BROOKSVILLE — A vasectomy brochure from the Nature Coast Community Health Center shows smiling men of different races and their female partners holding each other close.
Inside the folded piece of paper, it reads, "15 minutes … No scalpel … No needle … Nothing removed."
And this: "Many say 'painless.' "
The Hernando County Health Department is better known for its family planning programs that focus on women. The staff offers information on abstinence and natural family planning methods, and provides Norplant, Depo-Provera, birth control pills, contraceptive film, condoms, diaphragms and intrauterine devices.
Since 2002, however, the Health Department has quietly offered an affordable alternative for men: the no-scalpel vasectomy. A total of 225 counseled men in Hernando have had the sterilization done in the past six years.
Depending on a man's salary, medical insurance and his family size, the procedure can be free or cost up to $300. For example, based on a sliding scale, a man with a net income of $19,000 and a family of four would be eligible for a free vasectomy.
"We get men of all ages," said Carolyn Wilfong, nursing director of the vasectomy program. "Young ones, old ones, some who have never had kids, others with many kids. They usually hear about them on our doctor's billboards or from a buddy who had one done. In June, we have seven guys on the list."
Most men who have the procedure done in Hernando are white and between the ages of 26 and 38. Health Department statistics show that the youngest man was 21 and the oldest was 62.
So far, eight black men have had vasectomies, along with eight Hispanic men. Those who opt to have a vasectomy usually fit into low- to middle-income brackets, have no insurance and pay up to $150.
"We rarely get the guy who pays the full $300," Wilfong said.
Federal family planning funds help pay for the program, and for urologist Douglas Stein to perform the 15-minute procedure. Stein is in Hernando every other month on Thursday afternoons.
After watching a DVD narrated by the doctor who explains how no-scalpel vasectomies are done, men who elect to have one must wait 30 days. Wilfong also makes sure to have a thorough discussion with each person to make sure he understands it's considered a permanent procedure.
But by the time most men are sitting in front of her, the nurse said, the decision's already been made.
"A lot of times, their partners are getting ready to turn 35, and might smoke or have other reasons why they can't take birth control or have a tubal ligation," Wilfong said. "No-scalpel vasectomies are a safer, less-invasive option."
So what exactly does it mean to have a no-scalpel vasectomy? Stein explains it like this on his Web site:
After spraying on an anesthetic solution to the scrotum, he makes a tiny opening with a pair of sharp scissors. Through that small hole, he's able to access the left and right vas tubes. The doctor divides the tubes by cauterizing one end to create scar tissue, and then places a small clip between the ends to keep them out of alignment.
No stitches are required because the hole is so small. Men with desk jobs can return to work the next day. Those who have more physical jobs are asked to wait to go back to work the next Monday. The procedures are done in Hernando on Thursdays. The men all leave wearing support.
"It really is a simple procedure," she said. "The recovery time is much less with the men, and it's cheaper."
Chandra Broadwater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432.