The VasectomyLand Diaries: My Candid Account
Vasectomy. The very word strikes fear in the hearts of otherwise brave, hearty men. At least it did in mine. Thanks to the kind words of friends, I was reassured that the procedure was quick, relatively painless, and recovery a breeze. Thanks to countless internet forums, however, I was un-reassured just as quickly. Because according to the Internet, every medical procedure ever performed by man has resulted in horrifying, permanent things happening. So, as a public service to all men everywhere wondering just what the hell a vasectomy, a REAL vasectomy, is actually like, I’m going to document mine as accurately as I can. My verdict? 4 days after the procedure, I have to honestly say that the truth lies somewhere between the encouraging scenario described by friends and the apocalyptic, ball-destroying, erection-ending nightmares of the Web.
I’m now well into my 40’s, with two healthy kids, and a wife that’s been trying to get me into the Dr. for a vasectomy for well over a year now. Call me crazy, but the thought of needles and knives anywhere near my most sensitive of areas doesn’t exactly have me rushing to the phone to make an appointment. But, with the knowledge that this needed to actually happen, with my world-famous procrastination starting to wear thin, and with the threat of an insurance co-pay rollover at the beginning of the new year hanging over me, I did the unimaginable…. I called the urologist. I made the appointment. I’m now baby-stepping towards It. The Vasectomy. The Big V. The Snip-Snip.
First things first, there’s the cost. The receptionist at the urologists’ office blurted out their cost for the procedure almost immediately after I told her I was inquiring about a vasectomy. And that cost? In my case, just over $700. This is for a Doctor recommended by my personal physician as well as the guy who did most of my friends’ vasectomies. Apparently he’s THE GUY for this type of thing in town. Good… that’s exactly who I want.
Most decent insurance will cover most or all of the cost of these types of procedures; in my case, just about all of it. So far so good. Insurance is a good thing. Health care is a good thing; we should all have access to it, affordably. (And that’s all the politics I’ll be discussing here today.)
THE BIG DAY
Last Friday was the day I had been dreading since I made the appointment. No, this was the day I had been fearing since the birth of my second child. I always joked with my wife that I didn’t want a vasectomy because someday after she’d left me the 68 year-old me may meet a young 25 year old and want to start a second family. Hey, it could happen…. Actually, I’ve just always been very nervous about having THAT AREA messed around with. I mean, I hate undergoing the relatively mild ‘turn and cough’ routine during a physical exam…. this actually involves cutting. My God, I thought to myself, how can anybody survive this? This particular part of the male anatomy is notoriously not happy about being messed with. And if there’s one way to describe a vasectomy, it’s your balls being messed with in just about the most violent way possible short of having them completely taken off, as I was soon about to discover first-hand.
We arrive at the Doctor’s office early, paperwork in tow, fill out some more, and then sit for the customary 30 minute wait. Finally, the door opens. The name is called. It is time. Time to man up and get this done. The nurse takes me back, asks me a thousand more questions I’ve already answered in the paperwork, takes the pulse, the weight…. the usual doctor’s office stuff. She thanks me for my time, and tells me the Dr. will be right with me. You can probably guess where this is going, right? You’ve been to the doctor before, haven’t you? You see, this isn’t the actual procedural room I’ve been taken to. No… this is waiting room #2.
After another 25 minutes spent with nothing but a 3 month old Family Circle magazine to keep me company (some delicious-looking pie recipes and just some DIVINE homemade Halloween costumes, by the way), Dr. X (not his real name, of course) strolls in like he’s the King of the World. This is a man who spends his Fridays cutting into other men’s scrotums and rendering them useless as tools of procreation; what kind of a person seeks this out as a profession? Is it a good thing that he does this? That he actually seems to have no psychological problems with it, and may even enjoy his work? In my case, hell yes it’s OK. Somebody’s got to do it, and so what if I’m his eighth vasectomy of the day (which he announced to me within 2 minutes of meeting me?) This guy is the best, I keep telling myself. By vasectomy number 8 of the day he’s really getting into his groove, I keep telling myself. I have to, because in a few minutes he’s going to have my life in his hands (and if not my life, he’ll have my balls in his hands which is strange enough to my heterosexual way of thinking, and certainly dangerous with all of the very sharp-looking tools and lasers lying on the table) and I really, REALLY want things to go smoothly.
Dr. X explains the procedure again, and sketches his plan of attack out on a drawing of the male reproductive system. Jesus, is that what they look like? Is that what MINE look like? I hope so, because his schematic really makes this thing look like a cakewalk. He says he’ll be done in about 15 or 20 minutes. Now, that doesn’t seem like a very long time, but now that I’m on the other side of it, let me tell you: This sensitive situation may possibly be the longest 20 minutes of your life.
He walks me down the hall to the operating room, and it is here that the Awkward Stage of how I’m assuming every vasectomy procedure begins. He shuts the door behind us. Now, all day I’ve been going over in my mind how this moment will go down. Do I get a hospital gown to wear? Does this doctor have some revolutionary new computerized device that performs the vasectomy on a fully-clothed man with no pain whatsoever? The answer to these, and any other comforting scenarios, is NO. Doc tells me to “leave my shoes on, pull my pants and underwear down around my ankles. Leave your shirt on.” OK, then. That’s how it’s gonna be. Why, that’s not awkward at all.
The time for pre-procedure nerves and stress is over: I am on the table. I am naked from the waist down, with a complete stranger standing over me in a very bright,highly-unflattering light. And he’s telling me what he’s planning on doing with that needle in his hand. This is the moment, the EXACT moment, that I, and possibly every other male human, has lost sleep over when contemplating the vasectomy. The “I’m naked on a table and a man is putting a needle into my scrotum and OH MY GOD THAT STINGS” moment.
I had what’s called the no-scalpel vasectomy procedure, which is supposed to be faster, quicker-healing, and safer than the old cut open the scrotum and then sew it back shut routine. But no man is prepared for taking a needle to the scrotum. No Man. Women: The male genitalia is sensitive…so so sensitive. Normally, this is a good thing, but when it’s a bad thing, it’s a very bad thing. I know you’ve got the whole “childbirthing pain” thing to hold over us, but the pain that comes from any kind of trauma to the scrotal area is really quite unimaginable. And the needle to the middle of the scrotum, then the side of the scrotum, then the other side of the scrotum, doesn’t feel very good. Doc says to me “that wasn’t the worst thing ever, was it?” I reply no, but for this particular area of my anatomy it’s not real damn great.
That’s the down side of the shots. The up side: they numb everything. Well, almost everything. What it doesn’t numb is every sensation altogether, just the really painful stuff. In this kind of vasectomy, the doctor feels with his finger for the vas deferens that runs up the side of each testicle. He then makes a small incision with SOMETHING (not a scalpel, cause this is a no-scalpel procedure, dammit) in the middle of the scrotum right where that giant first shot went. He then takes a few minutes working the vas deferens over to this incision, somehow pulls it through the incision (I am describing this only by what I felt. I could have lifted my head and watched the whole thing, but there’s no way in hell that was ever going to happen.) to work on it. The vas deferens is then severed, with each end cauterized to seal it off. (side note: I now know what my burning vas deferens smells like. It’s a smoky smell.It’s an unsettling smell.) and put back in place. This took about 7 minutes on the first side. Then it was time for the other side. For me, this side, for some reason, took a lot longer. Because when a Doctor is manhandling my testicles and wrestling things that are supposed to be inside my body to the outside of my body, why wouldn’t it take longer than expected?
After what seemed like hours but was really only several minutes, I’m done. As I mentioned, there was very little pain after the initial shots. But I was able to feel everything he was doing, and don’t let anybody fool you: this procedure requires lots of moving things around and you will feel all of it. It’s not gentle by any stretch of the imagination, but for me, the goddamn thing is DONE.
The doctor puts some gauze over the small incision (really, how the hell does he get two different vas deferens into and out of this tiny little opening? Probably better not to know.) and helps me pull up my pants and two pair of underwear. Another fairly awkward moment, but at this point I couldn’t care less.
I thank the doctor, and shake the hand he just used to do things to my holiest of holy places that they really weren’t designed to do, and am on my way. My sense of relief was nearly overwhelming. This thing I had dreaded for years was over, finally over. Now I can go home, relax, and recover. And that brings us to the Recovery Stage.
Recovering from a vasectomy is the subject of most of the internet horror stories I had read. Four days after the procedure, I can say (for me at least) that things aren’t so bad. The key is rest. Rest, Rest, Rest. I hit the couch as soon as I got back home and had the bag of frozen peas in place well before the anaesthetic wore off. I was in no way going to let any possible pain or swelling get out ahead of me. And it worked. I was given a prescription for some high-powered painkiller, but never used it. Over-the-counter Tylenol was all I took, and was really all I needed.
The next day, I again did nothing. All day long. My favorite jammies, two pair of undies with frozen peas between the layer, and I was good to go. There was still a little bit of bleeding at the incision, but by the day’s end had stopped. Swelling was minimal (which is good because swelling was the main topic of the worst-case stories I was reading) and pain was very manageable. As long as I stayed off my feet, and kept the undies tight. I believe the worst case scenarios (the pain and swelling) experienced by guys happens when they try to get back to normal too quickly.
I feel this way because Sunday I felt much better and decided to get off the couch, not ice as much. And almost immediately the discomfort started. A dull pain. Like I’d been hit really hard right in the groin. And along with the dull pain, that horrible pain way up into my abdomen that every male who’s ever been hit in the balls knows all too well. After some more Tylenol, some ice, and some couch rest, things settled back down. At this stage, gravity is the enemy. There was lots of pulling of things during the procedure, and things are awfully tender. Best let things be as stationary and well-supported as possible.
Monday, the same thing. After walking around, I started experiencing the dull pain and a little bit of swelling. The bottom line? You’ve got to take it easy the first few days after a vasectomy. The more rest, the more ice, the better you’ll feel. Today, four days out, the pain is nearly gone. I’ve been up and around all day with just a little tenderness. There is bruising, which I was told by the Doctor that there would be, but it’s not bad and it’s temporary. I’m a runner, and I plan to go at least a full week after the vasectomy before attempting a run. All in all, I’m happy with how my recovery has progressed, and within a week or two I anticipate things will be back to normal.
What can anybody thinking about a vasectomy take away from this? Everybody’s body reacts differently, and recovers at different speeds, but listen to the information your Doctor gives you. And follow the instructions you’re given. Use the ice. Use the painkillers. Take it easy. Don’t rush back into physical activity. A vasectomy is a very traumatic experience for your testicles, and they’re not going to be happy about it. And they will tell you in no uncertain terms if you’re pushing the recovery too quickly. Listen to them. You will know if they’re telling you to take it easy. So take it easy. And rest comfortably knowing that this most uncomfortable and most awkward of all possible scenarios in which a man can find himself is over, and you won’t ever have to go through it again. Oh, and don’t forget: your new vasectomy isn’t considered a success until you’ve had several ejaculations (my doctor said the magic number is 12. 12? Really? OK.) and turned in at least two ‘negative’ semen samples to the doctor. Then, and only then, can you consider yourself sterile. So if you’re engaging in sexual activity and don’t want an unexpected pregnancy on your hands, you’re still going to need some type of contraceptive for at least a little while longer.
So there it is. I did it, I didn’t die, and hopefully it worked and nothing like this will ever have to happen again. Now about those prostate exams….