People and Places

Dr. Ronald Weiss, the Gretzky of Vasectomies

You probably know someone who knows him. Or, if you’re male, you may be one of the 45,000 who have been “Weissed.” That’s slang for getting a vasectomy in Ottawa. Dr. Ronald Weiss is the best-known vasectomy doctor in the city, having introduced no-scalpel vasectomy more than two decades ago. Since 1992, and working out of a small office in the Glebe that’s staffed by his wife, Debbie, and, at times, their grown-up children, he has made getting a vasectomy less painful, quicker, and — compared with tubal ligation (the procedure for sterilizing women) — less risky. But what really happens in that office? How do men react? Is he really about to retire? Here, Dr. Weiss cuts (pun intended) through the rumours.

(Above photo: Jamie Kronick)

Prior to the early ’90s, when you began using the no-scalpel method, how was a vasectomy performed?

Badly, really. Prior to the no-scalpel technique being introduced, the tools we used were (in hindsight) gruesome: scary, sharp, poky things that have no business down there.

Briefly, what is no-scalpel vasectomy? Twenty-four years later, is this method more common? How about outside of Canada?

You know, in medical school we learned the KISS principle — keep it simple, stupid. And one fine urologist in China, Dr. Shunqiang Li, did exactly that. He saw how vasectomies were being performed and designed two very simple tools to refine the technique. In the process it reduced the time required to complete a vasectomy and significantly reduced the complication rate. One instrument gently grasps the vas deferens (the tube that carries sperm) just under the skin of the scrotum. The other makes a tiny opening and stretches it just enough to lift out the tube and block it. This is the gold standard for vasectomy now around the world.

You were one of only three doctors trained in this method back in 1992. I can’t imagine many young doctors thinking, Hey, I’m going to operate on 70 genitalia a week for the rest of my life. What led you to vasectomies?

There were doctors in the United States doing this for about five years before I introduced it to Canadian doctors. I was a family physician and enjoyed doing office surgical procedures as part of my practice. I was doing conventional vasectomies when I heard about no-scalpel vasectomy. When I started doing them, my practice just exploded. Eventually it overwhelmed my family practice and I had to devote myself to it full-time. A door opens, and you either walk through it or you don’t. I did.

When you’re out and about, do you ever find yourself thinking: That guy by the bus — I made him sterile. That guy walking his dog — shooting blanks. The guy with three kids who’s shaking my hands profusely, with tears of joy streaming down his face — seedless. Is it strange to be known as the vasectomy doctor?

I was at Mont-Tremblant with my family a few years ago, having lunch at the bottom of the hill.  Beside us sat four women, and they kept looking over at our table. Finally one of them came over and asked me if I was Dr. Weiss. It turned out that all of their husbands had come to me for vasectomies recently and they were having a girls’ weekend to celebrate. … I love to hear the nicknames — Gretzky of Vasectomies, Guru of No-Scalpel Vasectomy — or the neologisms — getting Weissed. It’s just fun.

Forty-five thousand vasectomies and counting — Dr. Ronald Weiss is still having a ball. Photo: Jamie Kronick
Forty-five thousand vasectomies and counting — Dr. Ronald Weiss is still having a ball. Photo: Jamie Kronick

What are some of the strangest reactions people have had when they learn about your job?

There is a symbol for vasectomy — it’s the circle with a right-pointing arrow, only the circle has a little piece taken out of it. I have a gold lapel pin in that shape. I remember once standing in a long line waiting to board a plane and someone turned around and asked what the pin stood for. In a clear voice, I replied, “It’s the symbol for vasectomy.” And on days when my children would discuss their parents’ occupations, my children would proudly tell their class that their father did vasectomies. That was a bit of a shocker for the teachers.

How do men typically act during the procedure? Squeamish? Awkward?

All men, myself included, are babies. The average age of men coming for vasectomy is 35. So the last time they had to go to the doctor was probably for a vaccine at age 15. Women have Pap smears and prenatal visits and babies. Not only are they courageous, they’re also attuned to a medical office and the routine of a doctor’s visit. Men aren’t. Like a deer stuck in the headlights, some look stone-faced, almost angry. Some (and this happens more often than I expected) are laughers. But the majority just chat with me as I do my work and can’t believe it’s over when I start tidying up.

Has anyone ever had cold feet and walked out just before the operation?

For whatever reason — maybe because we provide so much information in advance, maybe because we have a waiting list — it’s very rare for someone to cancel last-minute. I’ve had two patients where I’ve stopped the procedure. Once where I could hear the man’s wife sobbing in the waiting room — clearly they were not on the same page about the procedure. Another time, a great big guy was teary-eyed on the table as we were going to begin. I asked him if he was sure he wanted to proceed, and clearly, he had some doubts. I told him to think it over.

What is the most misunderstood thing about vasectomies?

That people are afraid it might change them. It doesn’t. It doesn’t make anything better or worse.  Whatever the man has or experiences before is what he will have or experience after.

The Catholic Church — and I imagine other faiths — believes that getting a vasectomy is a sin. Have you ever encountered anyone who’s been upset with what you do?

No. But I have heard this question before. I don’t perform abortions. This is a vasectomy. The past few years, my wife Debbie and I have travelled to the Philippines as volunteers, where I perform vasectomies for free for a week. This is an extremely Catholic country. While there is some resistance from the church to making contraception available, there are many, many men there who appreciate the availability of these services, many of whom have 10 or 12 children to feed.

Forty-five thousand is a milestone. Rumours about your retirement abound. What’s next for Dr. Weiss?

Someone started this rumour a number of years ago that I was retiring imminently. Maybe a patient’s wife who wanted to light a fire under her husband to make an appointment. The thing just mushroomed. I have had to send out letters to all the doctors that refer to me to reassure them that I have no plans for retirement in the foreseeable future. Maybe when I hit 100,000.

I hear you’re a musician — you’ve even played at Folk Fest?

My main instrument is an acoustic finger-style guitar. But I also play the piano. I did have a band — the docweissband — for a number of years. I did play Folk Fest (and Irene’s, the Blacksheep, and Greenfields). After the band broke up, I’ve been concentrating on improving my songwriting skills and playing a few open mics at Rasputin’s/Whispers from time to time.