“It quickly became apparent that what had just happened was a catastrophe… I died in 2015, not now.”
Lesley Roberts couldn’t believe her happy, intelligent boy who showed no suicidal tendencies and had no history of mental illnesses would take his own life. She hadn’t even known he’d gone through with the circumcision.
On 25th November 2017, Lesley came home to find a police officer in her house, and he explained that her son, 23-year-old Alex Hardy had taken his own life. One hour later, she received an email in which he explained why he made the decision. Lesley was devastated. A lot had been going on in her son’s life, and she hadn’t had the slightest clue.
He suffered from a condition known as phimosis, where the foreskin is too tight to pull back from the head of the penis. Apparently, it had caused him many problems and he decided to have it removed. A surgeon carried out the circumcision in 2015, however, he developed complications afterward which contributed to him taking his own life two years later.
Alex’s final email to his mother
Alex had a younger brother, James, 10, who doted on him for dear life. He requested that his mother share his story with the rest of the world after he’s gone, because, as he wrote in his note, “We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us”.
“I had issues with a tight foreskin,” he wrote in his final email, “but from my late teens it created issues in the bedroom as it meant my foreskin would not retract over the glans (penal head) as intended which caused some awkward moments.”
Alex grew up in the UK, but after a skiing trip to Canada in 2014, he fell in love with the country. The moment he turned 18, he put off going to university for a year and toured Canada, soaking up all the joy it brought him. One thing led to another, and the next thing he knew one year turned to five years. Alex even gained residency before his death.
“He was known as the ‘super-smart Brit’ with impeccable manners,” his mother said to BBC . “The super-intelligent guy from the UK who helped people with their Canadian residency applications.”
A tight penal foreskin is common for boys in the early years of their lives. As they get older, the foreskin completely separates from the head and can be completely pulled back. Phimosis may become a problem when in adulthood, the foreskin cannot be pulled back. It will become uncomfortably tight, sometimes forming tight rings of skin around the glans (penal head).
The most advisable course of treatment for the condition is steroid creams, which were given to him upon his first visit to the doctor’s office in Canada. Weeks later, when his condition showed no improvement, the doctor referred him to a urologist.
“He immediately suggested circumcision,” Alex wrote. “I asked about stretching and he completely lied to my face and said it would not work for me. I was mostly trusting as I felt he was the expert who knew best in this regard so with a pinch of salt I accepted it.”
Unbeknownst to Alex, the urologist he trusted to treat him had an apparently poor reputation, as he had several negative reviews from former patients online. At the time, Alex was unable to do any research, as his laptop was broken. Understandably, he’d felt too uncomfortable researching it on a public computer, and too embarrassed to broach the issue with his friends.
According to BBC, a terrifying review of the doctor read: “I can see how he misdiagnosed others, botched surgeries, and ruined lives. He’s dangerously incompetent.”
Another read. “They left a surgical instrument in my bladder but I only got notified three months later. Run away before you get hurt!”
Unfortunately, Alex hadn’t been forewarned. The surgery happened in 2015 when he was 21, and so followed a barrage of complications that culminated and persisted for two years.
He used this analogy to give tp portray the immense pain he’d been silently enduring for two years: “Imagine what would happen to an eyeball if the eyelid was amputated?”
“These ever-present stimulated sensations from clothing friction are torture within themselves; they have not subsided/normalized from years of exposure,” he wrote.
Alex had suffered from cramps, contractions in his muscles, “uncomfortable” sensations which extended deep into his abdomen, erectile dysfunction, burning and itching sensations, especially from the scar which he was left with after his frenulum was cut off. Alex believed it was the most sensitive part of his male genitalia, and they actually took it away from him.
“Through its absence, I can certainly verify it is the most erogenous sensitive area of the penis and male body overall,” he wrote. “If someone were to amputate your clitoris you may begin to be able to understand how this feels. Where I once had a sexual organ I have now been left with a numb, botched stick. My sexuality has been left in tatters. Nature knows best – how can chopping off a section of healthy tissue improve nature’s evolved design.”
Alex later described circumcision as Male Genital Mutilation. According to Alex, men who are circumcised as infants would “tragically never be able to fully comprehend what has been taken away”.
Alex’s mother is devastated by her loss
“He was in so much pain that it hurt to do normal physical activity,” says Lesley. “He was a keen skier and snowboarder so you can imagine the pain he was in. I was with him during those two years and I think I would be lying if I said I didn’t think something wasn’t right. I did say ‘Is something bothering you? Are you OK?’ And he would absolutely reassure me that he was.”
A week after Alex’s death, a friend of his shared his own circumcision story with Lesley.
“He told me he wouldn’t normally have mentioned it but he had circumcision as an older man, 10 years ago, and he was in constant daily pain,” says Lesley. “It just seems it’s more common than you think. Alex said he was not made aware of all the risks. If he had, I feel sure he would not have had the surgery. Alex wasn’t alone. I now know he wasn’t the only one that this has happened to. And that can’t be right.”
Statistics on circumcision
The above image shows the prevalence of male circumcision around the world. Female circumcision, also known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is out-rightly considered a crime in most countries, though it is still being practiced in some parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Speaking on Alex’s story, Consultant urological surgeon Trevor Dorkin, says problems following circumcision are actually rare, but this doesn’t mean they never occur.
“You do hear of horror stories where circumcision has been done poorly and there’s damage done to the head of the penis itself,” he said.
In 1995, at least 1,100 young boys died in South Africa following complications from circumcision .
Alex’s mother decided to share his story with the world because he wrote: “If the following information can benefit anybody then it has served its purpose. I did not feel comfortable raising the issue when I had a choice, so if my story can raise awareness to break this taboo within society regarding men’s health then I am happy for the release of my words.”
- My son killed himself after circumcision. Caroline Lowbridge. BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-47292307. April 17, 2019.
- 21 young men have died in South Africa during circumcision ceremonies. BBC Sounds. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p06w06wg. No date available.
- 2 Penis Disorders: Phimosis and Paraphimosis. Web MD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/men/phimosis-paraphimosis. No date available.
- What are the treatment options for phimosis? Contributor. NCBI Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK326433/. October 7, 2015. Frenulum. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frenulum_of_prepuce_of_penis#cite_note-1
- Female genital mutilation. Admin. World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation. January 31, 2018.
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