Nothing much, just a simple plumbing job: Robert Gretton had a vasectomy 15 years ago. Here he relates the ins and out, and ups and downs, of an operation to 'reverse' it

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Indy Lifestyle Online
She approached me with razor in hand and said: 'Sorry, I've got to do you now.' The nurse had come to shave my pubic region. I was in for what the consultant described as 'a simple plumbing job' - a reversal of a vasectomy I had had 15 years ago (the idea being that my present partner, Agathe, and I might thereby have a chance of children). To my surprise the nurse wanted to hack away at my pubic hair without shaving cream or water: she said it was the first time she had shaved anyone down there. I offered to do it myself with my own razor and foam. She agreed and asked if I minded her fellow trainees coming in to watch. Screens were pulled back and another six or seven young nurses trooped in.

The shaving was accomplished, but the operation was not to be. As I was not a medical emergency I got postponed: evidently someone else's plumbing took longer than expected.

The second time, things looked more promising. I arrived at 7.30am, ready shaved, top and bottom, so to speak, and spent a day in mounting tension. When there was just half an hour to go, a nurse came in to tell me how the local anaesthetic was going to be administered - the bit that registered was about having a needle inserted into my penis. By this stage high anxiety ruled, so when a junior houseman came in to say I was postponed once more (for the same reason as before), I was drained and dry-mouthed with a mixture of relief and disappointment.

My third attempt to get re-connected was in mid-July. As promised, I was now top of the surgeon's operating list, but when I found my name spelt wrongly and my notes mislaid for an hour, they seemed like bad omens. This time, however, everything was on go.

At 10.30am two nurses had me lying on my side in a white tunic that did up at the back.

Acting like a well-trained duo, one of them sank a massive hypodermic into my right buttock while the other slipped an analgesic suppository up my bottom and then they both approached me with a big plastic plunger device. I asked if it was the thing that was to go up my penis and they said soothingly 'Yes but you won't feel much'. I asked if all of it would go up and they nodded, smiling. But they were right, it didn't hurt and I'd got it wrong - only a tiny arrow-like bit actually got inserted.

Everything went cool and numb down below as the local anaesthetic took effect, and I was feeling pretty relaxed and carefree. I think I must have dropped off to sleep. The next thing I knew I was alert and vigilant in the operating theatre with five or six green- overalled people gathered round me. I felt surprisingly unafraid. I asked the surgeon if I could see what was going on. They helped me sit up and I looked down at what they were doing. My scrotum was peeled open like an exotic fruit and my testicles were exposed like two reddish-tinged fried eggs. The surgeon remarked that I was probably one of few men who had seen the inside of their own scrotum. I felt quite blase about this and wondered how they would reconnect the two tubes that take the sperm from the testicles to the penis. Then I lay down again so they could get on with the swabbing and knitting. I felt some pain in my lower abdomen, but they said that was normal and would soon pass away.

After a few minutes the surgeon asked me if I felt all right enough to hop off the operating table and on to the waiting trolley. He said to make sure I wrote about my instant recovery in this article, I presume because he wanted people to know that most of these operations are better done under local anaesthetic. It was just after 12 noon, and the whole business had taken a mere 45 minutes.

In the recovery room, the other patients coming out of deep anaesthetic torpor made me feel distinctly one-up. The sister asked me if I felt alert and seemed amused by my eager determination to prove how alert I was. After 10 minutes rest, during which my pulse and blood pressure were taken, my ward nurse wheeled me to the lift. It was 12.30pm and it was all over bar the paper-work and the final check-over.

Back in my room, I took a peek at what they'd done downstairs. I was wearing a pair of what looked like bandage-netting pants which held in place a massive dressing, over my scrotum. They had cut an aperture for my penis to poke out of.

Everything looked all right and all there as far as I could see, but felt distinctly tender. Still in my white tie-up-the-back tunic, I shuffled along the corridor to the pay phone to tell Agathe it was all over.

I had to see the consultant before I could go home and he arrived just before six. It was the same man who had done the operation and who had seen me in November on the first consultation. On that occasion, he had (very properly, from his professional point-of-view), strongly advised me against having the reversal done and pointed out that my chances of becoming fertile again were about five-to-one. This was, he explained, partly because of my age (56), and also because I had had the vasectomy over 15 years ago. Evidently, when one's sperm is thwarted from making its usual journey out of the body, it returns and gets absorbed into the bloodstream; some research suggests that the body then develops antibodies against the sperm, so diminishing your fertility. I had decided to go against his advice after seeing my GP, who felt a 20 per cent chance of fertility was worth the try.

I asked him when I would be able to have sex again. His decree of one month's abstinence came as a bit of a disappointment, and he added that fertility, if restored, would not return for about six months. However, a sperm count could be taken in a month's time. As we talked I mentioned that I had been willing to pay for the operation. He said that although he was personally against such treatment on the NHS, while such operations were available, patients had the right to ask for them.

The consultant had cautioned me to take it easy for 48 hours, but I felt all right so I went about my normal business in a gentle fashion (though I decided against using my bicycle).

It was lucky he also warned me not to be alarmed by the appearance of my genitals, saying they would look like something out of a horror movie. Even that forewarning didn't prepare me for the sight when I soaked off the dressing 48 hours later.

My testicles were the colour of long- over-ripe plums, encompassed by a spreading tideline of magenta and blackish-red. The tip of my penis was the only part that remained its original colour, the surrounding skin being bloated with dark purple bruising.

The most disturbing aspect was its change of shape and angle. This made going to the loo a distinctly painful and hit-or-miss affair. Now, three days after the op, the pain and inconvenience persist, but not intolerably so. I'm looking forward to finding out if it has all been worth it.

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