Essence of Man

by Russell McGilton

(words 970 Big Issue)

Sperm tests are a horrible, stressful experience and not as much fun as you’d think as Russell McGilton finds out.

‘You want to make a booking for a sperm test?’ says the andrologist over the phone.



I vaguely tell him of my concerns: the global drop in sperm counts from tight jeans and pollution, numerous X-rays I’d had as a child of my pelvis and…

‘What else?’

‘Er…the ex-girlfriend reckons she’s up the duff and I don’t believe her.’

‘I see. Well, there are two ways of getting the sperm to us. Firstly, can buy a plastic vial from the chemist and produce the sample at home. Then, making sure to keep the sample warm by keeping it close to your body, bring it into the lab. ’

‘Close to my body?’ I had this image of trying to ride my bicycle, negotiating heavy traffic with a vial of sperm stuffed under my armpit. What if I crashed? What if I got hit by a bus? Would surgeons think, as they try to mend my mangled limbs, that I just ‘lost it’ at the sight of five tons of metal bearing down on me?

‘The other option is that you can come here to the hospital and produce the sample.’

‘What? In reception?’

‘No! We have a special room for that.’

I decide to book the room then spend the week stressing about it: what if I can’t perform? Worse…what if everyone applauds me as I open the door to leave?

When I arrive at the andrology lab I find a grey haired man in a white overcoat surrounded by vials of sperm swishing around him on an oscillation machine. Before I can take a breath he’s quick to the point with ‘When did you last ejaculate?’

‘Um… oh…let me see…about a over a week ago. ’

‘Over a week?’ his eyebrows rise. ‘Oh, well that may be too long. The sperm dies after four days. Three days is a good time to produce a sample. Perhaps you could try next week –’

‘I could be wrong!’ my mind begins to race. I didn’t want to have to go through all this again. ‘I think I ejaculated on…on… Wednesday.’

But he isn’t listening.
‘I could fit you on the Friday-’
‘Thursday! It was a Thursday!.

‘Say about one o’clock-’
’I gave it good going over!’

He looks up from the booking diary.

‘I’m sorry. When did you ejaculate last?’
‘Thursday! Definitely without a doubt. It was a clear morning, I could hear the birds chirping outside my window when I –’
‘I’ll put it under four days just to be on the safe side. ’
He hands me a plastic vial.

‘Go down to the end of the corridor until you arrive at a small room. Lock the door after you (you don’t want to be surprised!) wash your hands and make sure that your hands are completely dry. Water kills the sperm. ’

Like an Olympic time keeper he looks at his watch and says, ‘You have fifteen minutes. ’

I sprint down the corridor, go into the room and slam the door behind me.

Ah, the special room.

Yet there was nothing remotely special about it. I had expected more; X-rated cable link up, bondage Internet access, the walls a pastiche of tangle limbs, gaping mouths, and unrealistic appendages entering uncomfortable places (like Iraq for a start).

What did I get for my tax dollars? A tired, grey room with a Penthouse mag hiding guilty under a manilla folder. It could’ve been worse, I guess. I might’ve been confronted with a pile of dog-eared magazines like New Idea and be forced to get off over the smiling congeniality of Bert Newton’s hair plugged head (‘A giant scrotum!’ as Billy Connolly once described it).

I soon realise there is something else they could have done to this special room – they could’ve made it sound proof. As I desperately try to concentrate on making the moment arrive all I can hear are sounds of trolleys banging into walls, clanging of bedpans, small talk of nurses, intercom announcements ‘WOULD THE OWNER OF A FOUR WHEEL DRIVE… and the distant sound of a wailing child.

However, under such audible duress, I do manage to perform and things begin really start heat up until I hit an impasse:

‘What happens if I walk out of here after only a minute? Will I hear over the hospital intercom “WE HAVE A PREMATURE EJACULATOR IN SECTOR G”? Or if I stay too long – “PERVERT ALERT! SEND THE GUARDS IN WITH THE PEPPER SPRAY”.

I decide to go for the half way point – seven and half minutes; not too quick, not too long, thinking that’ll keep those paranoid swines off my back.

I unscrew the vial but then realise that unless I hang upside down from the ceiling or run around the room trying to catch the stuff like a cricketer fielder trying to catch a six with his hat, I’ve got no chance of getting this cat in the bag.

‘I need a trapeze!’ I shout as I bend forward and tilt so far that I can see hairline fractures in the floor tiles.

And then, without much merriment, I ‘produce’.

I go outside and hand over the sample. Without a word the andrologist places it with the other vials, that now look to me like a line of drunk chorus dancers, tripping and banging into each other.

Two weeks go by and my local GP has my results.

‘Mmm,’ he exhales, ‘You’ve got poor motility, that’s deformed sperm heads, and you’ve only got 11 million sperm per millilitre. ’

‘Does that. . . does that mean. I’m sterile?’ I cough.

‘No. You have to have below 5 million. Do you smoke or wear briefs?’

When I tell the ex-girlfriend she laughs. ‘Oh, I was just having you on.’

‘Ha, ha.’ But I’m not laughing.