The Biopsy

I’m a pretty curious guy, so I spent some time online (which I know you’re not supposed to do) reading about how prostate biopsies are normally preformed.

Not too much to talk about really – the Radiologist sticks an ultrasound probe up your rectum and measures the size and shape of the prostate and then he or she inserts a needle to freeze the side of the rectum. After the freezing is in, a special instrument called a needle gun is inserted and samples are taken through the wall of the rectum and into the prostate.

After seeing the urologist on Jan. 3, I waited only until the 23rd to get the biopsy. It took place at St. Paul’s hospital and was done by a radiologist with an assisting nurse. I went in at 8 a.m. and they started the procedure at 9 a.m.

As I said, I’m curious, so when I was shown to the bed where my biopsy was going to be done, after I changed I asked the nurse to show me the needles and equipment they were going to use. I’m not squeamish and I’ve always tried to get videos of surgeries I’ve had over the years. Sounds a bit macabre, but I find it interesting. It doesn’t bother me at all to see an eye surgery or hernia surgery, and it doesn’t worry me at all to look at the equipment.

The ultrasound probe is about the size of your doctor’s finger, but longer. It’s connected to a screen so the doctor can see an accurate picture of the size and shape of the prostate.

The prostate biopsy needle gun

The prostate biopsy needle gun

The freezing needle is just a fairly large needle, only the needle part is quite long – I’d say at least six inches. The biopsy gun kind of reminds me of one of those screwdrivers that has all the heads in the handle and you rotate the handle to push different heads out. It goes into you along the side of the probe, and when it’s used it makes a sound similar to a stapler, only a little louder. With each click a little piece of tissue is nipped out of your prostate.

This is the kind of stapler that the prostate needle gun sounds like

This is the kind of stapler that the prostate needle gun sounds like

I’ll tell you right up front that this isn’t the most comfortable procedure you’d ever have, but it’s bearable. It takes about 30 minutes to complete from start to finish. There is pain, but in my case the pain was felt when the last two samples were taken. None of the other needles hurt at all, nor did most of the samples.

It was fascinating to see the radiologist at work. He did three biopsies during the morning I went for mine. Like me, one of the other patients was having his first biopsy. The other guy had been through one before and was very nervous about having another one. The radiologist treated each of us differently, so he’s a very good reader of people’s emotions. He was very supportive and gentle with the guy who was on round two, and very professional and quiet with the second guy. The wheels fell off the bus when he came into my area.

We talked and joked around a bit beforehand – I wasn’t too nervous yet and asked him to show me the gear and how it worked. He said, “Have you ever had one of these before?” When I replied that I had not, he said, “Well then, you’re in for a real treat.”

The prostate biopsy

The prostate biopsy

Thinking back, I don’t think “treat” was the correct word at all.

He explained everything he was going to do to me before he did it, all the way through the procedure, which I really appreciated because that helps me to understand and be more relaxed. The probe was uncomfortable, but not painful at all. The needle to freeze the prostate also didn’t hurt at all. I didn’t even know he was doing it until he warned me it was coming, and then that he was done.

He took a total of ten samples from my prostate from each of four quadrants, and he told me where he was taking each one from as he did it. About halfway through, it started to hurt. He told me he could see I had a healthy set of tonsils. But I had my tonsils out when I was ten. When I told him that, he said, “Oh well, it’s that squiggly thing at the back of your throat then.” I laughed and said “You mean my uvula. I watch Dairy Queen commercials too!” His reply was, “I know it’s a uvula, I’m a doctor!” It reminded me of McCoy from Star Trek saying, “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor!” It cracked me up and made the last few samples bearable.

After it’s over, you clean yourself up and they walk you down to a waiting area to recover. Walking there wasn’t a problem for me. As soon as they were done, everything felt normal, but a bit “heavy.” In the waiting area, they ply you with juice and water. You can’t leave until after you’ve had a pee, so they can monitor how much blood is in your urine. There is blood, but it’s not a big deal at all in most cases. Once the nurse is happy with how your pee looks, you can go home. Most people are there for about an hour, but I was a lucky one: I was there for four hours and never did pee. I had drunk about fifteen glasses of water and my bladder felt like it was going to explode, but I could not pee. Eventually, I talked them into letting me go home without peeing.

When I got home, I spent the next hour running back and forth to pee.

You’ll have a little blood in your pee for a week or two, and blood in your pee when you have a bowel movement for a few weeks. They also tell you that there’ll be some blood in your ejaculate for a few weeks – and that’s a bit of an understatement. Every man I talked to about this told me it lasted much longer than that, and initially it was dark brown – so be aware of that, or it’ll freak you and your partner out!

You take it easy for a day or two, and then comes the big wait for the results. I have to say, this was the hardest thing I went through in this whole journey. I knew I had a better than good chance of having cancer, and I waited until Monday, February 11th to find out the results. It was one of the longest and most nerve-wracking waits of my life.

On the afternoon of Feb. 11, I received “the call” that would immediately change the lives of my wife, my son and I.

About Murray Hill

A retired tech and gadget writer with weekly columns appearing in some of Canada's largest newspapers and on canada.com for over twenty years. His love of gadgets and tech is only surpassed by his love of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Manchester United.

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