Editor’s comment: This article was originally published on 24. March 2014 published. Listen to David Fleming talk about this story on the ESPN Daily podcast.
Ken Myers Lisa on back stares at the ceiling of the North Tampa Urology exam room. He’s talking nervously about his brace for the NCAA tournament when a cloud of smoke escapes from a small incision at the top of his scrotum, filling the air with the distinct smell of burnt hair from his own freshly burned vas deferens. The next few minutes during the vasectomy are spent with a glowing cauterizing gun, razor-sharp forceps, and a plunger-operated lidocaine applicator that, as the doctor nonchalantly says, feels a bit like a rubber band. Everything moves around Myers belly until there is a pop, followed by an explosion of pain that causes Myers to warp his torso and suck air loudly through his teeth. Then, uh, more smoke.
* At the start of the NCAA Tournament, David Fleming joins the second half of the podcast to confirm the trend of men undergoing numerous surgeries in March. Listening
Myers, who made the appointment on this January day, remains calm and openly jokes, with a direct eye on the prize: unlimited, uninterrupted time on the couch to watch the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, which ends a few hours later. It’s a common theme these days, even in the always crowded offices of Dr. Doug Stein, whose ridiculous billboards on Route 4 are something of an institution in Florida.
You picked a terrible way to quit your job, Ken, Stein said.
You gotta admit, Doc, that’s not a bad compromise, Myers replied.
Welcome, my friends, to the steamy front lines of what is perhaps the strangest phenomenon in the wild and wonderfully strange world of sports: Vas Madness. It turns out that insanity is not a myth or Facebook gossip.
In recent years, urologists across the country have reported a 50 percent increase in the number of scheduled vasectomies in the days leading up to the NCAA tournament. It seems that men with the right planning have found a loophole that turns one of life’s most unpleasant procedures into a four-day vasectomy vacation that perfectly coincides with March Madness.
For more than a century, vasectomy, the surgical removal of the spaghetti derivatives that prevent the transfer of sperm from the testicles, has been the most effective permanent form of birth control for men. However, most men run the other way when hearing the words scalpel and scrotum. So urologists were quick to use the lure of the NCAA tournament to get patients in and on the table. (According to a urology clinic in Texas, the second most popular time for men is ….. Wait… Wester’s vasectomy). Myers, for example, needed an extra boost. He lasted six and a half years and was still in doubt the week before surgery when a friend dropped two emerald notes on his desk with a note attached: You’ll miss it.
It’s no wonder then that many urologists now offer a full Vas Madness celebration with discounts and extended hours during the tournament, t-shirts, food, sports memorabilia and even ice packs with team logos to replace the traditional bag of frozen peas. During last year’s tournament, the Cape Cod Urology Association lured patients with pizza coupons and promotional stickers. Want to watch a basketball game without guilt? This year, a urology group in Austin, Texas, is sponsoring a promotional campaign called It’s Hip to Get Snipped Vas Madness, featuring extended hours during games (much less crowded than a sports bar, according to one ad), ongoing TV coverage in the lobby, free snacks, the promise that patients will be ready for the love of the postseason, and the icing on the cake: official doctor’s orders prescribing three days of bench rest.
Few things demonstrate the popularity of March Madness better than Vas Madness, a time when men are only too happy to drop their pants and destroy four million years of evolutionary imperative, all in exchange for a short, trouble-free environment in which to enjoy a Mercer Duke sling. Oh, it’s much more than that, says Stein, who performs more than 2,000 vasectomies a year worldwide and considers his work more of a calling than a profession. There is no problem in the world that is not based on population control in one form or another. So, hey, Vas Madness or the NCAA tournament or a t-shirt, anything that helps, I’m all for that.
Stone is initially skeptical of the Madness phenomenon, but as the day progresses and the evidence of the mountain mounts, he turns to the power of the tournament as well. The first patient of the day, Steve, a tanned 52-year-old man from Tampa with spiky gray hair and five children, walks out of the examination room, pulls out his credit card to pay the remaining $500, and yells: Well, now I’m a gelding! When do the matches start?
Stein’s waiting room is filled with nervous men talking about their braces, but most leave the exam room amazed at how quick and easy the procedure was. John Loomis.
A small, crowded office bustles and buzzes all day with the sounds of a vasectomy training video, the ringing of the phone, soft 80’s rock and a waiting room full of nervous men talking about their braces. In the examination room, Dr. Stein’s distinctive, high-pitched voice repeats the same instructions 17 times in four hours: I’ll give you a countdown… 3, 2, 1. Do you have a scrotal support?
Steve is followed by an accountant who loves Wichita State, a lone man in a Kansas City Chiefs jersey, and a Steelers fan in shorts and a deer hunting jersey checking his phone for updates while he’s busy in the tournament against Ohio State. Most of the men who left Stein’s examination room were surprised by the ease – and speed – of the procedure. Several people look shaky and pale, and the nurse gives them each a soda to raise their blood sugar. Bill Mann, an electronics director, was the third patient to make an appointment in January specifically for Vas Madness. He loves Michigan State and says he has a cooler, sushi and a bench seat for afternoon games at his home in Madeira Beach. Is there a better week to lie forced and watch basketball non-stop? Mann asks, leaning towards conspiracy. That’s the most perfect excuse you can have. That’s great.
When Myers surgery is over, Stein asks him to hold the bandage in place so he doesn’t fall to the floor when he gets up.
Vas Madness or the NCAA tournament or a T-shirt – if that helps, I’m all for it, Stein said. John Loomis.
The doctor waits for a perfect rhythm, then adds: Gauze, I mean.
Myers is still smiling as he stands at the end of the examination table and looks out the room’s large windows at busy Bruce B. Boulevard. Downstairs, across the street, the Hooters parking lot fills with basketball fans looking for an acceptable vantage point minutes from work for the four-day opening weekend of March Madness.
Myers has the smug smile of a man whose position on the bench is already assured. Myers grateful wife Kathleen has already promised to pamper him royally during his recovery this weekend. Bending over backwards is the main word used in the literature on vasectomy repair, Ken says. Hey, I don’t know if I can play a full 12 hours of basketball after that. But I promise you this: I’ll do what I can.
Mr. Myers is followed by the last patient of the day, Jeff Barber, who had scheduled a vasectomy in 2012. But the Mayan doomsday story came up, and he convinced his wife Kim to keep him fully operational if they had to repopulate the planet. Two years later, this Florida-alum and die-hard Gators fan went looking for incentives, and for good reason. In January, Barber, who works in IT, thought back to the 2006 and 2007 high school national titles and expected another big tournament for his Gators. He checked the NCAA schedule, made the decision to go on that date. It helped, he says as he sits on the edge of the examination table, swallowing hard, seconds away from seeing Dr. Stein and his cauterization. As a man, I’m not looking forward to this procedure. But as a Hoops fan, I can’t wait to see the episodes.
Barber, dressed in khaki and a golf shirt, continued to negotiate the post-operative settlement in the car to the doctor’s office. Go home to bed, turn on the TV, order a pizza, bring me the fridge, leave the kids in the other room and let me relax and watch basketball, he says. Kim, not engaging, rolled her eyes and replied: I’m here for one reason only: to make sure the deal goes through.
Less than 15 minutes after leaving the waiting room, the deal is effectively closed. Wisconsin distances itself from American, but Dayton didn’t even have time to relinquish its power over Ohio State. The barber steps forward carefully and a few shades lighter, but he has a relieved smile on his face. It’s done. He shrugged. That’s okay. Kim clicks her phone on and puts her palm against her cheek. All going well, and Madness Vas 2014 is off to a great start, especially here in Gator land.
With Florida about to give their tip in just under an hour, the barbers slowly make their way to the exit, where they pause and exchange a high-five before leaving Dr. Stein’s office.
Both agree that Jeff may not be ready for a full Gator hack just yet.
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