A single Ian Thorpe, Grant Hackett, or Dawn Fraser would have been sweet, but, no, apparently my body can't produce any gold medal Olympians. It can’t even produce those that doggy paddle or tread water in the kiddie’s pool, their arms being supported by orange floaties or holding one of those kick boards. No swimmers, not even bad ones. It’s like some bloke has come along and erected one of those ‘no swimming signs’ you see down on Manly beach, and my body has taken it onboard as gospel.
“Sorry. It says no swimming, so we have to follow orders”, my body would probably say.
I know I am a single guy at 28, but I still thought I would live ‘that’ Australian dream – marry, buy a house, have kids. “Bailey!”, I’d call out to my son, who had wandered off to smell the lavender around our lakeside cottage. He’d be carefully pressing his petite nose against the petals, hoping for a stronger whiff of its natural perfume.
So, to be bluntly told, “nope, nada, none, zilch, zip, zero”, from the urologist sitting across from me, whose emotionless eyes were fixated on his computer screen, it made my heart pause, and my Australian dream, alter.
And, to think, most men produce 39 million little swimmers. Some guys even produce 1.2 billion at a time. Yet, here I am like one in every hundred blokes, NOUGHT will be our number. Triple zero; but a bit of a ‘descendant’ emergency. Although, compared to those one hundred guys, I have a little extra.
It was three weeks earlier, as I stood in the apple-green room, that belongs to my doctor, that I asked a throw-away question. Unclasping the stainless steel handle of my doctor’s room was the moment it all shifted. Usually, I would grab the lever, push down, and leave the room, having had all my questions answered. But, on this day, I let go.
“Hey, so…um… I have always had this, but could you check something for me?”, I stuttered. My eyes, trying to escape, looked at the rainbow-coloured, glass jar of jellybeans on his desk, as his cold hands examined my jellybeans. Gazing back towards him, I saw his eyes squint and his greying moustache twitch as his mind analysed what he was touching. “Ahhh”, he gasped, “They are definitely smaller than they should be, so there is a chance of infertility”.
I thought, “At least they are not multicoloured, like the ones on your desk”. But, I replied, “Oh, okay”, unsure of how to process this new information. He unrolled his blue gloves, and began to type on his keyboard, his eyes scrolling the screen for a name. “M”, he uttered, “Go see Michael. This urologist will be able to do some tests”, he said, before handing an ordinary-looking envelope to me, its contents – life-altering.
“Thank you”, I said, as I grabbed the door handle, this time, not turning back.
Time stopped after the second urology appointment, in the third room on the right; the small office that held only a tiny desk, a computer, a curtain, and the straight-talking urologist. I had walked in, alone, with two hand gestures to signal to my mum in reception if things looked positive or negative. The urologist in the room looked at me and said, “The news isn't good”. I opened the door and looked down towards mum, just as her eyes travelled along the thin corridor, rising to meet my hand as I lifted it towards my neck. It was the throat-cutting manoeuvre. Her heart broke. “Are there any swimmers at all? Like are they just dead and not moving?”, I hoped, as a tear fell across my cheek. Mum sat, witnessing her son’s heart break. “No”, he confirmed, “…and I can’t help you with that, an endocrinologist can.” It was as if I was sitting alone in a dark room, the light had just fizzled out, and the map that determined my life had faded – It left me completely lost, for the next month.
“Hi James, we are going to have to do a few tests to find out why your body can’t produce swimmers”, the endocrinologist, in front of me, said. To me, a ‘few’ is three, but a ‘few’ to her became ten. Ten tests. From legitimate words to letters you would be more likely to see at the end of a doctor’s name, ‘Testosterone, ultrasound, cortisol, prolactin, and chromosomal karyotype…LH FSH, VIT. D, TSH FT4, IGFI, DEXA”, she scribbled on a referral. “Is the chromosomal karyotype to check if I have an extra X chromosome; XXY?”, I asked, sharing the knowledge I’d gained from my month long analysis of the internet, and from my recent ‘Google doctorate.’
“Yes, how did you know about that?”, she asked.
“I like to research”, I laughed.
It was going to take another month, for all the results to join forces and say, ‘This is why you are different.’
“Why hasn’t she called yet?”, I wondered, at the one week mark. “Why does it take soooo long?”, I puffed, at the two week mark. “Thank goodness it’s Men’s health week”, I growled, at the three week mark. “Just one week to go”, I prayed, at the four week mark.
The overwhelming dark chasm of a room I was sitting in, lit up as my phone screen buzzed. “This is her”, I turned to mum, quickly snatching my phone from the corner of the couch, and making my way outside to pace around the swimming pool. “Hello?”, I said, gulping down my nerves. “Hey James, your results are back”, she said before pausing. “and?”, I replied, as a hopeful smile tried to reach across my cheeks.
“You have it. You have that little bit extra.. XXY.”
“Thank you, that’s great! It finally makes sense”, I gratefully cried.
Today, I sit on the wooden deck of the lakeside cottage that my parents have recently renovated. Pelicans fly like fighter jets in formation, casting shadows over the corner of the street, as ducks waddle down the road like gangs, strutting in self-assurance. A confidence, I didn’t possess until now. “Bailey”, I call to my ‘son’, who has been distracted by the flowers at the front of the property. He’s pressing his black, wet nose against the petals, and drawing in large sniffs. “Bailey, here boy”, I call, as I wait for him turn his head. His hazelnut eyes catching mine, and his tail wagging in happiness. Picking up the ball in his mouth, he playfully gallops back to me, on the edge of the veranda. It wasn’t what I had envisioned as my ‘Australian Dream’, but it’s my kind of perfect.