“Promise me you won’t let them take me back into hospital,” you said. You had already been twice, two stays of one week each.
“I promise you,” I said.
The next morning, when I drove you to the doctors, I mounted the pavement to get as close as I could to the entrance because I didn’t think you could make the walk.
In the waiting room, people looked away.
“You’ve got to get straight to the hospital,” the Doctor said, shocked.
“No,” you said and you looked at me with those eyes.
I still feel wretched about it, three years down the line. Not as wretched as you, obviously, but fairly wretched.
We seemed to dance into the entire thing, unaware.
“I’m thinking of getting the snip,” you announced.
“Great!” I didn’t think twice. We have four children between us. I had heard it often enough: “If he didn’t want children, then he should have got a vasectomy.”
We didn’t want any more children, so he was getting a vasectomy.
You can’t say we weren’t logical people.
You had an appointment to request the procedure and then a stupid counseling one and I say stupid, because in retrospect it was. It was intent on evaluating our children, our marriage and the possibilities of reversals and not actually addressing the issue: what happens when a vasectomy is ballsed up.
“About 1 in 1,000 men experience pain afterward.” The myths and realities of vasectomy. NY TIMES.COM.
I was breastfeeding the baby the morning you skipped off, gave me a kiss, making your faux-scared face. I remember thinking: Is it worth it? I’ll be menopausal in maybe seven, eight years, but I saw your snip as an act of love, for me, for our relationship. Besides who doesn’t like condom-free sex?
So you went. The Doctor said, “I only do this as like to keep my hand in the surgery side of things…” This sent tremors down your spine, but your pants were already off.
The Doctor cut a capillary and there was a lot of blood.
“There will be more swelling than normal,” the Doctor said.
“Meh,” you shrugged, telling me. “It should be fine.”
This was the beginning of our adventures in bollocks care.
“Following a vasectomy, complications are rare.” NHS choices website.
After two or three days, you were aching, worse than aching. You carried on working, walking to the station like a cowboy on ice. I insisted you saw another Doctor and you picked up your first round of antibiotics. So far, so normal, apparently – yes, an infection. Yes, very, very common.
Despite the drugs, you were still in pain. We tell ourselves, “It will get worse before it gets better.” It gets a lot worse and shows no sign of getting better. Days pass and you can’t sit down, you can’t stand up, you can’t even talk: everything is eclipsed by the world in your trousers.
At A and E, they put you on a drip and argue among themselves. One doctor estimates, “maybe three in ten vasectomies have ‘complications’. The surgeons are keen to get in there. “Resist,” the non -surgeons tell you. “Don’t let them cut you open again. It’s like using a sledgehammer to crack ummm.”
“I won’t,” you say. “I just want to go home.”
Eventually, I am allowed to take you home. The speed bumps are killers.
“Ignore any scare stories that seem to be a favourite joke topic for some men.” Patient.co.uk
Two or three days pass and the pain gets worse again. This time, you’re even more reluctant to go back: you don’t want to be cut open by the scissor-happy surgeons, sniggered at by the nurses. You don’t want to lie there, depressed in air-tight wards with nothing to contemplate but lunch and jokey Finbar Saunders cards.
One night though, the pain is even worse. I offer to call the ambulance, half expecting you not to agree. But the pain is eviscerating and you do. The ambulance man makes sympathetic faces and offers you gas and air. For a crazy moment, I think Jesus, he couldn’t be, could he? You are crawling the walls. I know women who say about men dismissively, “they don’t know how it feels to give birth…” I saw then, that you did have an inkling.
Off you went, my darling, and I stayed home with the children. They were picking up the new language they hear me using on the phone or at the school gate: “What’s wrong with Daddy’s tentacles?” they ask. “What are swollen gonads?”
That second week in hospital is horrendous. You’re on morphine. You can’t sleep. Your neighbours groan all day long. I tout around for babysitters. When I manage to get in to see you, one nurse takes me aside, “Was the vasectomy your idea?”
“No,” I say.
“Thank God for that,” she says.
I think you would have forgiven me, but I don’t think I would have ever forgiven myself.
You come home. You’re ok for a few days and then…the agony begins again.
Once again, we try rationalising it away. Maybe its your pants. The weather. The way you are sitting. But its really bad. You decide to give up on state – you believe that the private system, a private consultant will cure you. We get an appointment for Monday morning. It is Thursday night. It is also Bonfire night and you are determined you aren’t going to go to the hospital with all the drunks and burns.
You develop a fever. You had been reading ‘Suite Francaise’: a World War Two book and you were delirious. Later you told me, you didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. You thought nazis were coming. “Are the babies safe? Look after them,” you kept saying.
I called NHS direct. I told them you refused to come to hospital. I said you were cold but the house was boiling.
“What’s his temperature?”
I had lost the themometer.
“Do not let him wear more layers.”
I go upstairs. Under the blankets, you are wearing a fleece, a jumper and a t.shirt. You are freezing: your teeth are chattering.
“Take that jumper off,” I say.
I called my sister. “Take him in tomorrow.”
“He won’t go.” I say.
“He will when it’s really bad,” she says.
“He’ll be dead when it’s really bad.”
You send me to the chemist for “anything that will stop it hurting.” I tell the pharmacist what’s happening. “You need to go back to the hospital,” she says. I buy some sudacreme. The children call it super cream. I pull back the covers to apply it. One of your testicles has swollen to about six times its size. The skin had to stretch so much to accommodate it, so that it was now cannon-ball black. I did not murmur. I did not flicker. I was an actress playing a nurse.
“It’s awfully…big,” I whispered.
I rushed downstairs to doctor google: I find gangrene and septacema.
I thought you were going to die in the night.
You won’t go to the hospital but you agree to the doctors, and I break my promise, of course I do. You want to go back home first and I am annoyed. I think you are going to resist or you just want to faff around but you say, “Just give me some time…”
So I drive home and an hour later, take you back to the hospital and you say, “Don’t bring in the children.” I leave you walking off to your new home, a stooped bandy legged figure. In three weeks you’ve aged thirty years. My broken hero and I have never loved you so much or been so frightened for you.
It was an abscess. The first nurse yelped, “Oh My God!” when she saw it. So the surgeons did get their moment in the sun – although they made you wait another day first, (a car accident jumped your queue).
We don’t just want you home anymore. We want to rewind back to the moment you skipped off to the Doctor who wanted “to keep his hand in.” We want to do it all over again. We want to not do it.
Over the next six weeks, you lie on the sofa and nurses whirl in and out daily to “pack the wound.” Oh, the indignity. I used to say, “there isn’t a health care worker in the area who hasn’t seen my bits.”
Now you can say, “snap.”
Over the next six months or so, your poor tired testicle gives up the ghost and painfully, dies. And you join that exceptional man in history: Hitler, although yours is not, so far as we know, in the Albert Hall. Your immune system is low, you catch everything going, your back is covered with spots and you contract MRSA. You’re out of balance now, jeans are out the question, you have a lop-sided gait and subsequently develop bad knees.
A friend’s husband goes for his vasectomy and he goes, gulp, to the same doctor. And the same doctor tells them it only goes wrong if people take a bath or ride a horse, or do something ridiculous straight after.
I am furious. You did absolutely nothing wrong.
In that terrible time of hospital visits and pain, I heard of men whose vasectomies had led to long term nightmares, of chronic pain, lost sex drives and other issues. But men are uncomfortable talking about it – it is embarrassing – and I feel uncomfortable even writing this, because we all want men to be more involved in contraception, right? And talking about vasectomy problems doesn’t fit in with the important message that men should take more care of their sexual health.
But it still needs airing.
We are part of a minority, we know that. But no one knows the numbers of people who are affected by post-vasectomy complications. Other friends go ahead and get snipped and it does all go well. We were just terribly unlucky. Half of me, thinks thank god for that, but the other half thinks, not fair, not fair, not fair.