I'm repainting the trim on my house and haven't had time to think up anything good for the blog. So sit back and enjoy the following tale of onanistic capitalism at UNM's medical school, which originally appeared on a now-defunct Web site back in August of '98. I have not made any edits, but I added links.
The Rise and Fall of the Southwest Cryobank
Back in the early eighties, the Department of OB/GYN (located then in the old hospital, 6th floor south wing) decided to create an artificial insemination program, which went by a bunch of other names, but essentially that's what it was. In doing so, they needed virile young men to sell sperm to them. So they put you through an extensive physical and psychological exam to guarantee not only your physical health and purity, but to make sure that you weren't going to go off your nut or that you weren't some sort of religious zealot who was going to want his children somwhere down the line. You were then offered the opportunity to make sixty-five dollars per jerk.
Exterior view of Med-6 dropbox.
Reenactment of dropoff at stairwell.
Interior view of Med-6 dropbox.
Part of what you were accepted into the program on was your sperm count. And having a high sperm count, I was a shoe-in for the program. They would let me know 24 hours in advance of when the recipient would be coming in for "the turkey-baster" as we crudely called it. If a woman was coming in for her treatment at nine o'clock, I was asked to have my specimen ready by no later than eight forty-five. I was to put it in a plain brown paper bag and hide it in the fire escape stairwell of the hospital, behind the stand-pipe on the sixth floor. That would save the recipeint the embarrassment of seeing who was actually inseminating her, and since the program was new and there wasn't much money in the budget for it, it was kept in a brown paper bag in a hiding place. Occasionally, especially those of us with a high sperm count, we were called upon to offer samples and just deliver to what was then known as the Department of Anatomy office, so that the kids could see what live sperm looked like under the microscope.
In the last few years of the program, due to what I'm not sure (the morality of the citizenry here? The catholic nature of New Mexico?) there seemed to be a higher demand for sperm than there were guys willing to give it up. I found myself sometimes donating two or three days in a row, totally throwing the twenty-four hour abstention out the window, and making money for what I was going to be doing anyway.
There were a few close calls. They would call me and in less than an hour I had to produce some results because somebody was coming from out of town and for one reason or another they didn't have the thing set up. But I was an on-demand kind of guy and I guess my count was high enough so that I didn't need the 24-hour recharge period.
It had to be done manually. You weren't allowed to have any other bodily fluids or secretions from anyone else on the specimen. And having a good imagination, I required no additional help. I was able to take care of this, as scary as it may sound, right here in some of the bathrooms at this fine facility.
By about 1984 or 1985 the program had stepped up some in stature and status and I guess sponsorship and funding, so they moved out into the trailers known as Med-5 and Med-6. Out in front of those buildings, they installed a a crudely-made wooden box (similar to a night depository drop-box if one was to be made by, say, a university carpenter) with a padlock on one side and a trapdoor on the other. Inside, when you opened it up there was a heating pad, therefore eliminating the need to panic and try to get the specimen within the 15 minutes. You had a few hours time there. It had to be kept warm, apparently, not cold. We still hadn't reached the cryogenic stage.
At that time, the sperm recipient was usually someone from Albuquerque or at least New Mexico, and the donor was usually an employee here at the institution. So they needed to keep it warm, body-temperature type-thing. But there wasn't this big rush of needing to get it ten or fifteen minutes before the procedure happened. So it made it a little more casual. The price went up a little bit, which was nice.
Then came the late eighties and prosperous days for the Med School, which was soon to change its name to the Health Sciences Center, although it didn't know it yet. And a new building was built, which is called th Health Sciences and Services Building. The third floor, which is now strictly administrative offices, was at that time research facilities, and a research lab specifically set up for the artificial insemination program which at this point was now becoming more sophisticated and was becoming what would now be known as the Southwest Cryobank.
Instead of risking the potential incestuous-type problems of having the donors and recipients living in the same community, a new program was established where the sperm was cryogenically frozen in liquid nitrogen, shipped to a similar facility in Los Angeles, thawed out and used to inseminate the women of Los Angeles. In exchange, the men of Los Angeles sold their sperm to our cryobank where the same procedure went on, reducing the risk of being inseminated by a relative and making the distance between the donors and the recipients even greater.
A lot of guys who were able to participate before were washed out because they now had to freeze your sperm in liquid nitrogen for two days, thaw it out and see how many of those little squigglers were still alive. If you didn't have a certain sperm-count, you were out of there. Well, virile me, no problem. So even though the cutoff age for donation was twenty-nine or thirty, I sold my sperm well into my mid-to-late thirties because of my high sperm-count. Attributable to what? I don't know. A delayed adolescence? High-protein diet? I'm not sure. I'm not a doctor. All I know is that it was good money for a while.
At this point with the new building, they stepped up into the modern world and installed what is, pretty much, an armored box with a lock and built-in warmer, which you can see now on the west end of the HSSB. No longer did they need a heating pad. This was all built into the circuitry of the building. Very sophisticated. Very modern. Stainless steel. Professional, straight down the line.
Unfortunately, when the Med School turned into the Health Sciences Center and the regime from back east came in, the lab was torn out and turned into a cherrywood conference room and a private bathroom for the vice-president. The insemination program was exiled to the Surge Building on the second floor, and the program (no pun intended) started to peter out. It's still barely in operation, as most of the techs have either quit or retired and have not been replaced. The demand, at least in Albuquerque, has gone down to the point where virtually no one sells their sperm anymore, and they're back to the old "just-show-up-and-stick-it-in-a-paper-bag- and-put-it-on-the-secretary's-desk" kind of thing, because there isn't anyone to be running into to see you and say "Oh my god, this is the guy who's inseminating me? I think I'd rather not have children." Which is, I guess, what they were originally afraid of.