. During the first visit I shared everything I’d been through, comforted to talk to a former pelvic pain sufferer who knew where I was coming from. Karl taught me a healing stomach massage, which he included in a daily recovery regime involving yoga-style stretches and mindfulness. When I realised the method was working, my outlook quickly altered from victim to victor. The more I practiced, the more my symptoms reduced. That’s not to say things changed overnight. Many times I thought the prostatitis had returned, but Karl helped me to trust the treatment: to breath, stretch and focus on something else.
Ten months on and the difference in my condition is staggering. I’m no longer living under an angry prostate-shaped cloud. Sure I get the odd twinge, but I know it’s nothing to worry about. I’m confident I won’t need antibiotics for prostatitis again; they brought relief, but only Karl’s approach brought healing.
It’s hard to explain the feeling I get during the 20-minute routine that helps keep pelvic pain at bay. I relax into each pose, breathing deeply, enjoying the peace that comes from knowing all will be well. The pain has gone. The panic has gone. I’m out the other end of the rabbit hole and can live a full life again.
Sometimes, moving slowly and thoughtfully from one posture to the next, I experience a rush of gratitude and wellbeing. It’s like I’m finally giving my body what it has been craving all these years. So thank-you, Karl. Thank-you so much for showing me how.
Thank you David for your sharing your story. It is perfectly possible to recover from symptoms of prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndrome. It is not easy and it won’t happen overnight. But, it is perfectly achievable with the right guidance
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