I witness many conversations, both professionally and socially, regarding infant circumcision. In all of the discussions, no one mentions how circumcision, or the lack of, impacts a man when he has aged and can no longer care for himself.
One of the most gut wrenching experiences of my hospital career came when I was a nurse’s aide on a medical/surgical floor. A stoic elderly man was transferred to my unit from a nursing home and it was my responsibility to remove his street clothes and dress him in a hospital gown. The stench of gangrene filled the room and overwhelmed me when I removed his pants. He was too sick to communicate with words but looked at me with soft eyes and an apologetic face. I discovered a severe infection that fused the meatus inside the foreskin. I alerted the nurse to what I had found and she delegated the laborious task of cleaning to me. It took hours of warm compresses followed by excruciating crust removal. I apologized repeatedly and when tears flowed from beneath his thick horn-rimmed glasses, I cried too.
I will never forget this experience and I offer it to others when they consider circumcision. The elderly population, specifically 85 years and older, is growing at a rapid rate in the United States. Men are living longer than ever and the health care system is struggling to keep up. Hospitals, rehabs and nursing homes are filled with patients who need increasing assistance with activities of daily living. Dementia, incontinence, decreased sensation, and impaired vision are risk factors which can lead to infection in the uncircumcised elderly male. Lack of awareness in this area by family and/or overworked, underpaid nursing home staff contributes to the problem.
Parents who are considering circumcision should examine the consequences for a child at different stages of life. The discomfort of circumcision for an infant may be minor compared to the loss of dignity and pain experienced by the uncircumcised elder. Parents can honor their child by making a decision that outreaches their lifetime; one that allows their baby to face his twilight years with grace.
[Click to read Circumcision Part II.]