Dr Sammy, as my kids know him, is a Woody Allen-ish hypochondriac, which lends him a slightly unnerving ‘been-there-felt-that’ manner. During a consultation he’ll peer at you over the rim of his glasses as if to say, ‘Do you really need to be here?’ He’s never more droll than when ruling something out, like antibiotics for a cold, or depression. And if you present with a suspicious lump, he’ll smile and tut-tut: “Ha! I get cancer once a week!”
Dr Sammy looms large for the men of my town. He has been the go-to for vasectomies for so long, he’s the de facto town planner. But the town, thanks in part to his scissor-hands, is a small one. Horror stories flourish. There’s the one about the chap who lost a testicle. There’s another about a bloke who gained one. Still, Dr Sammy can’t have botched too many procedures, or perhaps he’d be known as Dr Balls-Up, instead of Sammy the Slasher.
A couple of years ago, my mate Dave—then a fellow father-of-three—and I were dallying as usual down at the local, chatting about making a booking with Sammy the Slasher. We broached the subject with fellow drinkers, a bunch of ‘Rough Riders’ from the mountain biking club. Turned out almost every one of them had had it done, though you couldn’t tell, even in Lycra – although one, Kev, admitted he could not fit into his bicycle shorts for a long time. Apparently, post-op his scrotum had swollen to the size of a coconut, which Kev wouldn’t have minded so much but for the crippling pain. A year on, restored to rambutan proportions, he said he still felt the occasional spasm in the saddle, like a Rottweiler tugging gently on his nethers.
That’s when Dave and I decided to go and have it done in Bangkok. But before you could say ‘medical tourism’, Dave’s wife was with fourth child, and she dragged Dave off to the clinic. Next time I saw him, he was very, very tender. Over a beer, he told me how the Slasher had performed the procedure in the chair, with just a local anaesthetic, allowing Dave a good squiz throughout. “I saw my own vas,” he said, eyes still agog. “I watched him tug it out and cut it, like it was a hokkien noodle.”
PULL QUOTE: “I watched him tug it out and cut it, like it was a hokkien noodle.”
Left with the vision of being operated on with chopsticks, I pretty much forgot about vasectomies after that. “Vive la Deferens!” I cried to my wife. Then she went the way of Dave’s. Oops. It was her third pregnancy, though she was kind of cheating – the first was a double and so, it turned out, was this one. Two plus one plus two makes… cripes.
My wife found the information pamphlet the Slasher had given me a year back. “It’s time,” she said, hands on twin-bearing hips. “Now!”
I thought about it – the scalpel, the pain, the potential for hernia, the invasiveness of it all. Why me? Meanwhile the twins arrived by simple caesarean. I was sitting by my wife’s side as they did. The surgeon’s face appeared above the drapes to hand over the second baby, and he asked us, grinning, “While I’m down here, would you like any tubes tied?”
I looked at my wife. How nice of him to offer. “Well, actually, now that you mention it…”
She shook her head. “It’s well and truly his turn now.”
As luck would have it, by the time her stitches came out, I’d decided to train for a marathon. It was a six-month training program. It was also mid-life therapy. I told my wife I’d make a booking with Sammy the Slasher as soon as I got injured, which was quite likely. She offered to help me—get injured, that is; she had all sorts of ideas—but miraculously, I never did. I just kept on running. The twins turned six months, then one year, then fifteen months.
I had a long way to run – about ten more years to the menopause finish line. And the crowds were turning hostile: no matter how far or how fast I ran, for some obscure reason town sympathy remained firmly on the side of the young mother, the one regularly seen pushing two babies uphill in a pram with a toddler on her back, a dog on the lead and two tykes riding rings around her on balance bikes.
Even our family doctor, a close colleague of the Slasher and no less cutting in her own way, was getting exasperated. “Procrastination means procreation,” she admonished when I came in with my son to have a gash seen to. “You should have learnt that lesson by now.” She stitched up my son’s wound and sent him on his way with a pat on the head: “Now you make sure you tell your Mummy what a brave little boy you are. So much braver than your Daddy.”
That did it. That, and a torn Achilles. I’m not scared; I can take a bullet for a woman. Make that five million bullets, per salvo. So there I belatedly sat, in a yellowing surgery, shaved and naked from the waist down. The Slasher cheerfully slopped disinfectant over me, cold and contracting. In went the stinging anaesthetic.
I distracted myself with pleasant memories. I thought of my gentle dog, and relive her supposedly routine de-sexing operation, which led to a near-fatal hernia that required a foot of her bowel to be removed. I thought of my late, dear father, and see him pinning bull calves to the yard floor with his knee, neutering them into steers by slipping a band over their cobblers with a tool called “The Elastrator”. And I thought of my sun-dappled childhood, gambolling about the farm, stumbling upon the little sacks that had dropped off weeks later, wondering if they might be tanned into marble pouches.
I hear you, reader. Poor bugger, you’re thinking. Why him? And also, Why shaved? Isn’t that a Gen Y thing?
Shaving myself down there took forever. It’s not like shaving a beard – more like shearing a squirrel. I nearly mulesed myself. “Daddy, why are you bald?” asked my son that morning, when I finally emerged from carpeting the bathroom floor. “To be more like you,” I replied, which apparently made sense to him.
A little later, over breakfast, I tapped my bowl with a spoon to solemnly address all five offspring (mean age: three). “Children,” I announced. “If any of you want any more brothers or sisters, speak up now or forever hold your peace.”
Blank stares all round.
“Because Dr Sammy’s going to cut off my doodle.”
“Just finish your porridge, kids,” said my wife. “Ignore Daddy. He needs to be brave.”
“Like Buzz Lightyear?” one of the older twins said.
I nodded. He got it. But my wife shook her head.
“Like Mummy,” she said.
John van Tiggelen dropped out of fourth-year medicine to become a journalist. He lives in Castlemaine, central Victoria.
This piece originally appeared in The Lifted Brow #24: The Medicine Issue. Get your copy now.