In the last issue of Live Well Magazine, I wrote about vasectomies - how they’re a safe and permanent birth control method, the stigma surrounding the procedure and the reasoning behind my decision to get one.
I promised to write about how my procedure went, but after a few, uh, hiccups, I really didn’t want to relive some of the details.
I still believe a vasectomy is a far better option for couples compared to the more invasive birth control procedure for women. Keep that in mind as I describe what happened.
I will spare most of the unseemly details. There are small wounds and blood involved, but nothing too crazy. Another important note: The negative aspects of my situation are considered UNCOMMON. The vast majority of men who get a vasectomy have far fewer complications and are able to be more active after just a few days. Don’t let some of what happened to me steer you away.
In order to give myself the best chance of a quintessential vasectomy experience, I chose the first Thursday of the NCAA basketball tournament for my procedure. I expected to watch some basketball for a long weekend, then return to my normal routine on Monday.
Well, Monday was terrible.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Nothing went “wrong” in my procedure. Everybody was friendly and did an excellent job of explaining the process and the self-care needed after the big show.
For most people, the biggest pain point of the procedure is the administration of a numbing agent to the scrotum. It’s a needle jabbing into a private area, and of course it hurts, but the pain is temporary. With everything numb down there, the doc can then go about his medical business without the patient feeling the rest of the operation.
Now, at the dentist’s office, numbing medication rarely works for me unless a BUNCH of it is injected into my gums over and over again. Like much more than the normal amount. It’s always been a problem, and I was worried about whether this superhuman tolerance extended to other parts of my body.
Turns out, my ability to reject such medication extends far beyond dental work.
So I felt it. I felt it quite a bit. I’m sure the area was partially numb, otherwise I probably would have been screaming in agony the entire time. The doctor did his best to be prompt, and I winced in pain as I tried talking through it.
I never once looked down, not that I would describe it to you if I did. At one point, the doctor put his tiny instruments down, and I said, “Oh thank God.”
He said, “I still have the other side to do.”
The procedure probably lasted twice as long as usual - not good for a guy feeling the pain. The reason was my anatomy inside “the area.” The layout, the schematics, the whatever you want to call it, made it much more difficult to cut and tie the vas deferens in order to block the sperm.
My doctor had probably 20 years of experience performing vasectomies. When it was over, he called mine one of the “top 10 most difficult he ever performed.”
Again, I’m happy the numbing medication partially worked, because once the procedure finished, the pain down there went from a solid 10+ to a more manageable 3. The doctor warned me to get home and off my feet before the numbing agent completely wore off. Because I was a “Top 10 All-Timer,” he told me to expect more pain and swelling in the area.
The long, icy road to recovery
Sure enough, in a few hours, most of the middle portion of my body was back to being in severe pain - it radiated outside the area much more than I expected. For the first couple days, I could barely handle “What About Bob?” baby steps to the bathroom. It hurt too badly. The only tolerable position was in a recliner with my legs up as high as I could get them.
Ice was my savior. In addition to my wife being off work and home for the entire four-day weekend, I had an excellent ice runner in the form of my six-year-old daughter. She loved emptying the freezer ice into a giant bag and delivering it to me. She started her morning by delivering a bag of ice to my bedside, even when I was still asleep. This actually continued for a couple weeks - much longer than I probably needed ice, but, bless her heart, she was helping.
I stuck with an alternating regimen of acetaminophen and ibuprofen, though I never set a watch to it and probably allowed too much time between doses. I didn’t sleep much the first few nights, but we have an infant at home, so that wasn’t any major difference.
I rested and ached and rested and ached for four days. The pain level stayed the same, and by Sunday night, I started to worry about my Monday schedule. Even as a stay-at-home parent, Mondays include more child car load-ups than usual - four separate instances of loading four kids into a car, including a baby. Simple stuff, but not with this particular injury.
Pain wise, Monday, day five, was the worst in the entire recovery process. Just too much activity too soon after the “Top 10” wreckage that occurred a few days prior. When my wife got home from work, I went to bed and stayed there until the next morning.
I was angry at myself for moving around too much, but I was also angry about how much everything still hurt. Why couldn’t I have the “normal” vasectomy with the one-weekend recovery? Why couldn’t I just deal with the pain better?
What I would come to accept a few weeks later is that “normal” doesn’t mean much with medical stuff. Every person is different, everybody is going to react to surgery and medication in different ways, and you shouldn’t worry so much about trying to be tough. Maybe I’m a wuss, but worrying about being one didn’t speed the recovery. I just needed to rest, take it easy and be smarter about how I moved around.
That meant empowering my kids to do more around the house and to help me. They loved this. Kids of a certain age love to do the busy work adults hate. I wish I had trusted them much sooner with basic chores. I may never take another bag of trash out to the can ever again. It also meant more ice, more resting and wearing a jockstrap for support while moving around. That was a new one for me.
In the end, I had about seven days of severe, sustained pain. Another week or so of moderate pain, then a couple more weeks of intermittent soreness. There was some blood and wound care and other gross things I won’t share, but nothing beyond what should be expected.
For all my frustration about not experiencing the “normal” vasectomy, everything happened the way it was supposed to… it just took longer than four days.
You shouldn’t go into a vasectomy expecting it to be painless, and maybe don’t count on a simple two-day recovery. Plenty of guys will get that, and good for them, but I think it’s fair to at least entertain the possibility of experiencing pain.
Even on day five, that dreaded Monday, the pain still wasn’t enough to convince me the procedure was a mistake. If I had a do-over, I’d do it again.
Well… maybe I’d do it again if I got to be unconscious during the procedure.