VasecTimy: What a Vas Deferens a Day Makes
Please welcome today’s very special guest blogger, Tim. Tim is my husband. And he just had a vasectomy. What’s more, he has been ever so kind as to share his vasectomy story with you all today. Please welcome him with open arms–just be careful not to squeeze him too tightly right now.
Editor’s note: Tim gave me permission to edit his piece as I see fit. I think his writing is excellent, though I was troubled by the number of times that he referred to his scrotum as “his junk.” That’s why I’ve taken my editorial license to make adjustments to his word usage as I see fit. Thus, all other synonyms for “scrotum” and “junk” are my own.
Hello. My name is Tim. And I’ve had a vasectomy.
Kristen has told me there is a vast audience for vasectomy stories on the Internet. I have some doubts about this, but as Kristen is far more familiar with her audience’s tastes and interests, I’m happy to share my own vasectomy experience in the hopes some of you may find this illuminating, while the rest of you may at least think parts of my story are funny, or scary, or otherwise entertaining.
So Why Did I Decide to Get a Vasectomy In the First Place?
In previous posts, Kristen described her deliberation and eventual decision not to have any more children and to opt for a more permanent birth control solution. I asked my father, who has also had a vasectomy, how he knew he was done having children after my brother and me, and he told me he just knew in his heart he was done. I’ve waited now to have similar epiphany, to hear that hidden voice whisper in my ear that I was done; to tell me that I had met my quota of babies and could turn in my timecard and call it a day. If had kept waiting to hear this voice, I might never have ended up having my vasectomy; I think I might always have had moments imagining myself having more children, and been tempted to put off any permanent birth control indefinitely. Indeed, even in the week and a half since I had my procedure, I’ve had several moments where I wondered if I did the right thing. But then again, most older parents I’ve spoken to, even those who have had large families, express regret that they didn’t have one more. Many of us may never give up the dream I’ve had of being surrounded by dozens of doting children in our old age, of continually adding new layers to the family dynamic. Ultimately, however, when I thought of all the work that was involved in raising young children, of the personal sacrifices, the late nights, the constant worrying, the fragile balancing act, I felt a lack of enthusiasm—a lack of enthusiasm for the work of being a parent to more children. The idea of having more children still sounds wonderful, but the work, the preparation, the care that is required to have more children does not interest me like it once did. When I had babies, I had to put parts of my life on hold, and I find myself wanting to dust off and take up these parts of my life again, to reconnect with my wife, to give the older children the time and attention I haven’t been able to give them while I was caring for babies. So I never experienced the epiphany some other men have felt when it came to getting a vasectomy; rather, I chose the path that appealed to me more going forward, and conscious that I will be giving up the wonder and joy of having more babies and a larger family, I am nevertheless anxious to start the next chapter of my life and content to walk my chosen path.
So this explains why I decided not to have any more children—why a vasectomy? Why not opt for other forms of birth control? Without getting into too much detail, our dabbling with temporary birth control has met, in every instance, with unqualified failure. Indeed, I would say that we are, as a couple, allergic to birth control, both literally and figuratively. Condoms, diaphragms, IUDs, Natural Family Planning—all of these were out for one reason or another. That left, to my mind, only one other option —a vasectomy.
Interestingly, I never once considered asking Kristen if she would get a tubal ligation, perhaps because both my father and father-in-law had had one and I assumed from this that it was common for men to get vasectomies. After I had my vasectomy, I was surprised to learn that even though vasectomies are a far simpler and less expensive procedure, with a faster recovery time and fewer complications than a tubal ligation, there are still something like 2-3 times more tubal ligations performed in the U.S. than vasectomies, and that only 1 in 5 men over the age of 35 have had a vasectomy. I suppose there are several reasons for this, but two weeks after having had my vasectomy, knowing full well what the procedure entails and what the potential complications from the surgery are, I still believe that a vasectomy was our best option.
Was the Vasectomy as Easy (or Terrible) as I’d Heard?
From the little knowledge I gleaned from WebMD and the brochures my urologist gave me, a vasectomy is a relatively straightforward medical procedure, not unlike some plumbing or electrical work I’ve seen performed. In a scalpel-less procedure like the one I had, the urologist injects a local anesthetic to each side of the scrotum, makes two small holes on each sides of the scrotum, pulls out and severs the vas deferens so that the sperm produced in the testicles can’t mix with the rest of your semen, seals and places them back in the scrotum, and seals the puncture wounds with dissolvable stitches. Of course, any number of matter-of-fact descriptions of the procedure can’t even begin to convey the inward terror I felt at the mere mention of a doctor slicing open my junk—an area of the body second only to the eye for physical and mental sensitivity and second to none when it came to areas of my body I was most fond of.
Perhaps because of the psychological hang-ups guys like myself have when it comes to our reproductive organs, I have found that there is a lot of misinformation about vasectomies out there. Some of you might laugh when I tell you that when I first met my urologist to discuss the procedure, I thought they actually performed the vasectomy on your penis. You can imagine my relief when I found out the vasectomy would only be performed on my scrotum instead. While I had done plenty of research
checking out my urologist and made sure Dr. G came highly recommended (those of you who want Dr. G’s contact information can email Kristen and I’ll make sure I get you this), I had done almost no reading on vasectomies themselves, and walked into my initial consultation cold: something I would not recommend. Dr. G began by asking me some questions designed to ferret out whether I was really serious about getting a vasectomy, and then followed up by emphasizing the permanence of the procedure. Yes, I know, vasectomies can usually be reversed, but the last thing I would want to think about after getting a vasectomy is having it reversed! After he explained the procedure and listened somewhat amusedly to my questions (“Will my penis hurt?” “How soon can I have sex afterwards?” “Can I bring my teddy bear with me?”), we scheduled a time to come into the office about a month later when he would actually perform the vasectomy.
For men who are considering getting a vasectomy, a couple of points. To my knowledge, there are two types of vasectomy procedures—an in-office procedure which is simpler, faster and less expensive, but which requires you to be awake, and a hospital procedure which takes several hours and requires an anesthesiologist to put you under general anesthesia during the surgery. Both procedures were subject to my deductible, and for this reason alone I chose the in-office procedure, which set me back about $650. If the costs had otherwise been the same, I initially might have chosen the hospital procedure in a heartbeat then (although in hindsight and having experienced the in-office procedure, I would elect to do the in-office procedure again, regardless of the cost). If you have a Health Savings or Flexible Spending Account, you can be reimbursed from these your out-of-pocket expense. Since they view a vasectomy as an elective procedure, my urologist’s office required payment up-front before the surgery. Even if your vasectomy is not covered by your insurance and you have to pay for it out-of-pocket, you should still provide your urologist’s office with your insurance information to take advantage of any potential discounts your carrier has with your urologist. (Editor’s note: Tim is very well versed in the law and in all things related to taxes, what with him being an attorney and an enrolled agent with the IRS. Isn’t he adorable to offer up these sorts of recommendations to all of you?!)
Second, Dr. G (and many other people I spoke to, including men who have had vasectomies), tend to downplay a vasectomy, and in particular, the potential complications and significant recovery period after a vasectomy. It seems like everyone I spoke to before the vasectomy insisted it was no big deal, that I’d be on my feet and back to normal in a day or two. I never thought to second-guess them, or to do my own research before the vasectomy. Please learn from my mistake, and read up on and do your own research prior to having a vasectomy. While a vasectomy is considered minor out-patient surgery, it is still surgery and subjects your body to trauma and potential complications. I found that the surgery itself was the easy part of the procedure; I was not, however, prepared for the recovery afterwards.
Based on my own experience and reading after the surgery, there is a wide spectrum of recovery for men who undergo vasectomies. Some, like my father, seem to cope with the surgery very well, experience no complications and little pain afterwards, and are back to normal activities within a day or two. I laid on the couch for a two days, iced my scrotum regularly, wore a jockstrap, and one week out the right side of my scrotum was still bruised and in some pain. Some men report pain immediately afterthe surgery, some claim that they felt fine until a couple of days after the surgery, or a month after the surgery, or even a year after the surgery and then started experiencing varying degrees of pain. Some report painful ejaculations after the surgery, some claim that they experienced less-intense orgasms after the surgery, some develop small lumps or granulomas in their scrotum that can be somewhat painful. The medical literature seems to suggest that these complications are relatively rare and can usually be treated with rest and medicine, but my point is that if you decide to get a vasectomy, you should educate yourself first so that you do it with eyes wide open and know what to expect. Make the necessary arrangements beforehand so that you can take it easy not only a day or two after the surgery, but even a week or two afterwards. Take the post-vasectomy instructions seriously to minimize any complications and speed your recovery. Everyone’s recovery can be different, and even the doctor’s pamphlets I’ve seen on the Internet and elsewhere vary significantly. I didn’t do my research and foolishly assumed that I could drive myself home after the surgery and even made plans to take my wife out for a belated birthday lunch the day after. Luckily, my wife alerted me to before the surgery to the potential complications and was able to rearrange her plans so that she could drive me home after the surgery and take care of the kids the first couple of days after the surgery. And now, with you as my witness, I will say something that I rarely say in public:
Kristen was right and I was wrong.
(Editor’s note: I adjusted the font so as to best capture how important and meaningful this statement is.)
Dr. G’s only instructions prior to the surgery were to avoid taking any aspirin or ibuprofen five days before the surgery; Tylenol was okay. He suggested that I bring a jockstrap (athletic supporter) with me to wear after the surgery, the idea being to wear something tight-fitting that will support your scrotum. I’ve heard other patients have worn bike shorts or close-fitting boxer briefs as well, although I ended up buying a jockstrap at the Sports Authority for the occasion. I hadn’t worn a jockstrap since my old Little League days, and so was surprised to learn that they can be difficult to find. Even at the Sports Authority I ended up wandering the store for about half an hour, too embarrassed to ask an employee where the jockstraps were. I worried I wouldn’t be able to find a jockstrap at one point and, trying to think of alternatives, googled “What does one wear to a vasectomy?” on my iPhone before I realized how ridiculous that sounded.
Luckily, just as I was getting ready to give up, I located a rack of them in the lacrosse aisle. I cringed when I read the name on the package—“Nutt Hutt”—but since this was the only type of jockstrap I could see, I went ahead and bought it along with a soda (the soda was meant to distract the cashier from the fact that I had wandered the store for half an hour like a crazy person for the sole purpose of buying a jockstrap). And in case you, like myself, are wondering, you do not need to keep the hard plastic cup in the jockstrap when you wear it after the surgery. I also picked up some gauze pads to place around my scrotum after the surgery. Despite my somewhat embarrassing experience combing the Sports Authority for the perfect jockstrap for my vasectomy, I am glad I bought one—I ended up wearing it (and yes, I washed it) for about two weeks after the surgery to minimize some of my discomfort.
The Day of Reckoning
Alright—now for the moment you all have been waiting for! On a Friday afternoon, my wife dropped me off at the urologist’s office and promised to pick me up afterwards so I wouldn’t have to drive home myself. While I grumbled at the time that this wasn’t necessary, and think I still could have driven myself home, I now think it was a good idea to be picked up instead of trying to drive myself home. When the receptionist took my payment she gave me a white tablet to swallow that she said was an antibiotic, although I’ve since read that some doctors will slip you an anti-anxiety drug beforehand to keep you calm. (Editor’s note: No doctor should ever give you medication to which you haven’t fully consented! What the hell!) Before I could think too much about what I was doing, a nurse called me in and led me an empty patient room and told me to take off my pants and sit up on the table. I folded my clothes carefully and did my best to arrange myself on the table without looking too ridiculous. The nurse came back in and asked me if I had shaved my scrotum beforehand, and I told her I hadn’t.
For those of you wondering, Dr. G. hadn’t said one way or the other whether I should shave myself before the surgery. I knew it was an option and had considered shaving myself the day before the surgery, but ultimately decided to let the nurse do it as I wasn’t sure exactly how much needed to be shaved.
Little did I know, as the nurse took out what looked like a normal straight razor, that I had let myself in for five of the most terrifying minutes of my life. The nurse asked me to lie down on the table, and before my head had even touched the pillow, my teeth started to chatter and I started to sweat profusely. I waited for her to apply a lather, when without any further warning, she took up my fragile man parts (Editor’ choice) and started to shave me DRY with a speed and roughness I hadn’t anticipated. Every muscle in my body tensed up, and though I am not a religious person by nature, I clasped my hands in silent prayer, waiting at any moment for the inevitable nick that would send me screaming like a banshee off the table.
In trying to describe the experience to my wife, the best metaphor I could come up with was being on a rollercoaster, crawling up that initial hill, only the learn as you reach the top and stare down at the steep descent before you that your restraints don’t work. I was completely powerless in my nurse’s grip, and she returned my trust by depilating my private parts with wild abandon. At one point, she even paused to observe that I was sweating quite profusely (no shit!). After what felt like about three hours (but in reality only probably took five minutes), she stopped, and I looked down anxiously to see that all my important parts were still there, intact and strikingly denuded. Amazingly, she hadn’t taken out a single nick.
When Sweeney Todd was finished and I was thanking all of the gods I knew, Doctor G came in. As I tried to regain my composure, he made small talk while he and the nurse hung up a sheet in front of my face so I couldn’t see the lower half of my body. I was grateful for this, although I imagine some people might feel anxious if they couldn’t see what was happening to half of their body. He then explained that he was going to inject the local anesthetic on the left side of my scrotum and that I would feel a slight
prick. (Editor’s note: Pun intended! Right? Right?!) Although I had been dreading this for weeks, in reality the pain from the injection was less intense than donating blood. The anesthetic started to work immediately, and while I could feel Dr. G. working and manipulating my scrotum, I did not feel any pain except for a slight nauseous feeling when he severed the vas deferens that lasted a second and then was gone. He then numbed up the right side and did the same on that side. I was able to talk throughout, and found that small talk helped to take my mind off the surgery and made it far less unpleasant. From the moment he first injected the local anesthetic on my left side, I would estimate that the surgery lasted about 15-20 minutes. When he finally removed the sheet and helped me sit up, I looked at the clock and saw that only a half hour had passed since I first entered the office.
When I looked down, my scrotum was covered in gauze and I could see a little blood. Dr. G helped me down from the table and told me I could put my clothes on and meet him in the conference room when I was ready. I felt stiff and moved gingerly but otherwise felt fine and marveled that I had survived that the surgery I had dreaded was already over. The nurse handed me some water and the doctor let me sit for ten minutes while he went over some of the post-operation instructions: No shower for 24 hours, no baths or swimming for at least 7 days. No aspirin or ibuprofen, but Tylenol is okay. No sexual activity for 7 days. Try and lay down and ice your scrotum for 24 hours, continue to take it easy for 2 more days, don’t resume vigorous activity for at least 7 days. Most importantly, continue to use other forms of birth control for at least 6-8 weeks, as sperm can remain in your semen for up to 15-20 ejaculations after the surgery. He gave me a small cup and told me that after 20 ejaculations or so, I could bring a semen sample to the office and they would check it to make sure there was no more sperm left in my semen. He asked me if I felt alright and had a ride home, and I told him I had texted my wife and she was going to pick me up. I limped slowly out of the office and waited for my wife to pick me up. When she asked me how I felt, I told her I felt surprisingly good—partly because the anesthetic was still working, but the pain was still far less than I had anticipated going into the surgery.
Despite my earlier missteps, I followed the doctor’s instructions very carefully. I spent the better part of the first two days on the couch with my legs elevated, an ice pack tucked under and around my scrotum. I wore my jockstrap, tried to do as little as possible, and was blessed in this respect with a wife who took primary responsibility for our three sons all weekend at risk of her own mental health. Eventually, the local anesthetic wore off and my scrotum felt sorer that night and the next day. I found, however, that as long as I kept the ice pack on my scrotum and stayed off my feet, the pain was manageable—a dull, slow ache that gradually subsided. Two days after the surgery, I felt much better and was able to start helping out with the kids more, especially with Eric (our one-year-old son) at night.
After a few days, the pain seemed to increase and I noticed that the right side of my scrotum had turned a nasty black-and-blue and was swollen. I worried about this, especially as I thought that a week out my pain should be gone and I should be able to resume normal activity. Seven days after the surgery, on a Friday, I called Dr. G’s office to complain of the increasing pain and swelling, and the nurse I spoke to explained that this was common, especially as I resumed more activity. She suggested that I call back in three days if the pain still seemed to be increasing. The following Monday, while there was still pain and bruising, it seemed less intensive than before, and the swelling had gone down. As of this writing, there is still some swelling, bruising and discomfort, but it seems to be getting better with each passing day. Of course, now the hair that my nurse shaved off is starting to grow back and itches like crazy, but so it goes. (Editor’s note: And here I thought that I was the queen of the overshare!)
[The editor has chosen to redact some text relevant to resuming sexual activity. Let's just say that everything works just fine. Ahem.]
In hindsight, I am still satisfied that I elected to have a vasectomy. The surgery, which I had dreaded, was far easier than I expected (excluding the shaving, which sounds like somewhat of an anomaly compared to accounts of other vasectomies I’ve heard). The recovery, however, has been longer and more difficult than I anticipated. I have not, however, experienced any pain more than a mild discomfort, and have not felt like I needed pain medication, although I imagine every person’s experience is different
in this respect and in other.
If you are considering having a vasectomy, please treat it seriously and do your own research and so avoid my missteps.
Kristen was right and I was wrong.
(The editor may have chosen to insert this last statement.)