Home » Health » Botched Circumcision – If Only I’d Known [opinion]

Stories of botched circumcisions conjure images of cuts made in unhygienic conditions during initiation rites, but there have been cases of medically sound procedures gone wrong. Waza blogger Jera believes that ongoing circumcision campaigns should inform as much about possible negative outcomes as they do about the positive effects of circumcision.

In 2005, Zimbabwe’s adult HIV/Aids prevalence was 27,2%. In those days, when a man with reddened lips and patches of ‘permed hair’ entered a room, conversations momentarily died. People shifted uncomfortably in their seats and offered awkward smiles. In 2013, the adult prevalence for HIV/Aids had dropped to 15%.

Thanks to aggressive awareness campaigns, attitudes have changed. Next came the male circumcision campaign, proclaiming 60% reduction in STI transmission. Young men have queued to give up the foreskins.

Unfortunately, the circumcision campaign is one in which the advantages are shouted much louder than the negatives.

Strive is a man of 35. He loves life, despite having been laid off from work after a degenerative medical condition robbed him of the use of his legs. The loss of mobility did not diminish his spirit. He reads voraciously and writes the most captivating stories, some of which have been published locally and abroad.

“Pinda muSmart”

Like many of his peers, Strive was swayed by the adult circumcision ad campaigns – ‘Pinda muSmart,’ (Be smart) so say the posters. Strive consulted a private doctor who explained the procedure.

First the penis is numbed with local anaesthetic, before excising the foreskin and stitching. One can resume sexual intercourse in 6 weeks. It is a simple medical procedure, the doctor said.

The operation went without a hitch. Healing progressed well, until nodules the size of rice grains appeared along the scar line. Beneath the head – the phrenulum area – there existed a sagging mass of redundant skin.

Three months later, the hypertrophic scars remained

The doctor assured him that, in time, the lumps – hypertrophic scars – would diminish and the loose skin would shrink. Three months later, the hypertrophic scars remained, like Braille which read like a nightmare story during his daily self-examination.

The dewlap of skin put him in mind of a turkey’s neck. The doctor prescribed a steroidal cream which only bleached his shaft.

Corrective measures

Strive consulted a dermatologist, who cauterised the lumps with dry ice. It stung like seven bees, but he manfully gritted his teeth. For the redundant skin, a general surgeon booked him into theatre, promising to remove only the lose skin.

With Strive in a supine position, a linen sheet was put up – a visual barrier to prevent patients from seeing the horror of the surgeon’s blade. The anaesthesiologist only numbed the area of loose skin beneath the head, as the theatre file stated. The surgeon made small talk, in order to distract the patient from what is obviously an unnerving procedure.

But 20 minutes into the procedure, Strive yelped in response to a sharp pain. His view obscured by the sheet, Strive could only guess that the surgeon had begun to cut the top area which had not been marked for surgery and therefore was not anaesthetised. Through gritted teeth, Strive protested.

The doctor told him that the removal of the tissue beneath the glans had left an asymmetrical distribution of skin, which necessitated removal of skin right round. He injected a further dose of anaesthetic before proceeding.

On the second day post-surgery, a nurse changed the dressing and Strive inspected himself. The entire groin was swollen but the stitching looked neater than his first circumcision.

His shaft appeared shorter but he assumed that it would normalise after the swelling had subsided. A fortnight later, the swelling had gone but his penis still looked significantly shorter. As any man would, Strive was worried.


At the review, the doctor was dismissive.

‘Circumcision does not reduce length. Let it heal.’

He attempted to show his before-and-after photos but the doctor waved him away.

‘I have seen thousands of penises in my career!’

Two months have passed without change.

When I last spoke to Strive, over a drink, he seemed despondent.

‘The illness took away my ability to walk. I lost my job and now I have lost the one thing that I thought I could never lose.’

It needed no explanation; shortened penis equals lowered manhood.

‘Will you sue for malpractice?’ I asked.

‘I see no point. Compensation will not fix me. Even if they offered skin graft surgery, I’ve seen enough needles down there.’

I wheeled him out to the car park. After opening the car door, I offered to help him in. He graciously declined, before lowering himself to a squatting position. Gripping the door arch, he hauled himself up into the passenger seat. When he had clicked the belt into place, he looked up and forced a smile.

‘There is one good thing that has come from all this,’ he said.

‘Oh yeah?’

‘Whenever I transferred from bathtub to wheelchair, my lower end always swiped the cold floor. With 3 centimetres missing, I don’t have that problem anymore.’

I smiled at his self deprecating humour.

Later, alone with my thoughts, I reflected on our meeting. It can’t be easy for him.

While women often say it isn’t the size but the technique that matters, a man’s penis is linked directly to his self-worth. Medical texts describe Strive’s condition as ‘hidden penis syndrome.’ It is caused by an overly aggressive circumcision.

After many painful injections, after all those excruciating post-surgery nocturnal erections, he ended up worse off than what he began with. For the doctor, this was simply one of many surgeries.

For Strive, life will never be the same.

My pen is capped.

Waza is proud to feature as part of its content local bloggers who have a knack for expressing their unique perspectives, independent thoughts and engaging stories. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.

Be sure to check out this Speak UP! episode on circumcision in Zimbabwe, and don’t miss Jera’s other writing on Waza.

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