The Tale of My Tail, Part I

Pilonidal cysts are no joke—I know, I've been there. For those of you dealing with a pain in the butt, short of going to the doctor or getting surgery, here is the best pain relief remedy I discovered (through trial and error):

  1. Heat the area for 1 hour with a heating pad.
  2. Take an Epsom salt bath twice a day.

I should also probably warn you before I start that I'm about to share a wealth of personal information with you, undoubtedly more than you would ever volunteer to know. That's the beauty of this website though: I can pretty much tell you whatever I want, and you'll listen, because most regular readers of my articles just tune in to feel better about their own lives in juxtaposition with my bizarre and alien existence. It’s like free therapy for both of us.

Without further fanfare, it all started on the last day of Spring Break, 2007. My parents were driving me back to school, when in the car I realized that there was a slight discomfort when I sat directly on my tailbone region, or when any sort of pressure was applied directly to that area. I assumed I had just bruised my tailbone from all the skiing I had done that week. Or all the butt sex. One of the two.

But as the school week dragged on, the sensation in my tailbone region grew more and more painful, and by Wednesday, a small lump had developed near the top of my natal cleft (“butt crack” for those of you not well-versed in biological terms). It was approximately the size of a grape. Obviously, this is not natural, but I simply assumed that my tailbone was so severely bruised that the flesh surrounding it had swelled up.

Diagram of Pilonidal cyst above coccyx region (butt)

That night, the pain haunted my backside as if someone was continually jabbing me in the ass crack with a fork, and I didn’t sleep a wink. By Thursday morning, every time I sat down it felt like the equivalent of being slammed in the butt full force with a sledgehammer. The lump on my tailbone had doubled in size from the previous day, and from that I drew the only scientifically logical conclusion: I was growing a tail.

Initially I was freaked out, but I tried to consider some of the benefits of having a tail. I could use it to hold drinks at parties. I could design cool accessories to wear on it. And if need be, I could always join the circus, a possibility I could never have fathomed before, since I don’t have a Siamese twin that I am aware of, and growing facial hair, try as I may, has never been my strong suit. On the other hand, I’ve never had a big penchant for clowns either. I decided that joining the circus was not an option.

That night, I thought that maybe putting ice on my newly budding tail would slow the growth process a little. Keep in mind, this all happened in April; this late in the semester all my roommate and I had left in our freezer was a handle of Majorska and about 12 packages of our supply of applesauce which never seemed to die. I figured we would eventually want to put our mouths on said vodka, so I used an applesauce container as my mock-ice. Expecting to feel instant relief from the “ice,” the cold actually cut off blood flow from my tail, turning it into a hard, frozen lump of shooting pain.

After lying awake all night I got up, only to find that I could no longer walk properly, but rather, as if I had a baseball bat lodged up my colon. I realized that my tail, embarrassing as it may have been, was no longer a problem I could handle on my own. So I waddled across campus to the Fordham Health Center.

When I sat down in the examining room, the doctor asked what was wrong. Now, if you find it uncomfortable to tell your doctor you think you have an STD or a yeast infection, just imagine how embarrassing it is to announce that you believe you are growing a fifth appendage out of your ass. At least we know where STDs come from; my tail rendered me nothing more than a freak of nature. Unwilling to believe me, the doctor asked me to lie down on my stomach and pull down my pants. So I turned over on the cold examining table and dropped trow.

There is nothing more disheartening than hearing your doctor gasp in shock. But she gasped.

“Sarah,” she told me, “this isn’t a tail. It’s a pilonidal cyst and you need to have this looked at immediately. Please call a friend and we’ll have you rushed to the hospital.”

I called my friend Gwen and she came to the Health Center where the “Rambulance” picked us up. (Get it? We’re the Fordham Rams and it’s an ambulance? Rambulance. Cute, right? It’s like, oh, you have a massive growth terrorizing your coccyx region? Well, we’re going make this situation even more mortifying for you by giving the ambulance a really stupid name.)

We boarded the Rambulance where the EMT worker, who happened to be in my Spanish class, asked me if I would like to be strapped into the gurney. “Thanks,” I replied, “but I can sit on my own just fine. As long as I’m balanced on one ass cheek.” He then proceeded to fill out his EMT form, which required that I dictate to him in humiliating detail, the precise location and sensations of the cyst awkwardly nestled in my butt crack.

“What does it feel like?” he asked.

“It feels like a golf ball,” I replied.

“Can you be more specific?” he dared to further inquire.

“It feels,” I explained, “like a golf ball with rusty nails poking out of it, which has been doused in kerosene and set aflame, hit by Tiger Woods at a high velocity, and landed in the tippity top of my butt crack for a hole-in-one. And when I stand up, I feel like it’s still there, lodged between my cheeks and spewing fire. Is that enough detail for you?”

“…Yes. That is enough.”

We arrived at the hospital, which was marginally comforting, at least for a minute. When I got inside, I sat down at the registry desk where a nurse warmly asked me, “So, what's wrong with you?”

“I um, I have a cyst. A pilonidal cyst.”

“You say you’ve got a what?”

“A pilonidal cyst. It’s in my lower back, and it’s hurting me very much… please, I just need to see a doctor,” I begged.

“Alright, lemme see your insurance card and you can have a seat over there, umkay?”


So there I was, in the waiting room of the hospital, sporting a pilonidal cyst, trying to fit in. Few times in my life have I ever been so frightened. The emergency room triage system is usually unkind to me, but luckily I was still young enough at the time to be seen in the pediatrics unit, so I didn’t have to wait very long to escape the waiting room.

Once in the examining room, I was seen by a pediatric nurse. She asked me to lie on my stomach and pull down my pants again. She took one look at my cyst, and again, gasped in disbelief. She called in another nurse and a doctor to confirm what she was seeing. At this point, I was laying face down and pantless while three doctors poked and prodded at my butt crack, Gwen having no choice but to observe the whole thing. Despite their efforts, the Winne-the-Pooh decals on the walls were not helping to ease my discomfort.

The nurse explained to me that a pilonidal cyst is something you’re born with, if you’re one of the lucky ones, of course. The pilonidal cavity is located in your lower back, right above your rear. In certain people, the pilonidal cavity is prone to infection when irritated (i.e. skiing injuries, large quantities of butt sex, etc.), and it fills up with a fluid, forming a cyst that grows and grows until it has nowhere left to go but to burst through your natal cleft, erupting in a massive explosion! The nurse also told me that the condition is most common in obese men. (Note: I am neither overweight nor of the male persuasion. How I was chosen for this said plight, I shall never know.)

Prepared to lance it, the nurse pulled out a shiny, razor-sharp scalpel from her medical drawer and began to examine the cyst for a place to slice. It glimmered in the fluorescent light. While generally I’m not good with any sort of pointy object puncturing my body in any way, at this moment I was in so much pain that I began to think Jimmy Hoffa had been hiding out in my pilonidal cavity and was trying to escape through my ass. Which is really just a round about way of saying, I didn’t care if she had to hack off my entire lower half with a rusty, serrated-edge bagel knife, I just wanted the pain to stop.

But as soon as I thought my troubles were going to end, the nurse informed me that my cyst was too hard to lance, and that I would have to let it soften up and burst on its own.

Are you fucking kidding me? I asked with my eyes. To answer my question, the nurse handed me a warm compress, and a prescription for antibiotics. And then, she gave me a prescription for extra-strength codeine. Ahh, I cooed to myself, now things are about to get interesting.

You may be wondering about the results of powerful drugs combined with a throbbing back cyst waiting to erupt at any second like an active volcano. I could tell you now, but if you felt uncomfortable reading all that, wait ‘til you hear what happened next. You can’t handle it, not in one dose anyway.

The Tale of My Tail, Part II

And the saga continues, of the time when I thought I was growing a tail, but it really just turned out to be a kiwi-sized lower back cyst on the urge of violent eruption. No big deal. Here are the SparkNotes version of Part I:

When we last left our heroine, (me), I was laying face down on an examining table in the pediatric ward of a hospital with a slew of nurses prodding my naked butt with their rubber gloved fingers.

Raise your hand if you have been more dehumanized in the past week.

I had just been diagnosed with a pilonidal cyst in my lower back, a cyst I was born with, and when infected, grows to a size so large the body cannot capacitate it and it explodes out the top of my ass crack. Like seriously, how messed up is my life? I was handed a hot compress and told to keep it on the cyst at all times until it burst. In the meantime, I was also handed a full bottle of codeine. For the first time in days, things were starting to look up.

My dear friend Gwen, who accompanied me to the hospital, took hold of my arm and dragged me toward the exit of the hospital, partly because I could no longer walk, and partly because a sketchy guy we met in the ER earlier was trying to offer us a ride home. Tempting as it was, we opted to take Fordham’s Rambulance back to campus instead. As I sat in the Rambulance, the pain I experienced took on a new personality. Before, it had been consistent, and no doubt excruciating, but it had this sort of dull quality to it. Now, perched on one butt cheek in the van driven by some dumbass 18-year-old in my Spanish class, the pain heightened and developed sharpness. It was if I was being repeatedly stabbed in the nape of my butt crack with an ice pick.

I asked the Rambulance driver to drop me off at my dorm, since walking was no longer a an option. Of course, a slew of college freshman were loitering around to gawk at me while rolling out of the Rambulance and hobbling into my building. I heard one whisper to another, “You think she has a UTI? She’s walking like she had a lot of rough sex last night.”

When I got back to my dorm room, I changed into sweats and immediately assumed the fetal position in bed. My roommate had gone home for the weekend, so Gwen sat with me so I wouldn’t have to get up when people knocked on my door. Ya know, I’m just that popular. My friend Tom, the stereotypical college smartass, came by to see what was up, and was clearly surprised to see me pale and decrepit under my blanket. I explained to him what had happened.

“Wait, wait…” Tom said, “You trying to tell me that you have a cyst…ON YOUR BUTT??!?”

“It’s on my natal cleft, you douche muffin,” I retorted. This drove Tom into a fit of grand male laughter, and entertained him for hours. Every few minutes he would swagger by my room shouting something like, “Hey everyone, Romeo has a cyst… ON HER BUTT!” and, “Sarah, I’m really sorry that you’re in so much pain…ON YOUR BUTT!” I have not yet forgiven him, and he will pay.

I had Gwen warm up my heating pad in the microwave, and then I promptly shoved it down my pants (if I had a nickel for every time I said that…). I thought that the warmth of the heating pad would offer me some sort of minor comfort, but alas, it failed to produce even the slightest of soothing. So it was time to bring out the big guns: codeine. I’ve never been big into opiates, so I figured just one would do the trick. But as the hours passed and my pain refused to cease, I introduced another dose, and then another, and by 3 in the morning I was taking two at a time. By that point, I had finally reached a state of euphoria that briefly distracted me from my pain.

But while I wasn’t focused on the discomfort, my mind, muddied by drugs, was now fixated on the notion of the cystial time bomb ticking inside of me. I didn’t know how or when it was going to happen, but I imagined it being loud. Like a bang or a gunshot. I imagined an explosive stream of hot, steamy fluid shooting straight out of my lower back like that of a geyser or a whale’s blow hole. I thought of all my internal organs being ejected with the contents of the cyst; my lungs, my cold and blackened heart, my harshly abused liver, and my womanly peanut of a brain all being splattered against the walls and ceiling of my dorm room. I knew the explosion was coming, and I was frightened.

By 5 am the euphoria of my codeine dosage had worn off, but it was too soon for me to take another one, and the pain was stronger than ever. I didn’t know what else to do, so I decided to take a shower. I shuffled down the hallway into our community bathroom. I stepped into the shower, turned the water on hot, and let the jet of water blast full force onto my throbbing cyst. Briefly, the stream created a twinge of pain, but then: RELIEF. It was the first time in a week that I had felt any sense of release from my continuous atomic wedgie of pain. I turned the water hotter and hotter until it was on maximum heat. My flesh was pink and scalding, but I didn’t care. The hotter the water, the more relief I felt.

I was blissfully happy in the shower (if I had a nickel for every time I said that…). But standing there amidst the fog, I realized that my hearing was starting to fade. Within seconds, I was completely deaf. Then, fuzzy, navy blue splotches crowded my vision. I became aware that due to the combination of drugs, lack of sleep, and intense heat, I was about to black out on the shower floor. Now, I have never blacked out for reasons unrelated to alcohol, so in my semi-sober state, I was not familiar with the process. I leaned my body against the stall of the shower and prepared to succumb to the forces that were taking over my body.

But leaning there, plastered to the wall, I imagined the sheer wealth of filth and VD crawling on the shower floor. I wouldn’t allow myself to catch syphilis that way. If I’m going to contract the clap, I thought to myself, I am going to do it with dignity, through a night of drunken, anonymous sex. Somewhere inside, I mustered the strength to push myself away from the shower wall. I shut off the water, grabbed my shower caddy in one hand, and my bathrobe in the other hand.

And then, I ran.

I made a stark-naked mad dash down the hallway. But this was not your average early morning nude sprint. Since I was about 75% blacked out, I barreled down the hall, smacking into doors and walls on each side, breasts and thighs bouncing asunder. I was a stray bullet of wet naked flesh. And when I finally made it back to my room, I collapsed into a heap on top of my bed and passed out.

When I woke up at 7 am, the cyst had still not burst, and I realized that taking care of myself was no longer an option. I called my mom, and luckily, she’s only a two and a half hour drive to school when the traffic is good. So Peg saved the day and picked me up.

I curled up into a ball in the back seat of her Honda CRV and braced myself for the ride home. You see, my mom is one of those nervous drivers who slams on the breaks if she spots a cat in the middle of the road 250 yards away. Thus, all the way up I-95 we would go from about 70 to 0 every ten minutes or so whenever she detected a slowly moving car about a mile ahead or so. Needless to say, it was a rough ride, but I slept most of the way.

When I got home, I stepped out of the car with relative ease. My mom asked me how I was feeling, and surprisingly, I felt okay. Good, actually. I yanked the heating pad out of my pants, and lo and behold, it was drenched in a gooey brown, yellow and red substance. Thanks to my mom’s horrible driving technique, the cyst had released itself during the car ride while I was asleep, and I hadn’t even felt it. THE PAIN WAS OVER.

I stayed home for the rest of the weekend while my cyst drained. It took THREE EFFING DAYS.

In the end, we found out that pilonidal cysts run in my family. My paternal grandfather had a few, and my dad’s sister, Lis, had one exactly when she was my age, and it never came back. I’m hoping our fates serve to be similar. Another interesting fact I learned is that it’s more common than you think; during WWII there was a pandemic of pilonidal cysts among soldiers, which they called “Jeep Disease,” because they spent so much time covering rough terrain bouncing up and down in Jeeps…I think you get the idea.

My advice to you is if you think you might be at risk for a pilonidal cyst, don’t smack your ass on anything. It’s really not a fun experience and I didn’t gain anything from it, besides a lot of butt jokes from my friends that carried on through the summer.

On the other hand, by the time all was said and done, three doctors, two nurses, both my parents, Gwen, my brother, and anyone who happened to catch a glimpse of my early morning burlesque show had seen me naked. My level of inhibition has been drastically reduced as a result of that weekend. Plus, I got to legally try codeine. So I think we can all agree that this story ends with a silver lining.