The procedure calls for me to take a Valium an hour beforehand. I’m disappointed when the pharmacist dispenses exactly one Valium. I thought I’d get at least three or four, to dull the pain afterward, or as compensation for what I’m undergoing.
I just finished reading a novel about a heroin addict. Valium, or, more correctly, diazepam, is cited in the book as a recreational drug the narrator used when he could not score smack. For me, a few Valium over the coming days would be great. I don’t deal well with pain and tend to exaggerate suffering. But I get one and only one, a very small pill that looks like nothing to get excited about.
In a small grocery store, I buy a 500 mL bottle of orange juice. I slug back the dull blue pill right in the store. I go back out into the cold and walk across the street to kill some time in a bookstore, before going to the doctor’s office. I start to feel stoned fifteen minutes later and use the handrail when I climb the stairs to the second floor of the bookstore. I buy a paperback J.M. Coetzee novel and pay for it with change, slowly counting out seven dollars and thirty-five cents. The bookstore clerk says something to me about the novel but I can’t make sense of his words.
I walk up Bank Street and look for my wife, who is driving to meet me. The bus drivers are on strike, Christmas is a week away, and the streets brim with snow—everything is moving slowly. On diazepam, it’s funny how the cars seem to plod along. I stand on a street corner like an idiot and watch cars, hoping to see my wife.
It takes a while to realize the ringing noise is the phone in my pocket. I don’t carry a cell phone. My wife gave me hers, thinking, because of the procedure, that I should have it. I’m not sure how it’s supposed to help. The Valium is more useful. A guy walks past and leers at me, standing on the corner in the cold, glazed over as I gauge the oncoming cars, while I ignore the ringing in my pocket. I snap out of it and answer the phone. My wife is just leaving her office, but she is not going to make it to see me before the procedure. She wishes me well. I mumble something and then shamble across the street to the doctor’s.
I have to shit. Valium or not, I’m nervous. In the doctor’s office, I check in, take off my winter boots and coat.
“Is there a washroom I can use?” I ask the young woman working the front desk. She seems too casually dressed to be working in a doctor’s office. She wears a tight green sweater and low-cut, faded jeans.
“Yeah, but can you hold on a sec?”
I can’t but I will. What choice do I have? If I shit my pants, I will have to leave.
The woman goes away to see about something and then reappears.
“Down the hall, take a right, last door on your left.”
Sedated, it’s too much information for me. I go where she pointed and figure it out. I take a horribly wretched shit—from the drug, the nerves; I don’t know why. It’s something out of the ordinary for me. I don’t usually shit in public, in the afternoon, on unfamiliar toilets.
Back in the waiting room I flip through magazines, unable to focus or read. A post-procedural patient comes out, walking like a man might with a knife shoved up his ass. His wife stands. The casually dressed girl comes over with a kit and explains what the man should do to recover and what he should not do.
“No sex for a week,” she says flatly.
The man’s wife puts her hand on his knee. He looks down at the hand but does not react. He looks completely stoned, unable to comprehend anything. The girl speaks mostly to the wife. Then she gives the man a can of ginger ale and tells him to wait fifteen minutes before leaving.
Someone else comes into the office but it’s not my wife. It’s another man and his wife or girlfriend. They speak French and I understand little of what is said; fucked up on diazepam or not, my French is not good. My wife is still not here.
A minute later the doctor calls to the girl to bring me in.
“Mr. Firth, this way,” she says.
A magazine slides from my hands to the floor. I follow the girl, watching her ass in her low-cut jeans. I am about to have a vasectomy so it seems right to summon a primal yet misdirected sexual urge before having my nuts sliced open. She is gone before I know it and then it is just Dr. Walsh.
“Did you wear your support?”
“Good. Take down your pants and everything else to your ankles and lie on the table.”
Again, it’s too much information. He repeats the instructions. I fumble around. I expect stirrups and having to remove everything. Instead, he wants my legs together.
“Did you forget to shave?”
“It’s the best I could do.”
I had tried the night before—after having sex with my wife for the last time for a week—to shave my scrotum but it is such an unnatural thing to do. My pubic area—that I could handle. But even with the surgical razor they supplied that does not come anywhere close to the skin, shaving my balls was tough. My wife offered to help. If she had offered before we fucked, as some kind of kinky foreplay, I might have accepted. But after coming and then cleaning up, I decided I was the only one fit to put a razor anywhere near my scrotum. My whole life I have protected my nuts. To put a sharp instrument millimetres from the soft flesh that holds my testicles was an anathema, as far as I was concerned. I did what I could but my best is not good enough for Dr. Walsh.
He quickly and aggressively shaves my nuts. I feel like a sheep being sheared. I begin to feel the diazepam wear off, or at least not stand up to what was coming. Next he grabs my cock and wraps an elastic band around it. I stare at the boring landscape painting on the ceiling and try to think of anything else.
“This will be the worst of it,” he says. “A sharp blast of freezing that feels like a pinch.”
I recoil, groaning. It’s more like having my nuts in a vice.
“The next two will not be as bad.”
He’s right about this.
“Another sharp one.”
No shit. I hold my breath. The happy Valium high is long gone.
“Relax. I’ll just give that a minute to take.”
He’s over at a desk fucking around with something. And then he’s back on me. It feels like he’s pouncing, like he takes some pleasure in this. He must; how else could he do this all day?
“Just hold still. This is a sterile cloth.”
He lays it on me.
“Keep your hands on your chest. This will take a few minutes. You’ll feel some pulling, some tugging.”
I don’t like the sound of it but what choice do I have? I clench my fingers together on my chest, close my eyes and try to ride it out.
My wife is in the waiting room when it’s over. She does her best to be sympathetic. It does not come easily to her. I am handed a can of ginger ale. I get the same spiel from the girl about no sex for a week, no heavy lifting, and to send a sample in the mail in three months. Jerking off into a vial so someone can test my spunk for signs of life is the furthest thing from my mind. I sip ginger ale through a bendy straw and slouch in a chair.
My wife wants to go. My appointment started early, so we are ahead of schedule. I am supposed to wait fifteen minutes before leaving and it has been maybe ten minutes since I sat down with my ginger ale. My wife is restless. She is worried about the bad traffic, the bus strike, and the snow.
We head out. She drives. I feel lethargic and vaguely sore, like I just had the shit kicked out of me and was dumped at the curb for the garbagemen to sort out.
We have a jumbled conversation in the car. She apologizes for being late. I watch pedestrians struggle over snowbanks the ploughs have left behind. We stop and buy something for dinner. I go home, take off my boots and coat, mutter a few words to my children and their sitter, and then head upstairs to bed with a book. I don’t read a word. I sleep for two hours and then wake confused, feeling hungover and hazy. I eat pizza and lie on the sofa, watching television until two A.M.
The next morning, my wife is gone by the time I get up. My kids are downstairs watching television, eating dry cereal. I stagger down and make coffee. I take an anti-inflammatory and wish again for Valium.
I pull on pants on top of pyjama bottoms, winter boots over bare feet, slip on my coat, and struggle to get the kids to school. I walk back home, fall onto the sofa and put on the television.
The phone rings. I expect my wife, calling to check on me. But it isn’t my wife. It’s my director from work, his voice strained. He knows I’m taking a day or two off to recover from the procedure. His call is unexpected. I’m not sure how to react. He tells me—fairly soon after some preliminary talk about how I’m feeling—that he has bad news. My mind races. Then he tells me a work colleague in the office next to mine—a man younger than me—died the night before from an apparent heart attack. I’m stunned. The dead man is also a friend. I talk a bit longer to my director, repeating my astonishment several times. It is unbelievable, it really is.
I thank my director for his call. I put down the telephone and shuffle around my house in a daze, trying to make sense of the news. I get nowhere with it.
My balls hurt and my head aches. I think about the telephone call, about the horrible news. I think about my co-worker, now dead. I had lunch with him forty-eight hours ago at some insipid meeting, a huge waste of time. It was the last time I saw him, at that stupid—terribly stupid—meeting. I guess he went to work the day after, the day I had my vasectomy. Another day at the office. That is no way for a life to end.
I stop thinking about the procedure. I’m not worried about killing the pain in my nuts any more—it’s the thought of a dead man I want to chase from my head. I go into my kitchen, rummage around in a bowl of containers of pills. I find codeine I was prescribed for a tooth extraction a year or so ago. I put three in my mouth and wash them down with a double shot of neat whisky. Then I step cautiously into the rest of my day.