WINCING MATILDA 1: THE VASECTOMY EPIC
So here I was, a man who for 37 years had successfully avoided using the words "testicle" and "scalpel" in the same sentence, prostrate in a room full of complete strangers who’d all successfully combined both in the same sentence and same career and generally on a several times daily basis. Unlike me, they had combined those words of their own free will rather than at the suggestion of their partner (the alternative being the immediate suspension of all nookie until after her menopause).
My mind was telling me to make a sharp exit before the aforesaid scalpels came into close proximity of the aforesaid testicles. However, I couldn’t follow my instincts because I was lying flat on my back with my genitals poking through a hole in a green sheet. In such a position, a quick exit is not possible, as I already knew from my one and only (and categorically never to be discussed) excursion into sexual role-playing games. It felt as if several of the people present were prodding and squeezing my dangly bits simultaneously. I couldn’t be absolutely sure that it was a mass-grope because a vertical stretch of green sheet blocked my view, purportedly for my "dignity" but more likely to disguise the identity of the people currently mauling my knackers. Let's face it, when you're lying flat on your back with only your head and your bollocks exposed, you don't much any dignity left - and if you did, a flimsy green sheet iss not exactly going to preserve it.
A nurse peered over the green blockade and asked if I was allergic to alcohol. The fact that I am not allergic to alcohol is evidenced by my original intention of getting well and truly plastered before getting into the snip-clinic (a plan thwarted by the instruction sheet mailed to me with my appointment card). Aaah, not that sort of alcohol. The sort they rub on your skin before stabbing you with a 3 foot long ninja syringe. Not being in the habit of spilling my drink in my lap or dangling my crown jewels in my beer, I had no idea whether my knackers were allergic to alcohol. Certainly after excessive alcoholic drink nothing in that region seemed to perform properly but I was under the impression that it was due to a condition termed "brewer's droop" rather than an allergy. The nurse slapped an alcohol-soaked swab on my scrotum and a sudden cold feeling from that region matched the cold, apprehensive feeling in the pit of my stomach.
This was turning out to be very different from how I’d imagined a vasectomy would be. Colleagues who had apparently had "the snip" (and at that point I was beginning to think they were pulling my leg), had told me it would be quick, convenient and pretty much painless with maybe a mild ache which a couple of aspirin would sort out. I now know they were confusing "vasectomy" with "vindaloo" or "velocity" or some other v-word which did not end in "-asectomy". If so, they had obviously been eating some particularly vicious vindaloos (and having eaten phaals which were like hot coals, I speak from a position of expertise in such matters). Or most likely they simply had me figured for the wimp I am and had been lying. Especially about the "no after effects" bit. And come to think of it, most of them were women who had told me that their husbands hadn't suffered any ill-effects, but who hadn't actually put me in contact with their men-folk. Yeah, right. Let's face it, vasectomy is not painful - if you're a woman and it's not you lying underneath a green sheet with your knackers exposed and a surgeon sharpening up a set of butcher's knives in front of your eyes.
I’d imagined it to be a case of nipping into my friendly local family planning clinic where a friendly (and attractive) nurse would distract me with conversation and a too-tight blouse, make a couple of quick incisions with the sharp end of a metal nail file, give me a cup of tea and a biscuit and send me on my way. I was obviously getting "vasectomy" confused with "blood donation service" (where the too-tight blouse is to raise your blood pressure). I hadn’t expected an operating theatre with lights, cardiovascular monitoring equipment and more support staff than you see at a crucial tyre change pit stop in Formula 1 motor racing (and once again I speak from a position of authority having been to Brands Hatch on, ooh, at least 2 occasions - and there was actual Formula 1 racing on one of those occasions).
Having my private bits examined with the aid of 2,000-watt halogen spotlights is unnerving enough in itself (especially as it was akin to my one and only experience of role-playing sexual games, although the operating theatre was employing fewer forms of restraint). I expected the surgeon to adopt a dodgy European accent and say to my John Thomas "Ve haf vays ov making you talk." Worse, I expected that particular organ to stand embarrassingly to attention. Luckily fear kept it shrivelled and decent. I had a particularly vivid flashback to the army nurse who had grabbed my balls, said "cough!" and received a dishonourable discharge. I actually felt like a car must feel during an exhaust system transplant.
Suddenly the bondage bedroom game seemed a mere trifle compared to the increasingly close proximity of the 3 foot ninja syringe needle, the samurai scalpel and an alarming sharp razor (What shall we do with a drunken sailor? … Shave his belly with a rusty razor! …) . "Just a quick shave," said the surgeon. I closed my eyes and prayed he was using something with a swivel head and a moisturising strip and not a macho open-blade cut-throat razor just to show off his prowess to admiring nurses.
Now, shaving a scrotum is much like shaving a balloon that has slightly deflated. That is one which has lost its tautness and become just a tad saggy. At the thought of a razor anywhere near my nearest-and-dearests, my scrotum deflated into an approximation of a balloon which is still hanging about several days after the party has ended. There's another problem with a shaved scrotum - while manhandling your crown jewels in the face of a razor you risk a few nicks. A few nicks? Last time I attempted to shave my "bikini line" (at the urging of a former girlfriend) I almost died from blood loss! Not only that, but when attempting to peel off my underwear, I discovered that freshly formed scabs stick to cotton and had to go through the whole bleeding to death routine a second time.
Next came the anaesthetic. "Just a minor puncture," said the anaesthetist. I was extremely grateful for these words because I knew how tempting it must have been to say "just a little prick" and render a prone male totally inadequate. A blissful numbness crept over the scrutinised and spotlighted region, but it didn't creep far enough for my liking. For example, my over-imaginative brain remained unaffected - in fact it went hyper and imprinted the whole darn experience on my long-term memory. This meant I heard the scalpel slice through my flesh with a sound much like slicing raw meat, and let's face it - that's exactly what it was. At that pivotal point in my life, I realised that "local anaesthetic" actually meant "anaesthetic that affects only a localised area" and not "anaesthetic made in Britain" and that my dentist had actually been trying to make a joke every time he'd turned half my face into an inert lump with something allegedly made "just round the corner - that's why we call it a local." I'd imagined "local anaesthetic" to be something you did to yourself in the local pub after too many Crouch Vale Willie Warmers.
It seemed that this hospital's local also served bar meals, or at least had a beer garden barbecue because I suddenly smelled cooking meat. An inappropriate image of fried sausages entered my mind. Maybe hospital food wasn't as bad as it was made out to be. I was pleasantly surprised that instead of the expected post-operative tea and sarnies, I’d be having grilled bacon.
"I'm just cauterising the tube," said the nurse. "Must be odd smelling your own flesh burning".
"I always find it makes me hungry," mumbled the surgeon watching her pyrography, "Hmmm. I must pick up some Danepak streaky on the way home."
I decided to give the post-op refreshments a miss and maybe skip pork products for a few days too. The surgeon's comments uncomfortably reminded me of all those names cannibals used for human flesh: long pig, two-legged pork … ham-actor?
"Just stitching you up," said the surgeon reassuringly. I was please to be hearing this from a surgeon, not a lawyer
Phew, it was over. Except it wasn't. Apparently that was just the first side being done and char-grilled. Oh well, if the other side was as quick, convenient and painless it would be a snap. Or a snip.
Unfortunately, humans are not symmetrical. Da Vinci's drawing of the dimensions of a man is astonishingly accurate - one dangly bit actually dangles a bit more than the other. And due to its slightly longer drop, there was "a slight technical problem". The reason that surgeons talk in Latin is so that patients don't understand them and get unduly alarmed. When I went to school, double Latin was compulsory on Wednesday mornings with a sadistic follow-up of single-Latin on Friday afternoon. I was able to conjugate verbs with the best of them. Apparently the testicle had performed a double somersault with half-pike sometime during my life. It hadn't inconvenienced me but it was now inconveniencing the surgeon. I would never even have known about this anatomical quirk if it hadn't been for the snip.
The tube, once it was untangled, got wind that something was in the offing. Despite not being in sensory contact due to the wonders of modern anaesthesia, my lucid brain somehow communicated to my numb ball that not only cutting but burning was imminent. In response, the terrified testicle took refuge somewhere extremely hard to find in pretty much the same way that Sumo wrestlers have the knack of retracting their knackers into their abdominal cavities. Either my testicles had had a suspicion that my beer-belly was actually preparatory work for Sumo wrestling, or I'm deformed. Or maybe I'd landed on one two many concrete bollards during leapfrog games as a kid (at that moment, it struck me as funny that "bollard" and "bollock" look and sound similar).
I mentally drafted a letter to the probably not-so-local manufacturers of local anaesthetic. "Despite the fear factor involved at the sight of a 3 foot ninja syringe (something which is probably not under your control anyway, but is a sadistic streak on the part of the surgeon), your product is superbly effective with blade and heat-related pain. However, it is less effective with the other sort of pain, the sort of pain that comes from having my testicle squeezed very hard and pulled unwilling from my abdominal cavity while being rotated by what feels like 720 degrees. More work is needed to address this shortcoming. Urgently. Please. Before I start screaming as a prelude to passing out."
The nurses noticed my distress, "Anaesthetic wearing a bit thin?" one asked me in her best "More tea, vicar?" voice.
I nodded. This time the 3 foot syringe looked a lot smaller, perhaps becomes it was a lot more welcome. It deadened the worst of the pain, but it still felt as if the surgeon was trying to force a set of three juggling balls into my groin. Whatever he was doing, it made an alarming scrunching noise. Sometime soon he was going to hold something blood-stained triumphantly aloft and cry out "It's a boy!"
Two nurses swabbed my forehead, I was starting to sweat in panic, and valiantly tried to distract me. They told me their views about Tony Blair' policies on the Single European Currency. Apparently none of the current ruling political party should be allowed to breed. It seemed that they wanted the entire Cabinet to have a vasectomy with minimal anaesthetic. The Health Minister's anaesthetic would be done using two bricks - probably something to do with nurses' salaries still hovering around the poverty line.
"Wouldn't that be rather painful?" I asked as the surgeon muttered that he'd got it (whatever "it" was, and frankly at that point I dreaded to think).
"Only if you get your thumbs caught between the bricks," one of the nurses said.
Despite my predicament I laughed.
"Please try to keep still, Mr Davies," grumbled the surgeon.
The nurses told me that for normal people with normal tubes and whose testes did not perform complicated gymnastic manoeuvres inside the scrotum, a vasectomy is faster and simpler. Then he went off for his eggs and bacon leaving me in the knowledge that I wouldn't be fertilizing any more eggs while the nurses covered me up and wheeled me into recovery until my feeling returned to my groinal region.
"Couldn't I go now?" I whined.
"You know how you can bite your tongue after a dental extraction because the anaesthetic hasn't worn off?" asked the recovery room nurse as she handed me a cup of tea (god help me if I can't feel my penis by the time I need to pee).
She didn't bother to tell me how much damage I could accidentally do to my numb balls. Sometimes your own imagination fills in the gaps far better than any medical lecture. When feeling did return, a doctor came round to tell me about post-operative care. Apparently there were still fertile sperm in my tubes since a bunch of the little buggers always manage a quick escape and end up on the wrong side of the sliced and scorched section. Or in the sperm's point of view, the right side. He recommended I express these manually - two or three goes should do the trick. After that my John Thomas would have to wear a little rubber raincoat (yes, some doctors really do talk like that - either they think patients are witless children or they are trying to be humorous; if the latter it doesn't work) until I provided a sperm sample for the motility test and got the "all clear" back from the lab to confirm that I was no longer playing with live ammunition.
My wife came to pick me. I told her about needing to express the next several "loads", but told her that the surgeon had recommend "suction". I saw it as my licence to get a few blow-jobs.
"Either that or I have to get a nurse to do it," I said, hoping to blackmail her into it.
She looked dubious, no doubt because she knew the NHS don't provide that sort of service and we didn't have the money to go private, and finally said "I think I've still got the breast pump somewhere." So I gave up.
"How soon can you have sex again?" she asked in a voice which was not quite hopeful enough, unless you count hoping that the answer will be "twelve months' time and no more than once a month." (two kids under five years old sometimes have this effect on a woman).
The moment I got home and sat down, our three year old landed on my lap and threw her arms around me. Until that point, I'd had no idea that humans were capable of vertical take-off or that our living room ceiling was so badly in need of painting. Child's bony knee masking sudden forceful contact with post-vasectomy scrotum is not something any of my snipped colleagues had warned me about. From then on, I kept a large atlas of the world on my lap in case my daughter decided to jump on me again.
The next morning I woke up with an unfamiliar ache in my nether regions and cautiously lifted the quilt to see if I had bled to death overnight. My testicles had swollen to the size of table-tennis balls. I was under the impression that some swelling was normal, however should they actually be that colour? Wifey, who had given birth to two kids - a trick not too dissimilar to squeezing a watermelon through a drinking straw - ran me a warm bath of a carefully calculated depth and I spent the entire morning in there with my sore bits floating gently and running up an overdraft on the mobile phone. Breakfast was served on the soap rack and I managed to read most of a Terry Pratchett novel before an insistent throbbing drew my attention to the two lawn-tennis balls attached to my groin.
"Get me the doctor's number!" I yelled.
"It's on quick-dial!" she yelled back, "And I can't - I'm feeding the baby."
After quick-dialling two wrong numbers (one involving a long conversation of small-talk and "the operation went fine" fibs with my parents since I didn't want to admit to the call being a wrong number) the surgery nurse confirmed that black is not a normal colour for a post-vasectomy scrotum. Or rather she said "How quick can you get to the hospital? I'll tell A&E you're coming." If my testicular region continued to swell like this, I wouldn't be coming for a very long time.
Despite the folded towel in the crotch of my jog-pants, I felt every single bump as my wife drove me into A&E.
"Can you change gear more smoothly," I said through gritted teeth. She gave me an evil sideways glance and drove bone-jarringly over a pot-hole so I shut up.
"This is actually very unusual, Mr Davies. It's very rare we see haemorrhaging like that," and the A&E consultant looked at my notes on the computer screen, "But I see that one of the little buggers didn't want to play ball … if you'll pardon the expression … phnaar, phnaar."
After injecting my scrotum with some magical miracle drug and prescribing a course of anti-inflammatory drugs (for obvious reasons) and antibiotics ("just in case anything nasty has managed to creep in there") I was allowed to nurse my swollen knackers all the way home. Whatever the drug was, it certainly did something since my family jewels were no longer purplish. However they were no longer lawn-tennis balls either - they were heading towards grapefruit and appeared to be on the fast-track to watermelons. Wearing underpants or trousers was out of the question. I wondered where builders bought their trousers - the ones where the crotch is positioned somewhere around the knees.
Once again, I have been informed that I got off pretty lightly. I could have had a "mild infection" which not only turned my scrotum into a Space Hopper, but which left me weakened and wide open to a viral infection such as a cold. Colds often bring coughs which are remarkably reluctant to go away. How many times has a doctor grabbed your danglies and asked you to cough, presumably to see whether they are firmly attached? When your scrotum is swollen and sore, the last thing you want is a cough. That irritating tickly throat sends the recently vasectomised male grovelling to his doctor for the sort of cough suppressants that come only on prescription. Like morphine for example. Or as a last resort, removal of the cough by decapitation. But I digress ....>
"I'll call the mail-order catalogue and order you a looser pair of jog-pants," said wifey, but only because she had an eye on a few other articles in the mail order catalogue and it was as good an excuse as any to exercise the credit card.
Meanwhile I sought relief in a pair of crotchless underpants (a mere half hour of wrestling with almost blunt kitchen scissors) and a bathrobe, since at least if the robe flapped open I looked halfway decent if the observer averted his or her eyes quickly enough. Wifey was negotiating express delivery of the jog pants.
"How soon can you deliver them? Aaah ... no chance of anything sooner?" (hand over mouthpiece: it'll be a surcharge darling, is that okay? I don't care, I said through gritted teeth as the three year old ground her knee into my groin.) "Well my husband has just had a vasectomy and he wants them nice and loose ... that's great ... really? I'll let him know."
Transaction completed, credit card depleted and all my testicular details revealed into the bargain, wifey informed me that the express delivery was purely due to my medical circumstances. Goodness knows what medical emergency dictated that her frock and shoes also be included in the express delivery at a hefty surcharge per item.
"The lady I spoke to said that her supervisor's husband has recently had the snip and he recommended putting a sanitary towel in your underpants to cushion your balls. It has to be one of the thicker towels for heavy days, not the panty-liner sort. I think I've still got a couple of ultra-thick maternity pads in the drawer upstairs," she informed me.
"Oh no, not the ones you call saddles?" I gasped, trying to insinuate the atlas between the three year old's knee and my family jewels.
"Well who's going to notice?"
"They made you walk like some bow-legged cowboy who's just got off his horse for the first time in a week."
Wifey rolled her eyes at me, "You already are walking like you're saddle sore, so who's going to notice the difference? And shouldn't you phone into the office to let them know you're taking a few days off sick?"
To my relief, the low-crotched jog pants arrived the following morning. So did my mother. While I nursed what felt like a pair of watermelons on my lap, wifey and mother sat and discussed the astounding size and colour of certain extremities. The only consolation was the fact that the three year old decided to sit on gran's lap.
"I don't know why you're blushing," my mother said, "It's not as if I haven't already seen everything."
"But not that recently ..." I protested, realising too late that one should never argue with one's mother as, to her, you will always be a snotty-nosed five year old with grazed knees.
"Oh I don't know, you remember when I stayed to look after this 'un when the baby was born. You went out into the garden in your bath-robe to chuck some crumbs out for the birds and the back of your bathrobe flapped up in the breeze," mum said pitilessly.
My wife was laughing so hard that the baby lost a grip of the nipple, "Don't," she whimpered, "I never told him about that."
"Oh" said mum, hurriedly drinking her tea while the temperature of my face suggested it was about to spontaneously combust in embarrassment.
I am pleased to report that over the next few days, the swelling subsided leaving my testicles only slightly inflamed rather than grossly inflamed. Expressing any rogue sperm, through whatever method, had also been out of the question up until that point. Limping only slightly I was declared fit enough to return to work.
There is, of course, the choice of underwear. Some of us need a loose hanging crotch to accommodate the tender bits. Others of us are instructed to wear supportive pants because they have a longer dangle which puts a strain on their supposedly dissolving stitches. Which, incidentally, don't dissolve and end up being picked out by wifey with eyebrow tweezers. "That's not a stitch - that's a pube! Ouch! " Substitute the strongest expletive in your vocabulary for that ouch. And while those snug-fitting pants support the tender scrotum, your stitches and your freshly growing pubes attach to the fabric like velcro. It's like walking around with your pants stuffed with brambles. And so I limped and winced my way around and suffered my colleagues' "are you sitting comfortably" jokes.
Not merely content to remind me of my unfortunate state at every conceivable - oh sorry, should that be in-conceivable? - opportunity, my colleagues of course had no mercy on me. One of them had gone so far as to write a song in my honour. I was greeted at my desk by a delegation of unsympathetic colleagues (mostly of the female persuasion) and a rousing chorus of "Wincing Matilda". Not to mention all the other little quips that their fertile - oh sorry do we mean in-fertile? - minds could come up with. Thanks a bunch girls, I'm planning to get my revenge with an old dusty pile of politically incorrect "time of the month" jokes.
A couple of weeks later I failed my test and still had some of the fertile little buggers slipping through. I was instructed to "flush my system" twice daily for two weeks. An open licence to fiddle with yourself without wifey complaining sounds great, but it's no fun being ordered to play with yourself twice daily at a time when your scrotum is stillso tender to the touch that it has declared a five inch exclusion zone. In addition, this was probably the only time in my married life that wifey offered to help out using the oral suction method (an option which is apparently only available before the wedding and possibly during the honeymoon) - and I was too sore to take her up on this never-to-be-repeated offer!