Sunday, March 24, 2019

Nest of Hairs

Hola! Please enjoy a very disgusting story from Jolyn this week, which she told on stage at our last Strangerville Live. I've included the text below for those who want to read along and say it aloud with her while you listen so you feel like you are one with Jolyn the same way she feels she is one with you.


Nest of Hairs
by Jolyn Metro

It’s no secret in my family that I was the unplanned baby. My mom is always quick to add that I may not have been planned, but I was a “welcome surprise” anyway. But she says it with the same tone you use when you’re talking about getting socks for Christmas. I was born 16 months after my older brother Sam, and according to my mom I came out fists waving and independent as hell. She jokes that my independent personality didn’t make me hard to raise, it’s just that it made me very hard to raise. And while that probably is true, my independence is largely something that I am very proud of and that comes with a lot of benefits. I’m happy going to the movies alone, I’m comfortable putting together Ikea furniture myself, and generally am capable of handling the problems in my life--the little to the big--by myself. But sometimes that can get in the way when there are problems so big you literally can’t do it alone.
I have never been good at asking for help. And I don’t pretend to believe I am the only person in the world to struggle with that, that seems to be fairly universal. But you guys, this is about me right now so please keep your own problems out of this. So it seems that when you are real bad at asking for help, the universe puts you in situations where you have no other options so you can practice. How kind. Those situations for me have largely been very weird and pretty gross medical conditions.
Like the time my senior year of college I started having problems with my butt. It wasn’t gradual. One day my butt was fine, and the next day suddenly I wasn’t able to walk or sit without an insane amount of pain. A lot of you may be thinking “hemorrhoids, this is a story about hemorrhoids??” I promise you when I’m done with this you’ll wish this had been about hemorrhoids. But the pain was localized in my tailbone region, so more like the upper-butt. And I had absolutely no idea what was causing the pain, and it was so bad it interfered with work and school. Which for those of you anxious, over-achievers out there that is our literal nightmare. Something getting in the way of doing homework. I needed to know what was going on, so I decided to investigate.
I had a full-length mirror in my bedroom. I won’t paint the picture for you, but I can tell you that it is a humbling experience to shed your clothes and use a mirror to look at a part of your body that you generally pretend is not there and at an angle that is not flattering at all. Unfortunately, the results of my looky-loo were inconclusive. Whatever was causing the pain, appeared to be imperceptible to the naked eye. There was no bruising, no weird bump. Just an invisible pain that was making life hell.
This is when I had to make a decision--do I ask for help or continue to suffer alone? Do I involve other people in this weird and awkward situation of mine? The answer is always suffer alone. I could do it. I didn’t need help. My roommates were aware of what was going on. How could they not be when I was limping around because of some phantom butt pain? But anytime they’d ask if they could help it was always “no, I’m fine. It’s no big deal. But thank you for offering.” But life is life, and the pain worsened over the next couple of days to the point where I was almost constantly in tears and pretty much almost completely out of commission from all my normal life activities and responsibilities. And I reached a breaking point. The pain had gotten so bad and had lasted much longer than I expected that I needed to bring in reinforcements to help me deal with this.
I decided I needed to loop my roommates in to what I now call “butt-gate.” Jen, Lisa, and Megan and I had been friends and roommates for years. I loved them and I trusted them. I mean, they stuck by me during that time I dated a red-headed, Republican cowboy. These are true friends. And just so you know, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being redheaded, with being Republican, or with being a cowboy. But trust me, there is something wrong with being all three at once. The point is, these friends were there for me, they had already seen me through some dark days, they were my people. And yet, it still felt like one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life was approaching all of them in the living room of our college apartment and saying “I need your help. Will you please look at my butt and tell me what’s wrong with it?”
I can’t say they were excited for me to pull down my pants in front of them, but I can’t say they weren’t excited for me to pull my pants down in front of them. Megan was a nursing major so she was the de facto leader of this mission, but they too did not find anything out of the ordinary other than maybe a little bit of redness, and even then, they didn’t know if that truly was out of the ordinary since they had never before laid eyes on my bare butt, so who could tell.
I climbed into bed that night, still in pain, and a little teary, a little scared, and frankly a little embarrassed. I had just asked my roomates to look at my butt and nothing good even came from it. Lesson learned. But then something strange happened. As I was laying there, an almost instantaneous feeling of relief flooded my body. The pain was just...gone. Immediately. I never before had been the recipient of such an immediate miracle and made a mental note to find out who the patron saint of butt problems was so I could offer them up some gratitude. For future reference if any of you need to know, it is indeed Saint Francis of Ass-isi.
I got up, turned on the light, and once again pulled down my pants in front of the mirror to find out the reason for my good fortune. I didn’t need three eye-witness to help me know what was up. Out of my tailbone was oozing a thick, grey puss that had the stench of death. It was honestly as if something had died inside of me and then decided to crawl out of my body. This was not what I was expecting, and I cleaned myself up as best as I could and placed a maxi-pad as high up on the back of my underwear as possible to prevent the puss from getting on my clothes. I’m a real MacGyver when it comes to these things.
My poor roommates were deep in this now so I flung my door open, excited as I’ve ever been and yelled “You guys! Whatever it is it just exploded! Come see!” And bless them, they did come of their bedrooms very quickly although they absolutely refused to once again take a look at my butt region once I told them what had happened. And that is what we call healthy boundaries. None of us had any idea how to make sense of what was going on.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of turning to the internet for answers sooner, seems like 95% of my life now is just asking the internet questions. But a decade ago, the internet was still mostly an afterthought and not the very core of existence like it is now. We settled around the computer in Jen’s room, typed in “smelly puss tailbone” in the search bar and were completely unprepared for what we would encounter. We learned this is called a “pilonidal cyst” and that it’s a pocket in the skin near the upper cleft of the buttocks that can become very painful when infected. It also told us that the word pilonidal is a Latin word meaning “nest of hairs.” Nest. Of. Hairs. Let that image sink deep into your psyche. If you take any kind of sleep medication like I do that gives you strange dreams, I promise you that ‘nest of hairs’ will weave itself into one of your nightmares sometime soon.
It’s when we got to the “Risk Factor” section that things really started getting interesting. “Certain factors can make you much more susceptible to pilonidal cysts, such as...”
Being male. Excess body hair, particularly around the buttocks region. Unhygienic. Now, really there’s nothing wrong with being male, there’s nothing wrong with excess body hair around the butt, and largely there’s nothing too wrong with being unhygenic. But clearly there was something wrong with being all three at once. That little bit of internet gold has provided material for a lot of jokes, and even now, over 10 years later, these old roommates of mine will sometimes start text conversations with “what’s up you sweaty, hairy loser?” Yeah, they are my kind of people.
I now had answers, and I wasn’t in pain anymore. I mean, I was still oozing gross puss and wearing a maxi-pad high up on my underwear but it had been worse. Somehow it had been worse. The next thing to do, of course, was have a doctor take care of it. I didn’t have a car, and this meant another thing I needed help with. This was pre Uber and Lyft, so I was at the mercy of my roommates to get to the doctor. Asking for rides was hell to me. I hated it more than anything. But turns out when people love you and care about you and have a car, it’s no big deal to them to give you rides, so Jen drove me to the instacare the next morning.
Dealing with the cyst was fairly simple. In the exam room the nurse had me lie down on my stomach with my pants off, and she draped some tissue paper over my butt with a circle cut out of it so only my tailbone and part of my butt crack was visible to the doctor. The doc numbed me up and began to scrape out everything that was in that cyst--which apparently is puss, dead skin, and a big ol’ nest of hairs. The doctor was nice enough. An older gentleman, somehow managing to make small talk with me about his time in the military as he stared down death in the form of a butt cyst. And as I was splayed out in front of him, my butt exposed, and he was telling me some war stories, he stopped mid sentence and just said “My goodness, this thing is cavernous! I’ve never seen another quite like it.” My butt has been called a lot of things, but never ‘cavernous.’
In case anyone wanted to know what my rock bottom looked like, that was it. Pun intended. After he was done removing every last thing from inside of my cavernous cyst, he packed the whole thing with gauze to keep it from getting reinfected. I was expected to come back in to the instacare each day for a week to get the dressing removed and have it repacked to keep it from getting infected again. And at this point it was clear that Megan, Jen, Lisa were in, happy to help, with me through thick and thin. And they each took turns that week driving me to the doctor to get my butt gauze changed out. What a week. What a lesson.
Now, pilonidal cysts can be surgically removed. However, the recovery time is somewhere between two weeks and a month and you have to sit on one of those donuts while you’re healing. And I was so concerned about people thinking I had hemorrhoids that that was enough reason not to do it. But I also was taking the LSAT and worried about graduation that I decided to put off surgery until I had more time to deal with the aftermath. Well that time never really came. And I just went on with my life. My sweaty, hairy, unhygienic life.
The cyst didn’t bother me again until five years later. In the summer of 2014 I did a two month, solo backpacking trip in South America. It was my first international trip alone--and while I had tried to find friends to go with me, no one could make it work. But that of course didn’t stop me. Independent as hell, remember? The trip was amazing. And being alone seemed to make it that much better as it opened up room to meet some of the most interesting people I otherwise might not have talked to or hung out with. I recommend solo trips to everyone and anyone--despite what I am about to tell you.
One of the last parts of the trip involved an excursion to the Salt Flats in Bolivia. I’ll skip over some of the details because all you need to know is that due to some unfortunate circumstances and driving on lots of dirt roads, my cyst became reinfected and the pain was back. I knew right away what was going on, and while I knew that eventually the pain would subside if my cyst were to explode again, I still had a week left until my flight home. And for that week I was in intense pain every moment, alone in a foreign country, and was nervous about seeking medical attention there and decided to just wait until I got back to the States before I went to get it taken care of by a doctor.
And that situation seems like a dream for a self-reliant, do-it-yourself kind of person like I’ve always prided myself to be. Alone in a foreign country dealing with a weird medical condition? Yes, please. But good glory, it may have been one of the hardest weeks of my entire life. Thinking about it even now, five years later, still makes me anxious. But somehow I did survive, and I made it home with only psychological damage. But have to admit, that I would have given anything to have people with me then who I loved and trusted I could have asked for help. Even if it the only thing they could have done for me was get me food while I laid in bed all day watching Netflix.
So, I have dealt with my butt cyst twice, so far, once with the help of my very generous, very kind college roommates. And once, completely alone. And this may seem like kind of a silly example of an event in my life that taught me the importance of asking for help when you need it, and that people will generally show up for you. But being able to recall times like these helps when I’m in situations where the stakes are a little higher. Where I’m deep in depression or am experience an increase in anxiety. During those times it’s very easy to feel incredibly alone and like you have to do everything yourself and that no one will show up for you. Remembering that people have been there for me makes it easier to step out of my comfort zone and ask for the help that I often desperately need.

I would like to be able to tell that I have learned my lesson, and that I am comfortable asking for help left and right. But that is so not the case, and I think I will be working on trying to find the right balance between doing all the things alone and asking for help for the rest of my life.
But I am learning and I’m trying. Because turns out, life can be pretty great when you find the courage to ask the people around you who you trust and are comfortable with, to just look at your butt.

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. *Immediately begins compiling a list of people I would be comfortable asking to check my butt in the event of possible cysts.

    1. I came up with three. A doctor, my husband and my sister. No one else. Ever.

  2. My son had to go get treatment for a drug problem. He was living in a cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains. He got a cyst on his tailbone, he went to the ER where it was drained and cleaned and he was sent away with an anti-biotic and a rubber pillow. Just hearing his tail of woe was heartbreaking. I can't imagine living it. I'm so sorry this happened to you. I hope it never does again.

  3. My husband's best friend had this - it burst every year when we were camping (it didn't matter when we camped). The first year I knew about it he was dating a friend of mine and we all went camping and, sure enough, the cyst burst and he ended up in the hospital. In Michigan's upper peninsula . . . which isn't the best place to end up in the hospital (although I suspect better than Bolivia).

    Anyhow - they cleaned it out and packed it and sent him on with instructions on how to change the dressings daily. I have a picture from the weekend of their tent with his legs sticking out. My friend is inside the tent changing the dressings for him. We all knew they'd get married because how can you not marry a woman who, after 5 months of dating, was willing to pack your ass.

    Not that we know what asses are Cathy . . . .

  4. What. Eli, did you write about your surgery? Where’s the link to your appendectomy surgery? Holy cow.

    Jolyn’s story. Oh my word. I know someone this happened to. Biggest one the doctors had ever seen. Her mom had to change her dressing every day. For two months.

    1. My Ukrainian appendectomy experience is probably the craziest story from my life. It's also the first story I ever told on stage. We released a live telling of the story as a Strangerville short a few years ago. You can find it here

    2. Horrifying. Although, I do wish you could have found the old woman for your 10-year reunion.

  5. Thank you for taking the time to include the text. It means a lot to those of us that cannot hear well.

  6. My husband's best friend had a cyst removed last summer. He couldn't swim all summer (they own a boat dock on the lake), and he tore the stitches on it at least once that I know of. It took all summer to heal up, and I know he still experiences some sensitivity on the scar.

  7. All this cyst talk has me thinking of Dr. Pimple Popper. Watch her TV show! It’s like a bad car wreck, it’s terrible but I can’t look away!

  8. Regarding the discussion about mail carriers before Jolyn's horrifying story, which is nearly enough to make me forget what I was going to say --- oh, yes, mail carriers! We have the most awesome carrier. His name is Barry, he's so sick of his job, he DOES NOT move around the neighborhood fast at all because he stops to talk to everyone, and we LOVE HIM! Even my dog. She'll bark at him because that's what you're supposed to do, but she runs up to him and all barking stops. I wish everyone could have a carrier like Barry!

  9. The second she described her pain I knew exactly what she had! Only because I too, in college had a roommate that developed the same thing. And because I was the rooomate that was going into a healthcare profession and loved hospitals I took her to the hospital. And also because of my plans to start the x-ray tech prgram (mind you, I had not started any training yet) my roommates felt I was practically a nurse, and as such, I would be the one to pack the cavern where the cyst had been scraped out, so that my roommate didn’t have to go back to the hospital every day to have a real nurse do it.