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Panic! At the vasectomy table

By Alex Moschina
The word vasectomy made with wooden tiles Getty Images/schlosann

There are two small bumps at the base of my penis. They correspond with the two puncture wounds made during my recent no-scalpel vasectomy, one roughly twice the size of the other.

"Which one is bigger?" the doctor asks me over the phone.

"The one on the right," I say.

"Would that be your right... or, my right?" he asks. Then he specifies: "I mean, like, if I were examining you."

"Stage right," I say, expecting a chuckle. After a moment of silence, I clarify: "My right."

In case you don't know, a vasectomy is when a doctor (hopefully a doctor) severs your vas deferens — or sperm ducts — and seals them shut, cutting off the sperm's pathway to the penis, rendering you sterile.

It's a swell way to keep yourself from having too many kids. And when I say that, I mean there is a fair amount of swelling after the procedure.

RELATED: Our vasectomy love story

My doctor suggests that the bumps could be sperm granulomas, which can form when your sperm start leaking out of the cut end of your vas deferens.

In other words... my sperm just couldn't make it on the inside.

(When I said that to my doctor, he didn't laugh. He just started listing anti-inflammatory drugs I could take.)

Vasectomies are, fittingly, a lot like fatherhood. Beyond very general commentary, the men who've been through them are pretty tight-lipped about what to expect.

It's not so bad.

You're in and out.

Afterward, you get to sit around with frozen peas on your crotch.

Vasectomies are, fittingly, a lot like fatherhood. Beyond very general commentary, the men who've been through them are pretty tight-lipped about what to expect.

If you get a vasectomy in March, it's assumed that you'll spend the next few days watching college basketball.

Now, I don't know if you caught my "stage right" quip earlier, but if you did you can probably infer that I did not, in fact, spend my recovery watching college basketball. But that's unimportant.

Let's take a few steps back.

In 2006 I was working a part-time library job in Metro Detroit. The particular library where I worked was the central hub for a network of local libraries.

One of my daily duties was to unload a truck full of books — mostly Danielle Steel novels — that would then be routed to folks who had put them on hold. The books were packed in large canvas bags that sometimes weighed as much as 50 pounds. My coworker, Brian, and I would heave them around like kettlebells while listening to nu-metal.

One afternoon on the drive home after a typical shift, I felt something ... odd ... in my shorts. It was right below where my belt hit — an area where you really don't want to feel anything that could be described as "odd."

When I got home I took a peek. There was a nasty red bump about the size of a quarter just north of my genitals. It felt solid.


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A hernia, I thought, though I didn't quite know what a hernia was apart from a big lump that shows up when you lift things incorrectly, as I was wont to do at the time. A google image search seemed to confirm my suspicions.

"I've got a hernia," I announced to what, in retrospect, turned out to be a stupid number of people.

My parents? Concerned.

My girlfriend? Mortified.

My friends? Repulsed.

My boss, bless her heart, could be best described as "bothered." She explained through a frown that if I couldn't quickly get back to heaving around 50-pound canvas bags of books, some sweet 60-year-old librarian might have to step in. And that wouldn't be good for anyone, would it?

Not to worry, I told her, I had already made an urgent appointment to have my inconvenient hernia inspected and to determine next steps.

Days later, with my pants around my ankles, a kind nurse explained — with just the slightest smirk – that the red bump on my groin was not a bulging hunk of herniated intestine, but rather an ingrown hair. Fairly common. It would probably go away on its own.

RELATED: My friend asked me to shave his b*lls

It did. And I spent the next week shopping around lies as to why I was suddenly fine and schlepping around books like it was no big deal and let's all just forget what I said, OK?

Awful.

My father got a vasectomy in the mid-'80s, which I can only assume was done in a smoke-filled room with a cocaine-dusted razor blade.

I tell you this because up until the day of my vasectomy, it was the most traumatic experience I'd had surrounding that general area of my body. (We're going to go ahead and strike my teens from the record here.)

Then V-Day came and kicked things up several notches.

If you're contemplating a vasectomy, we should stop here and note that it's a perfectly normal and reasonable thing to do. The American Urological Association estimates that as many as 500,000 men in the U.S. get vasectomies each year. And I would bet that not one of them complains about every minor inconvenience as much as I do.

Which is to say, don't let me — a stranger who has fainted twice while donating blood — sway you from getting the ol' snip.

My father got a vasectomy in the mid-'80s, which I can only assume was done in a smoke-filled room with a cocaine-dusted razor blade. When I asked him what to expect he made it seem as routine and boring as a dentist appointment. "It was just me and the doctor," he said. "Took a half-hour."

It was a whole different situation for me, I told him after my procedure.

For starters, while my vasectomy was indeed performed by a lone doctor, there were also nearly half-a-dozen supporting characters in the room — nurses and techs, I assume, though I never actually thought to ask. Which is funny, because within 30 seconds of entering the aforementioned room, I was on my back with my (formerly) private bits on display.

I said something weird to address my vulnerable position. The doctor said, "Yeah, sorry, this procedure leaves little room for modesty" as he smeared ice-cold Chlorhexidine on my scrotum. I felt the urge to say more but, for maybe the first time in my life, didn't. Having your genitals splayed out for a roomful of strangers will make you do crazy things.

Next, one of the other medical personnel piled a heavy blanket on my torso. This sent an immediate signal to my brain that WE WERE TRAPPED. She asked if I'd like another blanket and I said, "No thank you" as I quietly sank into a panic attack.

Having your genitals splayed out for a roomful of strangers will make you do crazy things.

I didn't tell anyone the panic attack was happening, of course, but they got the picture once I started tugging on the heavy blanket and spouting nonsense about how hot it was getting in the 60-degree operating room. "Calm down, baby," someone said as they put a bit of cotton soaked with rubbing alcohol under my nose.

The doctor continued his work, asking coolly what kind of music I like. "Jazz," I answered, but my tongue was numb from the panic attack so it sounded like "jath."

"Oh, excellent," he said. "I know just what you'll like." Then he requested an artist I'd never heard of but can only assume is the Vanilla Ice of jazz. After about a minute, he asked what I thought and I answered him with a question of my own: "Can we lithen to something elth?"

I suggested some Dave Brubeck or Miles Davis. Even amidst the panic attack — which was showing signs of subsiding, perhaps thanks to the awful smooth jazz? — I wondered if folks in the room thought I was just trying to sound cool.

"You've got to slow your breathing," someone said. "Why don't you try and breathe along with the next song?" On cue, the fastest, most unpredictable Miles Davis live cut began to play. It sounded like a cat scampering on a slippery counter. I wanted to laugh but then I suddenly felt the dull sensation of my sperm duct leaving my body. It was like a piece of floss gliding out from between my teeth.

"Ohhh man," I said woozily. More alcohol-soaked cotton balls were stacked on my upper lip. A wet cloth was laid on my forehead. Recognizing me as a nerd in his late 30s, the doctor began to summarize an article he read about the psychology of Batman. It all worked in concert to keep me conscious as my brain cycled through images of blood bags and stained red sheets.

Around 30 minutes in, my body seemed to accept its fate. My heart slowed to a normal-ish pace and I was able to regulate my breathing. My doctor, chuckling as he applied two regular band-aids — yes, that's ALL — said, "OK, that was just a practice run. We're going to do it for real this time." A nurse (or tech) told him, "You stop it." I laughed, probably too hard, out of sheer relief.

The doctor left and, after a few moments of peace, someone helped me into a pair of medical-grade support wear — that is, a jockstrap. I was then wheeled to a different room and asked to sign some documents indicating that I knew there was a slight chance I might not actually be sterile. "Sometimes the procedure doesn't work," the post-op nurse said. "But if that happens, it's super easy to just go in and do the procedure again."

My eyelid twitched as I nodded and smiled, attempting to convey the human emotion of being in full agreement with something horrible you just heard. I was given a cranberry juice for the road.

An hour later, I settled onto the couch with a bag of frozen butternut squash in my pants.

We were out of peas.

Read more stories about fertility: 

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