Manitoba·Winnipeg Famous

No-scalpel vasectomy doctor uses humour to calm patients

When Dr. Errol Billinkoff brought the no-scalpel vasectomy to Winnipeg, his family practice gave way to his specialty. After 27,000 procedures and 27 years, he's become Winnipeg Famous for his technique, efficiency and sense of humour.

Dr. Errol Billinkoff brought no-scalpel vasectomy to Winnipeg in 1992

Dr. Errol Billinkoff keeps the washroom key on a sabre and a sperm-like sculpture near the front door at the Winnipeg office where he performs thousands of vasectomies. (Bridget Forbes)

When you arrive in Dr Errol Billinkoff's office, you walk past a shiny silver sculpture that looks a lot like sperm, which is exactly why it caught his eye. 

"I saw this in a store and I was intruigued by it," Billinkoff said with a laugh. "I thought, 'What could that possibly be?'"

It turns out it was a paper towel holder, but it's proudly displayed as a statue in the Billinkoff Vasectomy Clinic on Lombard.

When Billinkoff brought the no-scalpel vasectomy to Winnipeg, his family practice gave way to his specialty. After 27,000 procedures and 27 years, he's become Winnipeg Famous for his technique, efficiency – and sly sense of humour, which he uses to help his patients relax.

There's a poster of John Wayne with the slogan "A man's got to do what a man's got to do" on the ceiling of an exam room. The key to the washroom is attached to a foot-long plastic sabre.

Thousands of men have looked up at John Wayne during a no-scalpel vasectomy at Dr. Errol Billinkoff's office. (Supplied)
"It's always much easier to do when a patient is relaxed, but when there's some anxiety there, it's my job to help relax them," said Billinkoff, "so distraction and humour are as effective as an anesthetic."

Patients can also choose from a carefully curated selection of videos to watch during the procedure, which usually takes less than 10 minutes. 

There's the Home Improvement where Tim Taylor goes for a vasectomy, or the Seinfeld featuring George Costanza lamenting to Jerry that "it shrunk" during a dip in a cold pool.

No-scalpel vasectomy

Billinkoff, now 61, was the first doctor to do a no-scalpel vasectomy in Manitoba, although Dr. Jay Buenafe is now also well-known for doing them. 

Billinkoff was running a family practice in 1992 that included performing standard vasectomies, but he read an article in a medical journal about a new type of procedure developed by Chinese doctors.

He went to Ottawa to learn the no-scalpel technique, which is now the industry standard, from Dr. Ronald Weiss, who first brought it to Canada.

That's when things really took off.

"There were always a number of guys who were coming in for vasectomies," said Billinkoff, "but once they heard about this, or once their wives heard about this, it became much more popular."

Once their wives heard about this, it became much more popular- Dr. Errol Billinkoff

Vasectomies started to take up more of Billinkoff's time, and in 2002, he gave up his family practice.

"It wasn't really a choice. It just worked out that way," he said. "You just get real busy and the next thing you know, you're doing over 1,000 a year."

His office is the picture of efficiency, with every detail aimed at keeping patients relaxed.

Billinkoff chose the historic building in the Exchange District because it didn't feel like a medical clinic; his travel photos are on the walls in every room.

His website and printed material in the office answer questions he has fielded many times in his career.

For 25 years, Barb Price has been the first face you see when you arrive in Dr. Errol Billinkoff's office. (Bridget Forbes)

If patients still feel nervous when they arrive, they meet Barb Price, Billinkoff's office manager for 25 years, whom he refers to as his "warm-up act." 

She can generally tell who's worried. 

"Either they're so quiet they won't look at you, or some of them talk non-stop," Price said. "Some of them, their wives are pushing them in the door. You ask them a few things and try to get their mind off it."

Price and Billinkoff have perfected a schedule that prevents long waits in a lobby.

"Dr. Billinkoff is really keen on having no waiting time so that they're not fussing," Price said.

Judgement call

Billinkoff doesn't always say yes when a man comes in and asks for surgery, especially if it's a young man.

"When you see somebody who is 27 years old, not in a relationship, doesn't have any kids, do you do that vasectomy or not?" said Billinkoff, who deals with each case on an individual basis.

"At the same time, though, if a person that doesn't want a child ends up getting someone pregnant, that's also not good, so it's a double-edged sword."

Vasectomy reversal is a more complicated surgery and the rate of success drops over time, said Billinkoff, who doesn't do them.

"There have been many situations where I've said no to somebody in their 20s and they come back 10 years later and thank me, because they ended up in a relationship where they did want to have a child," he said. "So that feels good when that happens."

Winnipeg Famous

Billinkoff sometimes gets recognized outside the office.

"Not the grocery store so much as Home Depot," he said. "Sometimes it's a wink; sometimes it's a puzzled look, like I look familiar but they can't quite place me.

"My kids find it hilarious because every time they mention their names, they are asked if their father is the guy who snips, so that's pretty funny for them."

Billinkoff also served as Winnipeg's only mohel, performing ritual circumcision for the city's Jewish community from 1992 to 2012.

"There's nothing that prepares you for doing surgery in front of a crowd," said Billinkoff, "but given the nature of the work I do already, I'm used to dealing with anxiety."

He appreciates the trust his patients put in him.

"There's a great deal of trust and you've got to respect that and know that they're giving it up to you and you've got to take care of them."