A few days after my vasectomy, a smart, well-educated, professional middle-aged woman asked me if a vasectomy is the same as what they do to dogs when they get "fixed".
"What do they do to dogs?" I asked.
She performed a sweeping motion that looked like the removal of testicles. I asked her if that was, in fact, what was she was indicating. She said yes. Looking at her face for a good few seconds, I could see she wasn't joking.
I told her condescendingly that, no, that was not what happened. Then again, it wasn't like I knew so much. I hadn't thought to ask what would be happening with my penis during the operation and I would have been stunned to hear that a doctor would hold it out of the way, very gently — too gently, really — folding it against my lower abdomen.
Furthermore, although I had learned that the incision would take place at the front of the scrotum, I couldn't have said with absolute certainty what the scrotum was, let alone which part was its front.
There were other things I couldn't have said for sure, either. For instance, can you still ejaculate afterwards? So let's not pretend any of us really know what a vasectomy is.
Vasectomies don't always work: about one in 300 fail early and about one in 5000 fail eventually, but they're about 200 times more effective than the pill and that's a level of security that I crave at this often-desperate stage of my life.
My wife and I had first seriously discussed the necessity of this procedure a year and a half ago, soon after she unexpectedly became pregnant with our third child. "I just cannot be pregnant again," she had said.
I couldn't have handled it either. It wouldn't be right for me to say her pregnancies have been harder for me than for her. No, it wouldn't be right.
I put it off and put it off, for no good reason really. I discussed it with several men friends. One, who was also planning one, knew more about it than I did and he seemed to believe there were only two options: The Vasman and City Med. He was leaning toward City Med for the reason, I assume, that it sounded less like a character from a horror movie.
I was more influenced by price. City Med charged $550 and The Vasman $480, but after some light googling I found a place in Henderson knocking them out for $425. They never replied to my email, so I went back to my previous diet of procrastination and occasional nagging from my wife. It was early December when I suddenly panicked and decided, for no good reason, that I had to have it done before Christmas.
I discovered a place called Snip, a great name implying that the process is clean, easy, quick — like a haircut in your genitals. Snip didn't have any places available until mid-January but, again, they were charging $425. I signed up on the spot.
I had a phone call with a nurse ahead of the operation, during which she told me some things about the operation and asked if I had any questions. There were some functional things ("Could I drive myself home?" "Can I lift my children afterwards?") but the questions I really wanted to ask, about ejaculation and scrotums, just wouldn't come out of my mouth.
The clinic was part of a shared quasi-medical complex on Remuera Rd and the waiting room was upstairs with some very nice sofas and an enormous light fitting that seemed to represent fertility in some ineffable way.
There were two other men waiting, and both had their wives/partners with them. I did not. I got out my phone and tried to continue my reading of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle (Book One), but I couldn't focus. I picked up a magazine but that was no good either — I was too aware of everything around me: the gentle conversation of the loving couples enjoying their last moments of fully functioning genitalia, the strangely sexual light fitting, and the smooth jazz stylings of the quiet saxophone/clarinet cover of The Cars' classic, Drive, the last song I would hear before I had whatever a vasectomy was.
"Everybody else came with a wife," I texted my wife.
"Sorry," she wrote back.
When I walked into the surgery room, the doctor apologised for the smell. I took a deep sniff and realised he was talking about the odour of burnt male genitalia, presumably resulting from the use of the hyfrecator, the device he used to open a tiny hole in the scrotum to access and subsequently seal the vas deferens, the tubes that usually carry sperm to the penis. I wasn't afraid, though I was a little appalled.
I took my jeans off and was starting to pull my underpants over my feet when the doctor interjected, "Not all the way off." I was deeply embarrassed. Where did I think I was? An orgy? I apologised and pulled them self-consciously back up to my knees, where I was very aware of them throughout the operation.
The doctor was younger than me, which I found shocking, even though I'm 41. I liked him straight away and as he chatted away, I thought we could easily be friends. We could be hanging out at a barbecue in his backyard, my penis no longer in his hand. Would it be weird? Would people ask how we met? What would be cooking on the barbecue?
"Can you feel anything?" the doc asked, prodding away at my scrotum or surrounds. I couldn't focus on what was happening. All I could hear was a loud internal voice yelling at me: "He's holding your penis he's holding your penis he's holding your penis!" I couldn't access any other stimuli.
We talked about a series of things I struggled to focus on: My job, The Bachelor season one, the pleasantness of the room and building we were in.
He held my penis and opened a small hole at the front or top or bottom of my scrotum. I was vaguely aware of some prodding. Eventually, I could smell my burning flesh. Then it was done. It was so fast and easy and weird.
As I was leaving for work that morning, my wife had asked me how I was feeling. I shrugged, I think, and gave some non-committal response.
"I think this is affecting me more than you," she said.
"Why is it affecting you?" I asked.
"Because it means this phase of our life is over."
"True," I said, "And we just march on, ever closer to death."
She was silent for a second or two, then she said "Sure, but you don't have to put it like that."
I had hardly thought about the existential questions surrounding the operation. I had been too consumed by the thought of a doctor looking at, then touching, my penis.
As instructed, I had bought an ice pack. Returning to my car, I found a thick PVC bag of jumper leads on the floor and jammed that under the ice pack to achieve the correct elevation. Because I still wasn't entirely sure where the front of my scrotum was, I bent the ice pack up to cover the entire region.
I had received only one message of support ahead of my vasectomy — a text from my mother-in-law.
I was touched by that. But when I got home, walking slowly, legs wide apart, my wife told me that her mother had also sent her a text. She read it to me: "As long as he realises any discomfort could not match yours when you're pregnant haha." I didn't laugh.
I sat on the couch with the ice pack in place and tried to avoid doing anything, as I had been ordered. I believe my wife may have made a quasi-attempt to be sympathetic but she was trying to make dinner while being interrupted constantly by the screaming of at least one of our three children.
At one stage, she went out to get the washing and left me with our crying 10-month-old. I had been told to not do any exercise or to lift anything heavier than 5kg for a week, but there I was, an hour or so after my vasectomy, having to lift Casper, who is easily double that.
When my wife came in and saw me holding him, she didn't comment.
"I had to pick Casper up, even though I've just had major surgery," I told her.
"Minor surgery," she said, even though she hadn't been there.