ABOUT 16 YEARS AGO, my sperm did their job, and did it well.
They helped produce my son, who is now a charming, funny, and thoughtful young man. Procreation successful!
But I don't really have a need for the little tadpoles anymore, so my fiancée and I decided it would be in our best interest for me to get a vasectomy. Besides, why should the woman I love be made to suffer through month after month of hormonal manipulation, just so I can launch my sperm into her all willy-nilly?
At first, I didn't know what this entailed, so I was a little slow and nervous calling around to doctors. I haven't had much experience with surgeries and I admit the only thing I thought to compare this kind of operation to would be neutering a dog. I secretly wondered if I would have to get my testicles removed, or perhaps deflated or something.
I made an appointment for a consultation with a specialist. I got my blood pressure taken, my weight recorded, all the usual stuff, and then I had to endure a gauntlet that consisted of people asking me sternly, "Are you sure you're not going to want more children?" It was something I had given a lot of thought to, of course, but as my son got older, I felt like I'd better not press my luck. I was blessed with a pretty easy kid the first time.
When the doctor finally came in, he explained the procedure. He had me pull down my pants as he explained the steps. It was like he was using my groin as a chalkboard. His hands were soft but cold as he searched pokingly for my testicles. In the silence of the room, I could almost hear him thinking, "Let's see what I'm working with here." He showed me where a small incision on my scrotum would be and how they sever or disconnect a vas something-something and then reroute or tie something else so it doesn't get in the way. To be honest, I sort of blocked out everything after "incision." When he was done with this pep talk, he gave me two Valiums in a small envelope and told me to take them an hour before the operation, which would be two weeks away.
"If you take these," he said. "You'll be more relaxed down there and it will make things easier."
I felt weird about him saying this to me like I was some kind of uptight girl at a bar being plied with drinks by a college Casanova.
For the next two weeks, I read over the packet of information and started to feel a little more at ease. It said the operation took about 30 minutes and needed two days to heal before I could go back to work.
"Sometimes," Dr. Coldhands told me, "people are surprised how easy it is, and they say, "That's all?""
I hoped I would be one of those lucky people, uttering those two monosyllabic words.
I still had weird thoughts though. I recalled a scary story told to me when I was very little. I think it was an older brother or a devious cousin who whispered it one night during a sleepover. There was a crazy motorcycle gang called the Holy Rollers, and if any man made them mad or started a fight, they would take him to an outhouse on top of this hill and cut his balls off. Then they'd all hoot and holler and roll the victim's balls down the hill. This story has haunted me for a long time now and instilled in me a deep fear of motorcycle gangs, outhouses, and hills.
The night before the operation, I had to shave my scrotum. The packet told me "a dry shave is the easiest way to do this." Seriously?!? I had never shaved that far down before and I was pretty nervous. I paced around the living room, trying to mentally prepare for the task. "What's wrong?" my fiancée, Barb, asked. "Nothing," I said, a little too intensely. "I just have to shave... down there."
I stepped into the bathroom, stripped naked, and held my Gillette Fusion razor at the ready. I took a couple of slow, non-threatening strokes as I held myself as tight as comfortably possible. It was like having to shave the face of an old man who's had all his bones removed.
After a few minutes though, it wasn't so bad. Maybe I was a natural.
My operation was at 7:30 on a Friday morning. I took my Valiums and was appropriately sedated, roofied, and/or loose. There was a woman getting me prepped before the operation and she asked where I worked and I told her Powell's Books. She told me she went there all the time and asked me if I read a lot. I'm not sure if this was really conversation or if she was just trying to guide me into an oblivious pain-free slumber, but I answered yes.
"Who are your favorite writers?" she asked. I always sort of dread this question because most of the time my answer elicits a "Who?" but I answered anyway.
"Sam Lipsyte," I said.
"I've heard of him," she said surprisingly.
"And Diane Williams," I said, perhaps as a more obscure challenge.
"I think I'll have to shave you just a little more," she said.
I fell asleep at that point.
Almost an hour later, I started to fade back in. Dr. Coldhands explained to me that it was a little bloodier than usual but the job was almost done. "Let me just get one more stitch in here." I felt the odd sensation of being stitched up like an old sock. The uncomfortable pull like a marionette slow dancing between my legs. As I gingerly got up to leave the room, I saw the wadded-up towels and tissues everywhere, stained the color of horror movies.
Barb drove me home and I spent the rest of the day flat on the couch with various frozen items around my groin: frozen corn, water bottles, ice packs, out-of-date coconut-mango juice. It was like being buried in the sand at the beach, but not as much fun. I was too scared to look at what was happening down there.
It wasn't until the next morning when I took off my doctor-prescribed tighty-whiteys, that I really saw what I had been feeling the past 24 hours.
My scrotum looked like a giant Hass avocado. And my penis looked like a bald old man being eaten alive by this avocado. With no ability to aim this thing, I was forced to pee in the shower.
The next day, on Sunday, it looked even worse. On top of that I also felt the excruciating discomfort that is exclusive to manhood—it felt like my right testicle had turned as hard as a cue ball and ascended up to my thigh. It refused to be pushed back down. I thought I'd be ready to return to work almost immediately, but there was just no way. I had to call in sick. Barb looked at the damage and quickly decided to consult the internet. She did a Google image search for "post-op vasectomy" (I do not recommend this for anyone with a weak constitution). Some of the first images shown were for "extreme bruising and swelling" and while they were garish and gross, my purple people eater had them beat. Not to mention that the dark bruising had also spread, like terrible raven wings, across my thighs and hips. I called my doctor and he agreed to meet us at his office. I walked like a slow-motion cowboy to the car and Barb drove us there.
As soon as Dr. Coldhands saw what I was dealing with, he shook his head in wonder and said, "I've been doing this operation for 30 years and I've never seen this much bruising." The only thing he said we could do is wait a day or two to see if it got worse. More Tylenol, more ice, more time on my back.
That night, I did, thankfully, notice a decrease in swelling and was able to sleep a little on my side—a detail that seems small, but felt almost euphoric after such a terrible weekend.
On Monday, I was slightly improved but still in bad shape. I went to see the doctor again and they did a blood test and a few other things. He told me I should take some more days off work, preferably the rest of the week. He prescribed a more powerful pill for me to take. I didn't say anything to them about how I had a book coming out the next day and how I really hoped to be at work when it hit the shelves. I wanted to be there to feel whatever excitement there was, or to at least feel the weird thrill of working at an info desk and maybe overhear someone looking for my book. After the appointment, Barb and I walked out to the car, me still bowlegged and sore. I knew they were right about the days off and I started to cry out of frustration.
Still, on Tuesday, I had Barb drive me down to Powell's and I worked for three hours. Mainly, I just answered emails. My manager had put a nice bouquet of yellow roses on my desk and some coworkers offered hugs and congratulations on my book. There was still pain and soreness, but I was able to joke around about it with the people I worked with. I told them I'd be back in a few days. I lifted my shirt a little and gave a few of them a peek at my bruises. Those dark wings that I hoped would soon fade.
The following weekend was the worst of it. I could barely move around and even sitting became painful after a few minutes. The new medicine made me sweat profusely through the night and I muttered the strangest things while I slept—once I said something about the San Diego Chargers running their own newspaper and then I cackled like a crazy person. I tossed and turned slowly and pensively, sometimes shivering in a dreamy fit. One night, my wet body must have startled Barb and she jolted awake, her knee shooting up right into my groin. We've slept together for well over 1,000 nights and this was the first time she's ever assaulted me in this way. When I screamed out, she immediately grabbed me and apologized profusely.
On Monday, I went back to Dr. Coldhands and he said it looked like I had an infection. I was in agony and impatient and said, "I don't care what needs to be done. I just want this fixed today."
Dr. Coldhands arranged for me to see a specialist right away. He described this man as "an older guy, but I would trust him to operate on me blindfolded."
Barb drove me to the hospital and they gave me an ultrasound. The irony of this kind of ultrasound escaped me at the time, my swollen scrotum slathered in that weird jelly as the machines beeped and hummed, capturing images of the one big hematoma (they explained to me this was like a sac of blood that didn't absorb properly into my body).
An hour later, they put me under and opened me up down there again. I didn't wake until well after it was over this time.
When I did, they told me that the surgery went well and that I'd be staying the night in the hospital. As they were trying to figure out which room to put me in, I started convulsing and my teeth chattered loudly. It was like I had no control over my own body. I looked at Barb, who stayed there with me the whole day and night, and said, "I don't know what's happening to me. I'm not doing this." She and the nurse put another blanket on me. Another nurse said that patients sometimes do this when they're coming out of the anesthesia. She stabbed Demerol into my IV and I eventually calmed down.
But then I started to feel nauseated. As that day turned into night, I was handled by at least five nurses, each one giving me something new to combat whatever misadventure my body wanted to take me on. Before we fell asleep, we watched TV for a while. There was an episode of Seinfeld on after the late news. It was one I don't think I've ever seen before. This particular episode ends with Elaine's boyfriend sitting in a doctor's office, waiting to get his vasectomy reversed. Jerry and Newman are also in the waiting room, after they've decided to get the operation. Suddenly, Kramer hobbles out of the doctor's office in pain. Jerry and Newman take one good look at Kramer's discomfort and bolt out of there.
The next morning, I managed to eat a little breakfast, a hard slab of scrambled eggs and a plastic-looking circle of ham. Eventually, I had to urinate but I was still too shaky to walk to the toilet, so I had to sit up as best as I could and Barb helped me hold a plastic container to pee in. This is when I noticed my new-look scrotum. It looked like the incision was on the upper right side this time (where the hematoma was) and the stitch-up job looked like they did it in a hurry. It seemed zig-zagged, like something you'd see on Frankenstein's body.
When the surgeon paid me a visit later that morning, he made me stand up and walk in place to get my blood going again. I was moving slow and cautious and it seemed like he was trying to hurry me up. When he said, "The best thing to do is to get up and start moving around," it felt like he was chiding me a bit. As if I had some grand scheme to stay in the hospital another day, watching free cable and eating their delicious meals. "You've got to get back into a normal routine," he said.
A couple of days later, I was finally better. Not really 100 percent, but close. Maybe 85 percent. We could start having sex again, though I was a little slow and cautious about it at first, what with all the recent discomfort down there and everything. A couple of months later, I had to bring the doctor a sperm sample in a plastic cup. I was as fertile as a hat.
Dr. Coldhands said he felt badly about my tribulations. He seemed nervous, like I was going to sue him for malpractice. He filled out a prescription for me to get six free massages. Sadly, I lost this prescription and didn't get to use any of them. Anyway, I'm not sure the memory could ever be backrubbed away.
Kevin Sampsell is the author of the memoir A Common Pornography (Harper Perennial).