The circumcision

Every physician has a few stories of things that are funny or amazing, in retrospect, but were less so at the time. Many of these are of questionable taste. This is one of those stories. Read on at your own risk – you were warned.

When I opened my practice, circumcision of newborn males was the default in our community. I was surprised, because I had trained in a community with a large university and graduate school population, where all things natural (including natural childbirth) were highly valued, and circumcision was considered a barbaric ritual. I thought of it as unnecessary, but up to the parents based on their preferences. I was horrified the first time I overheard a nurse obtaining informed consent: “You want your son circumcised, of course. Sign here.”

I insisted that my patients have their informed consent obtained by me (rather by the nursing staff) so I could make sure they understood the potential risks and benefits. Roughly half of the parents I spoke to decided against circumcision, compared to a 90% circumcision rate for the hospital as a whole.

One memorable morning, I sat down with a young couple to discuss circumcision.  After running through my brief discussion and ascertaining that she had no questions, I asked her if they needed time to think about it. She said, forcefully and without hesitation, that she absolutely wanted him circumcised. A little puzzled by her fervor, I asked what it was about circumcision that made it so important. Again without hesitating, she said: “A circumcised penis tastes better.” She signed the form and I returned to the nursery to do the circumcision. 

The nursery charge nurse asked if two nursing students could watch. I had a well-deserved reputation for being cranky while doing circumcisions, and she was obviously relieved when I said it would be fine.

About two thirds of the way through the procedure, I suddenly imagined how stupid and uncomfortable I must have looked when the mother had explained why she wanted her son circumcised. Involuntarily, I smiled. One of the nursing students asked me why I was smiling. Concentrating on trimming off the foreskin, and without thinking, I answered: “I can’t help thinking about how this is going to taste.”

As I finished, I looked up and saw a very pale nursing student whose wide eyes were fixed on the removed foreskin at the end of my hemostat. Her mouth opened and closed soundlessly a couple times, as if there was something she needed to say but couldn’t. As I watched, her eyes rolled upwards and she slumped to the ground. Only then did I realize what she must have thought I meant.

For years after that, the nursery nurses loved telling me that I had a ‘tasty circumcision’ to do. 



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