SUMMERVILLE — Jacob Limehouse, 26, and his wife do not want children and had already discussed Jacob getting a vasectomy. Then the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June 2022, allowing states like South Carolina to seek to ban or severely restrict access to abortion, and that sealed it for them.
“That definitely added to the desire to get it done,” Limehouse said.
After doing what he felt was a lot of research, much of which downplayed the risk from the procedure, he went in for a vasectomy on Jan. 9. What followed was a trip to the emergency room and a week at Summerville Medical Center battling severe complications that have left him with lingering pain and extensive medical bills.
Limehouse wasn’t alone in his newfound interest in vasectomies. Immediately after the Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court, the search for information on vasectomies hit a five-year high on Google Trends, according an article in the journal Fertility and Sterility. In many states, particularly those which banned or severely restricted abortion in the wake of the decision, interest in vasectomies took off, according to an analysis by The Post and Courier.
In Michigan, where a temporary injunction blocked a 1931 law that banned abortion except to save the life of a mother, inquiries about vasectomies at one clinic increased 225 percent compared to the year before, according to a study in the Journal of Urology. Another study at 10 academic medical centers spread across the country found an overall 10.9 percent increase in vasectomy interest among patients compared to a slight decrease the year before. The rates varied across the centers and were higher in states where bans or restrictions were enacted, the authors found.
In Ohio, where a ban on abortions after six weeks is on hold, the number of inquiries at one large clinic increased 22.4 percent in the months after the decision compared to the year before, according to a study in the International Journal of Impotence Research. More of those men, like Limehouse, tended to be younger and childless compared to those who sought vasectomies the year before, the Ohio study found, which lines up with the experience at other clinics.
Not every clinic is seeing an increase.
“We’re seeing roughly the same number of vasectomy consultations,” said Dr. Tracy J. Tipton of Urology Associates of Charleston. Because the practice sets aside a certain number of slots for vasectomies, the wait to get in has increased over the last several years, particularly during the pandemic, but is back down to about four to six months, he said, what it has been for the last couple of years.
While weighing the impact of the abortion ruling and surge of interest in vasectomies, there were also concerns about how the procedure was being portrayed on social media, according to a Perspective in the Journal of Urology, which is published by the 23,000-member American Urological Association. Particularly troubling were suggestions that vasectomies were a “solution” to contraception concerns and that the procedure was easily reversible, the authors noted. But reversal procedures are “technically challenging and expensive” surgeries that insurance companies are not likely to cover, the Perspective found.
Tipton of Urology Associates in Charleston said reversals are rarely covered by insurance and not likely to work if many years have passed, so he counsels his patients to consider a vasectomy as permanent.
“I try to tell them, yes, technically this is reversible but you should think about this like an irreversible procedure,” he said. “If you are on the fence, maybe we need to think about this a little bit more.”
‘It could happen to you’
The risks involved might also be downplayed on social media. When Limehouse did his research, he found the complications were portrayed as “super minor,” mainly swelling, bleeding at the surgery site and some persistent pain that could last a month. He got similar counseling about complications at the clinic.
On the afternoon he headed in for the procedure, “I wasn’t nervous at all,” Limehouse said. “I had read so many positive stories. I couldn’t find a negative story, to be honest.”
The whole thing took maybe 20 minutes under local anesthesia, he said, then he rested for five minutes before heading home.
But almost immediately, there was a lot more swelling than he expected, even when applying ice packs. Then he got nauseous, then dizzy, then tried to make it to the bathroom.
“The next thing I know, my wife was standing over me, trying to wake me up,” Limehouse said. It was the first time in his life he had ever fainted.
His wife, Marissa Christine Wiggins, called her parents for advice. When the nausea continued and Limehouse passed out again, they took him to the ER at Summerville Medical Center. Limehouse said he was only semiconscious then but Marissa told him he was extremely pale. He was rushed back for tests and a CT scan and eventually admitted for syncope, fainting or passing out, after his blood pressure dropped significantly when he stood up, according to Limehouse’s medical records.
The CT scan found a suspected blood clot just under 3 inches in diameter above his left testicle and swelling throughout the area but nothing else remarkable, the records showed. When he was again administered a test for syncope by standing for several seconds, “I passed out in the nurse’s arms,” Limehouse said.
His hemoglobin level, which measures the red blood cells that carry oxygen, and hematocrit level, which looks at the percentage of red blood cells, appeared normal at first but began dropping. A few days later, when his hemoglobin dropped to about half the normal range, nurse Ellen Patrick flagged it, records show. The urologist who performed the vasectomy, whom Limehouse does not want named, came in to perform surgery and removed the blood clot. But Limehouse said neither he nor his family was told about the clot.
Summerville Medical Center did not provide a relevant response for comment or make the nurses, whom Limehouse credits for getting the care he needed, available for comment.
Months later, he is left with some pain and a load of medical bills from his stay. He started a GoFundMe to seek help.
Still, “I don’t regret getting the procedure,” Limehouse said. “I’m happy I did it. But I regret the little research I did.”
Overall, the rate for serious complications for vasectomies is low, with infections and hematomas or lumps from blood clots, in the 2-4 percent range, according the World Journal of Men’s Health. But it is something to keep in mind, Limehouse said.
“What’s the old saying? It could happen to you,” he said.