Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Wish I Was Him

Andrew Sullivan on taking testosterone in 2000:

It has a slightly golden hue, suspended in an oily substance and injected in a needle about half as thick as a telephone wire. I have never been able to jab it suddenly in my hip muscle, as the doctor told me to. Instead, after swabbing a small patch of my rump down with rubbing alcohol, I push the needle in slowly until all three inches of it are submerged. Then I squeeze the liquid in carefully, as the muscle often spasms to absorb it. My skin sticks a little to the syringe as I pull it out, and then an odd mix of oil and blackish blood usually trickles down my hip.

Sick Guy on taking testosterone in 2009:

I pull the largish square envelope from its package, then tear it at its score lines and slip out the flesh-colored disc and set it on my desk. I brace myself as I feel around underneath my clothes for yesterday's patch, then rip it (and sometimes a considerable amount of body hair) away. I take the new disc, puffy in the center with its cargo of synthetic testosterone, and remove its plastic backing. A strong smell of alcohol fills the air as I stick it to my stomach, shoulder or thigh.

The immediate effect for Sullivan:

Because the testosterone is injected every two weeks, and it quickly leaves the bloodstream, I can actually feel its power on almost a daily basis. Within hours, and at most a day, I feel a deep surge of energy. It is less edgy than a double espresso, but just as powerful. My attention span shortens. In the two or three days after my shot, I find it harder to concentrate on writing and feel the need to exercise more. My wit is quicker, my mind faster, but my judgment is more impulsive. It is not unlike the kind of rush I get before talking in front of a large audience, or going on a first date, or getting on an airplane, but it suffuses me in a less abrupt and more consistent way. In a word, I feel braced. For what? It scarcely seems to matter.

For Sick Guy:

I feel nothing, and proceed to knock down the other seven or eight pills I take every evening.


[At the point I started the injections] I weighed around 165 pounds. I now weigh 185 pounds. My collar size went from a 15 to a 17 1/2 in a few months; my chest went from 40 to 44. My appetite in every sense of that word expanded beyond measure. Going from napping two hours a day, I now rarely sleep in the daytime and have enough energy for daily workouts and a hefty work schedule. I can squat more than 400 pounds. Depression, once a regular feature of my life, is now a distant memory. I feel better able to recover from life's curveballs, more persistent, more alive. These are the long-term effects. They are almost as striking as the short-term ones.


Three weeks in, and my weight is stuck stubbornly, tragically, at less than 130 pounds. I once wore XL clothes; now I take smalls. I still nap. I do not work out, not unless Wii Tennis counts. My appetite is fragile -- up, then down. Some days I eat almost nothing, forcing down a couple high-protein drinks and a piece of toast. Other days, like a memorable one a while back, I feel different.

I was reading to little B. about castles and swords and dreams of knighthood, when a primal surge of hunger rose up in me and demanded food. I ate a handful of grapes and a sack of pretzels and emerged only hungrier. I rose shakily to my feet and procured two "whip it's!" (a marshmallow-focused confection that is the pride of Quebec) mainly because the cookie sack was already on the counter. Then a square (OK, two) of rum-caramel-filled chocolate. At this point, L. said something along the lines of, "Jeez, dinner is almost on the table." I subsided briefly, but grabbed another handful of grapes. I then proceeded to eat a Close Encounters-like pile of mashed potatoes and some grilled flank steak and spinach.


Sullivan’s NYT essay on testosterone -- which ranges far beyond the personal anecdotes I recount here -- is worth reading, despite the powerful critiques hurled against it, most memorably by Judith Shulevitz. For Sullivan, at that time, the hormone held huge explanatory power backing up a particular idea of competitive, vigorous masculinity, an idea that, if taken crudely, is not so far from the ass-kicking, NASCAR lovin’ sort of guy-dom I satirized here. Another note: It’s striking to compare the effects of Sullivan’s sudden and presumably higher-dose method of delivery to those of my more gradual approach. Perhaps this change in modality, which I assume is widespread, accounts to the fact that people (except, maybe, Floyd Landis) aren’t talking about T. as a wonder hormone any more. I’m still hopeful that it will stimulate appetite and build muscle, but it’s clear that it’s going to take a while.

Will it make me into a better man -- or at least a more manly man?

I don’t think so.


Note on the title: I don’t wish I were him, Andrew Sullivan. It’s a reference to this song by Ben Lee, which is a tribute to Evan Dando. Lee, who looks like he’s about 11 in the video, actually did get as cool as Dando, dating Clare Danes for several years before marrying Ione Skye. Dando, sadly, is apparently still mired in addiction and has almost destroyed his talent and voice.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Ha Ha! :)
I seem to be having no problem with weight. Then again, I never really did. I wish wish wish, that there was a little happy, butt reducing patch.