South Africa is hosting a new type of party. It’s an exclusive party but if you have a penis with foreskin intact, you stand a good chance of getting invited. Bring your sleeping bag with you because it’s going to be an all-nighter and loads of fun for every man! When you arrive at the party, you will be slightly alarmed by the sign on the door that says “Circumcision Camp” but you will quickly forget about it once a nurse finds you and leads you to a room with beds in it. Music playing in the background, a nurse asking you very personal questions about your sex life, this must be your lucky day! But in comes a doctor wielding a scalpel and suddenly the sign on the door comes rushing back to the foreground of your mind. The next thing you know, your foreskin has become your dearly departed and you’re feeling really terrified, which probably has to do with the fact that you’re bleeding from down there than anything else. Circumcision camp! A camp in which teams from different hospitals gather together in one centralized location and race each other to try and cut as many penises as they possibly can in 12 hours. I was elected to be one of the team members representing my hospital. On that particular day we cut 150 penises and rather distastefully celebrated with a feast catered by KFC.
Now why would we do such a horrid thing? Perhaps to disprove the stereotype that boys don’t cry? I can safely say that the stereotype is broken. 149 boys cried that day (1 fainted) and I didn’t know what to do for them except offer to wrap their penises in bandages and send them off to their sleeping bags with a ton of painkillers and a teddy.
Anyway, apparently studies have shown that circumcision reduces the risk of contracting HIV by 60%. Now how effective this really is, is not something I will pretend to know a lot about. What I do know, is that there seems to be a lot of confusion among our boys here. Especially those who aren’t well educated and who don’t understand English well enough to understand the difference between the words “reduce” and “prevent”.
So the camp went like this, my team had set up 6 beds in a classroom on a college campus. One of the doctors brought along his radio to make the “party” all the more exciting. Boys from the age of 13 and older came to the camp. If you walked through the room, all you’d see is doctors and nurses working on penises that were sticking out of sterile towels that had holes cut in the center of them. I felt like I was at a penis farm and I was quiet terrified by the messy idea of slaughtering penises. Inevitably foreskins would get away from the “foreskin bin” and fall out onto the floor. I did my best not to step on one, but when I eventually did, I felt a shudder, the kind of shudder you feel when you squish a big cockroach under your shoe. There was blood everywhere and my darling nurses and doctors were ever so comfortable working with human flesh, that they were even eating and drinking in the same room (a talent I have yet to develop and actually don’t wish to develop). When the boys were done, they were told to have their blood pressures checked and sit in the makeshift “recovery room” we had set up in the corridor. They would spend an hour in recovery being observed. Many of them felt faint because they had bloody crotches and most of them sat there crying or squealing. Once they were okay, they were sent down to a large hall, armed with painkillers, and they’d make a bed on the floor and spend the night together in pain and sorrow over their lost foreskins.
I had to interview each patient 3 times over to make sure that they understood the reasons why the government is promoting circumcision. There were a good amount of bright boys who understood that circumcision is by no means a preventative measure against HIV, but there was also an alarming number of boys that could not understand this. Some felt short-changed when they learned that it was not a preventative measure, but more worrying are those that still believe that it does in fact prevent HIV, even after several nurses explained to them in several languages that circumcision by no means renders you immune to the virus. These magnificent boys now believe that they are special and protected from HIV, so they go out into the world and “spread their love” – and that’s how an epidemic becomes a pandemic – stupid people.
EDIT: Clearly circumcision is a very sensitive topic to discuss. This post was simply meant to share my experience at this circumcision camp. I usually worked in Maternity – they reassigned me to the camp for a day because they needed extra hands. I did not have any heads up for this camp, I was asked to join on the morning of the camp. I was blissfully ignorant about circumcision and only knew that it was what the government was promoting to reduce HIV infection rates. All the parents had already signed consent forms and were apparently informed about the ups and downs of circumcision before they signed. I was there to do the job that my supervisors had assigned to me and as far as I knew, it was all an informed decision. Who was I to protest something that everyone agreed to do? So please, read the post for what it is – there are circumcision camps being promoted by some governments (South Africa being one of them), the parents give consent after being informed about the risks and benefits, the kids should maybe have more say in it. If anyone is interested in stopping these camps, please feel free to write to or call the relevant authorities at the various governments that get behind this. I’m leaving the post up to allow for healthy debate. Please, there’s no need for vulgar words or insults. We’re all grown ups here. 🙂
ADVICE TO ALL: If you are about to have any medical procedure done on yourself or your child, please make sure you read about it and research and you can even get second and third opinions from other doctors and nurses before you sign a consent form. Do not be afraid to ask a thousand questions. Your doctor and nurse is obligated to answer all of them in detail. Be informed about your body.