Today I had a vasectomy. I realise that this is relatively unusual for a man of only 36 with no children. But I have absolutely no doubt, and nor does my partner, that we do not want to have children, so I regard the risk of wanting to reverse it as, effectively, zero.
My partner is taking the contraceptive pill. Long term use of the pill increases the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer by around 50%, which is a significantly increased risk. Taking large doses of hormone every day simply cannot be good for you. Vasectomy, by contrast, is a relatively easy procedure, with few risks of long term health complications.
If you consider the long term health risks faced by me and my partner together, therefore, it is much more sensible for me to have a vasectomy than for her to continue to take the pill each day.
In addition to the reduced health risk for the couple considered together, vasectomy has a much lower risk of contraceptive failure (ie pregnancy); and it removes the hassle of getting the pill and taking it.
I know that there are some men who think that having a vasectomy will somehow make them "less of a man". This is complete rubbish, of course.
Vasectomies do not change your hormone production (I'll go on producing testosterone) and do nothing except eliminate sperm from your ejaculations.
If you and your partner know that you don't want children, is it "manly" to force her to take pills every day which significantly increase her risk of long term health problems, as well as being inconvenient and somewhat ineffective as a contraceptive, because you are frightened of a simple and safe operation? That doesn't sound very manly, or admirable, to me.
To be honest, my only hesitation about having this operation was the possibility of complications associated with the operation. In other words, I have no hesitation about wanting to become sterile – though that seems such a horrible word – but I do have a worry that the operation will lead to complications that will leave me in permanent pain.
As well as having a robust fear of pain, I would not want to have a condition which, for instance, made it painful or impossible for me to run. One implication of my worry about the long term implications is that I am determined to take it easy so that I heal properly, to reduce the risk of complications. I would much rather have a couple of weeks off running and come back fully fit, than to start back too soon and end up with pain in my balls, or worse.
What was involved?
All my treatment has been through the NHS, which has been marvellous. First I saw my GP, in the middle of 2003, and she referred me to a urologist at Guys Hospital. I was then referred to the Day Surgery Centre at Lewisham Hospital.
The waiting time was about 6 months. We arrived today at 10am (Grethe took the day off work to come with me, which was fantastic.) The ward was quiet and calm, and the staff were excellent.
I had an anaesthetic injection, and then waited 15 minutes before walking into the operating theatre. The operation was conducted under local anaesthetic, with a raised blanket between me and the surgeon so that I could not see what was going on.
I asked the surgeon not to offer me a running commentary on his progress. The operation was totally painless on one side; and almost painless on the other. The nurses and doctor were keeping me chatting (about Tanzania, mountain climbing, running etc) to take my mind off the process.
After the operation, I felt basically fine. For some reason I was pretty exhausted – I am not sure if this was the after-effect of the anaesthetic, or if it was simply the result of my tension and nervousness which I had felt before and during the operation. I certainly felt as if my adrenaline was flowing, and my pulse and blood pressure were both higher than I would have expected normally.
I was discharged at 12 noon, two hours afters after I arrived. I felt well enough for us to walk ten minutes into Lewisham town centre to catch a bus home. I bought some more supportive underwear on the way, at Marks and Spencer; not because I had any discomfort, but because I wanted to make sure that I didn't do anything that was likely to lead to any complications. The nurse who discharged me thought that I needed something a little more supportive than the ones I had brought with me.
I am writing this at 7pm in the evening – about 8 hours after the operation. As I write, I have no pain whatsoever. But I do feel some nausea: a little as if I've been kicked in the balls. The area of the incision is very slightly swollen, but it isn't red and it does not look infected. It looks a bit more like a mild bruise. I have iced the area once on each side, in order to keep the swelling down.
The doctor said I should not run for 2 weeks, which is going to be a struggle for me. Nor should I go to the gym – I need to avoid anything that involves strain. He said I could swim, however, as soon as the wounds are healed – he thought that would mean in about 4 days. He was also comfortable with me flying to India on Thursday (one week after the operation).
So far so good. The way I feel now, and looking at the wounds, I am hopeful that everything has gone smoothly.