The Big V


The beach at Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Photo: BBM Explorer

I had my vasectomy on January 19, 2012, the date memorialized with the iCal notation "Vascect [sic] no lunch 34th st." At this writing the objects in question are still apparently live, pumping out spermatozoa like a dying pulsar that will soon dwindle into white noise. It takes a certain number of ejaculations to completely clear the pipes, as it were, and by try number twelve I'll be as barren as the surface of binary moons rising over an alien landscape.

Stepping back from the hyperbolic, let's explore my reasons for this course of action and why, at 36, I decided it was time to stop all this baby nonsense, at least from my side. My wife and I have two kids, six and three, and for a number of years we thought we were through. A surprising (but definitely not unwanted, if he's reading this later) third appeared this summer and we decided that 98% effectiveness was less enticing than 100% effectiveness. Rather than risk an invasive surgery for her, we (or I? I like to think we) decided it would be nice for me to have a bit of outpatient work done, go home, wash down a Tylenol with some bourbon(s), and let the old boys rest.

I went into this whole thing without thinking about it. I had friends who had already had it done and few told any truly terrible tales. One friend said his doctor recommended putting a cold six pack between his legs the first day and finishing it off before they (the beers) warmed. Another mentioned getting Valium, so I was pretty much sold at that point.

I headed over to "no lunch 34th st" at about 1pm and came upon one of those strange, close doctor's offices at the heart of Manhattan, an office that you least expect to be on the first floor of a high-rise and that is big enough to seat maybe fifty souls. This is a urology practice and there are a lot of old men here - myself, I fear, included. This is the heath and we are all Lears, raging (silently) against the coming ruin. Gents, your loins are the first to go, this room seems to say, so let's get this thing over with. Pee into this cup.

Before you can get the big V there's a waiting period, like waiting for a gun before the days of the Computerized Background Check. You need to think on it for a month before they snip, and you have to sign a page of legalese when you first ask for the procedure and then the same page a month later, admitting that you've gone into this course of action with full recognizance and that you haven't just decided to have someone cut into your testicles on a whim. The nurses at this practice were mostly surly-looking but once they realize you're here for the snip they're much more personable, smiling, kindly leading you to one room and then another. Perhaps I was the first patient that day they didn't have to request urine from, a respite I definitely would appreciate and I'm sure they appreciated more. Or maybe they knew my fate and inwardly smiled at what awaited me, full of schadenfreude. I won't ascribe to them this malice but, as I understand it, there are very few things going on down there for a guy and many more painful medical invasions for women. This is the Halley's Comet of medical experiences for dudes - a bold and once-in-a-lifetime incursion from the outside with a blazing tail of pain and discomfort.

Zoom. They were ready for me.

Strip from the waist down, put this around you. Here's some iodine. Here comes the anesthesiologist. "We don't need to snow you under," she says. "It's just a little valium." We start to talk about Find My iPhone vs. Friend Finder as she finds a vein. She's confused. "What's the difference? My friend uses Find My iPhone to find her son. Is that the same?" she asks. She plugs in. The valium comes in like a fog bank, warm and floaty. "My friend wants to see where her daughter is."

"Try Find My iPhone," I mutter, still awake, not snowed under.

The doctor comes in and checks things out. Two pinpricks down there to administer the topical anesthetic and I'm numb both top and bottom. "Here we go," says the doctor, like we're about to rev up the motor of his cigarette boat and go scudding over the waves. We're not.

There is no pain, just a few moments of jiggling down there and a few moments of "Whoa." A little bit of sewing and I'm given some time to sit off the Valium. Then it's home on the subway.

And then my troubles began. What they they don't tell you about this whole thing is that the invasion is initially uncomfortable and then excruciating. First there's bruising. Then there's swelling. Then there's drinking. Then there's lack of sleep because of the swelling. I had scheduled a trip with the family to the Dominican Republic for the week after my operation and I found that walking through an airport with bags and kids aggravated the boys quite handily and I tried to sit still a lot, the pain throbbing gently like a disco beat in my loins.

Over the next few days I lay by the pool, voided the efficacy my antibiotics by drinking Mai Tais, and waited for this all to end. It's akin to starting things anew down there, something like discovering puberty. For years you're humming along, doing good work, and suddenly something happens. It's unnerving and it kept me from using the equipment out of fear of breakage.

I remember an afternoon on the hotel balcony, a train of humans dressed in vacation wear walking by below, the Mai Tai dying in my hand, that I realized what I had done. I used to laugh at people who had kids, saying in a robot voice "Your biological imperative is complete. You can die now." I was a jerk, sure, but what I didn't realize was that this was the end game. To not be able to transmit is the organism's nadir. In nature you can't transmit because your feathers are too ugly or you caught your eye on a tree-limb and you no female baboon would take you. But I did this to myself. It was a voluntary going into that good night. To be fair, I still have plenty of time to enjoy myself during that good night, before I shuffle off this mortal coil and truly stop transmitting altogether and, to be doubly fair, I already have three kids who will carry me to the stars and beyond, but damn if it isn't a discomfiting feeling to know this is the end of the line.

So that's it. That's the big reveal: vasectomy makes blogger think about life. The process also polarizes things. It closes off a number of avenues of dreamy-eyed reproduction while opening new vistas of exciting potential health complications. It makes you realize that you are at the end of your life cycle, your old role is rapidly aging, and that you're basically here as a bag of meat until you're not.

But it's not all depression and gloom.

But it also tells you that you've made it, you've done what you needed to do, and as I watched my kids run on that Puerto Plata beach, their eyes and hands and voices in so many ways wedded to my own, I figured I'd made my peace with whatever it was that made them and that I was ready for them to run in front of me, their faces buffeted by the spray, their hair reflecting the mid-day sun the way it did when I was a kid, a long time ago, before all of this.

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