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Dicked Around

Two Metro reporters also get the hard sell at Rosenstein's San Francisco office.

    Ron agreed to do the surgery. There was one last thing. Zapp was clear. When Ron went down to the clinic, he would be asked why he wanted the surgery. Peter told him, "You have to tell them: I want to feel 'symmetrical and balanced.' Nothing about your girlfriend or anything else," Ron recalls.

    After plunking down $5,900 for what he was told was a "flawless, painless" procedure, on Nov. 11, 1994, Ron Nance jetted into LAX, where a Ramada Hotel shuttle bus whisked him to the clinic. There, a young urologist named Brian Rosenthal introduced himself. Rosenthal informed Ron that he would perform the surgery--"even though I had paid for Dr. Rosenstein's expertise," Nance notes. Not to worry, Rosenthal said, he was trained in the procedure and had done "hundreds" of them.

    Rosenthal led him through a brief interview during which he learned that Ron was not circumcised. No problem, he said. Rosenthal asked Ron to fill out a health questionnaire, and then asked why he wanted the procedure. "I said, 'Because I want to feel symmetrical,' and he said, 'Okay.' That was it," Ron says. On Nance's "Penile Enlargement Evaluation" records, Dr. Rosenthal wrote: "The patient is counselled extensively regarding penile augmentation and advancement surgery. This is done using the teaching aids and pictures, the possible complications of infection, bleeding and loss of transplanted fat are also discussed with him."

    Within 20 minutes, Ron Nance was on a stretcher rolling toward the operating room with an orderly cooing in his ear: He would be back to work in three days, running on the beach again in two weeks and "back in the saddle" in one month. Disoriented, but still hopeful, Ron succumbed to anesthesia and nodded out.

    Hook, Line and Sinker: Ron Nance fell for Dr. Melvyn Rosenstein's promises but instead got the rack: 10 pounds of weight at night to keep his penis from retracting further after a botched penile-enlargement surgery.

    Blown Job

    When he awoke an hour later, everything in his world would be altered. As Ron says now, "I will never be the Ron Nance that walked into that clinic on Nov. 11."

    The procedure took one hour. There was a recovery period of one hour. Then Ron was shipped home. Still dazed, Ron assumed he had a bigger, better penis. The Rosenstein Medical Group was $5,900 richer--a drop in the bucket for a business that grosses upwards of an estimated $13 million annually.

    Back in Felton, as medication wore off, the nightmare began. Nance is no stranger to pain. A carpenter and an active, middle-aged man, Ron has suffered a ruptured disc, a fractured jaw, broken collarbone, ankle and nose, a cracked skull and a split sternum. "I had a long love affair with pain," he says. The pain he suffered after his enlargement surgery, however, was worse than anything he'd experienced. "That wasn't even the first step in this ladder."

    According to Ron, incision areas became infected. His foreskin clamped shut because of swelling. He couldn't urinate. Following Rosenstein's "helpful post-operative hints," which advise against calling another doctor or hospital, Ron called the Rosenstein clinic and spoke with Dr. Rosenstein, who told him to squeeze his penis to force discharge out and put a bandage on it. "Your member is dying and screaming, 'Don't touch me!' and you're supposed to squeeze it with all your strength," Ron moans.

    When the pain did not subside, Ron flew back to L.A. for an emergency circumcision. Rosenstein took over, saying the circumcision should have been performed before the enlargement. Nance says when Rosenstein cut into him, "all this fat just spewed everywhere." Because his penis was still swollen from the first surgery and infection, Rosenstein was forced to stitch swollen skin. When the swelling finally went down, "everything just opened up again." He flew back to L.A. for repair work on the circumcision and says Rosenstein "had to go into fresh meat." In the process of losing skin, Ron's penile shaft was pushed further back into his abdomen. With no room to hang, Ron's penis started to bend, a condition known in post-enlargement circles as "banana syndrome."

    Mary drove down from San Francisco for a visit in November and found Ron dysfunctional, severely infected, wracked with pain and feverish. Alarmed, she called Rosenstein and decided to accompany Ron on a fourth trip to L.A. The fever and infection were so bad when he arrived, Southwest Air had paramedics waiting at the airport. Rosenstein sent him to the emergency room at the Brotman Medical Center. Ron was given morphine and the doctor replaced ripping sutures with plastic staples. Then Ron was sent to the Ramada Hotel for two nights. When he woke, still dazed, the second morning, Mary was gone.

    She would explain later that, in his agony, he had "scared" her. "To this day," he says, "she won't have anything to do with me." Ron doesn't blame her. "This was my issue--she didn't sign on for this." Still, he says, "I've never missed anyone so much in my life."

    Although Dr. Rosenstein wrote on Nov. 28 that Ron was "markedly improved," Ron Nance would fly back to L.A. for repair work four more times. His penis was now shorter than before he had the procedure. By Jan. 30, two months after the first operation, he was unable to have an erection. He was told to buy weights to hang from his penis to correct bending. He was sold a bag of needles to shoot hormones into his penis to achieve an erection.

    Deserted by his girlfriend, too embarrassed to tell anyone, Ron started calling Peter Zapp, the man who sold him the procedure. When Zapp learned of Ron's complications, he confessed that he, too, had been back for repair work. The two became phone buddies--even as Zapp continued to sell enlargements. They commiserated, but not without Ron asking, "Why, Pete? Why didn't you tell me?" Zapp said he had just started on the job when Ron showed up--another novice.

    Eventually Zapp stopped returning Ron's calls. His office phone registered a constant busy signal. Today, Zapp is nowhere to be found. A spokesman for Rosenstein's clinic says Peter Zapp went deaf after a firecracker exploded near his ear. Someone else says the Sacramento office where Zapp was transferred was closed when it failed to produce.

    Stood Up

    Visits to Dr. Rosenstein were draining Ron's bank account. Every flight down, the emergency circumcision, all medications, the penile weight set, the hospital visit, cabs to and from the clinic, and hotel stays at the Ramada had depleted most of Ron's inheritance.

    With a smaller, impotent penis, now disfigured and still sometimes in pain, Ron Nance was a wreck. Ashamed to admit he'd squandered his inheritance on a vanity procedure, he avoided friends. His family kept an awkward distance. Ron became a recluse. Still unable to perform sexually, Ron told Rosenstein in February 1995 that he was out of money.

    "Dr. Rosenstein said, 'Borrow the money and fly down here and I'll pay for your flight.' Not only did he not do that, but he charged me for [needles and hormones]," Ron seethes.

    Over the phone, Dr. Rosenstein told Ron to get a grip on himself. He then recommended that Ron see someone else, a urologist in Atherton by the name of Dr. Ritter, a new "member" of his group. Rosenstein would return Ron's frustrated phone calls until, in April, he stopped.

    Sitting on the cliff edge near the stone cabin where he moved last year, Ron weeps. But a white-hot anger rises through his sobs. "I try to be real selective about the piles of shit I step in. But sometimes you don't know what you're getting into. He always said he was going to stand by me. I feel like a woman must feel when somebody's raped her. I feel real dirty." Sobs overcome him. There is only the sound of Ron crying and surf pounding the beach below. It's the background music of his recent life.

    The Buck Stops Over There

    Ron's case is cloudedby the fact that two doctors handled his manhood at separate times. Rosenthal left Rosenstein's clinic within six months to set up shop at the competing Surgery Center for Men in Beverly Hills. But when he began there in October 1994, Rosenthal was eager to learn the procedure from the man who performed it most, and was making the most money at it.

    When Ron stepped into the Rosenstein clinic, he did not know that Rosenthal had been at the clinic for less than a month. Rosenthal claims, however, that the enlargement surgery is simple compared to other penile surgeries he has performed.

    On the curriculum vitae passed to Ron in 1994, Brian Rosenthal is listed as "attending staff urologist" at Brotman Medical Center--the same hospital at which Melvyn Rosenstein lays claim to a number of staff positions. Yet the hospital says today that Rosenthal is still merely an "applicant in process" at the hospital--not a staff member. Staff there refuses to give information about Rosenstein, except to say he is a "member in good standing" at the center.

    Rosenthal says he had no control over his own curriculum vitae. "They made the marketing stuff. I never saw that." As for Ron Nance's complications, Rosenthal's position is that he was merely a knife-for-hire at the Rosenstein Group, and a temporary one at that. "It was all really new to me. They were already so busy. I didn't really feel like I had total control of my patients because I was working in his office. In my opinion, the problem there was just too many patients, with inadequate follow-up."

    After hearing a description of Ron's problems, Rosenthal says Ron's complications were "the result not of the actual penile enlargement surgery but rather the severe paraphimosis that developed." During paraphimosis, the foreskin constricts and forms a tight ring, like a rubber band, below the head of the penis. But what Ron suffered sounds more like phimosis, when the foreskin constricts over the head of the penis as Ron's did.

    Neither Rosenthal nor Rosenstein noted either condition on Ron's records. Further, there is no record of Ron's emergency circumcision. When Ron called screaming of pain five days after his surgery, Rosenstein wrote, "patient has considerable subcoronal edema. [Swelling behind the head of the penis, a condition which normally does not prohibit urination.] I have advised him to use an ACE wrap on this, and will follow again in two weeks."

    Rosenthal is anxious to clear his name. "I've been getting great results with not nearly as many problems as I saw there. I'd certainly like to see [Ron] in my office. I wouldn't charge him anything--he's one of my patients."

    Ron balks at the offer. "No, no, no! I gave these guys every chance to fix these problems. This is the man that guaranteed me right from the start that everything would be fine. No thanks."

    Man Handler: Melvyn Rosenstein, a.k.a. "Dr. Dick," has agreed not to perform any penile enlargement surgeries until after a Feb. 8 hearing.

    The Teflon Doctor

    Melvyn Rosenstein is one of few doctors in the country with his own public relations office. Chris Solton, Rosenstein's marketing director, acts as press secretary. After jockeying for position behind the four papers per week Rosenstein is allotted interviews with, Rosenstein calls. His time has been considerably freed since he "agreed" to stop performing surgeries in response to an order of suspension pursued by the California Medical Board.

    When I first speak with Rosenstein, news of his restriction has not reached Northern California. Rosenstein is not noticeably perturbed.

    He remembers Ron's case. "I took over because I felt he had terrible complications ... I really developed quite a personal relationship with him. Why he's suing me, I don't know," Rosenstein muses. If the surgery was botched, the problem is Rosenthal's. Doctors like Rosenthal, Rosenstein asserts, "were independent contractors in every sense of the word."

    Yet in his promo video, Rosenstein assures his anxious pre-surgery audience that he personally trains all physicians at the group "on a step-by-step basis ... I watch these other physicians very carefully to make sure that the quality of the results are exactly identical to the quality of the results that I achieve every time."

    Why did Rosenthal's curriculum vitae show he was a staff member at Brotman? "I have no idea about that," Rosenstein says. "We use what they give us."

    When asked about salesman Zapp's claims of penile grandeur, Rosenstein responds calmly, "Peter Zapp actually needed some additional work down the line so I think that he would have been very clear about risks and complications. Since everything's behind a closed door, I have no control over what [salesmen] might say."

    What about that purported one-time fee? Besides his hospital visit, Rosenstein says, Ron was charged for nothing. Yet Ron has bills for medication, usually $50 a visit, and for his emergency circumcision. Rosenstein says Ron was only charged for anesthesia after his circumcision, for which Ron was billed $750. But marketing director Solton says the anesthesia charge is $500.

    He did all he could for Ron Nance, Rosenstein says. Certainly, he did not desert the man. What about when a destitute Ron was referred to Dr. Henry Ritter Jr. in Atherton? Rosenstein responds that Ron "didn't want to come down here. And I actually offered to pay for [Ron's visit to Dr. Ritter.]"

    Ron says when he broached the subject with Ritter, the doctor was adamant that he not be considered a "repairman" for Rosenstein's work. He refused to bill Rosenstein and told Ron that he would have to pay for the $325 visit himself. Regarding that bill and fantasy flight payments Rosenstein promised to cover, Rosenstein says, "he probably never requested it or submitted the appropriate documentation to us." Ron says his questions about payments were shrugged off. "All these little promises, everything costs."

    But most upsetting for Ron Nance is what he considers his ultimate desertion by the doctor who told him everything would be all right, who even cried with him over his complications and, once, over their fathers' deaths.

    Rosenstein's message to Ron? "I love him. Even though he's suing me. I think he was forced into filing suit by the people around him and I don't hold him personally responsible. ... There's only one reason I turned away. I was served with papers from an attorney."

    Making it Stick

    Although he made informal inquiries, Ron did not actually hire an attorney until May of 1995. By then, Ron had been to three urologists in the Bay Area. One doctor told him to give up on his penis and go to church to pray for peace. All were appalled at the results of his surgery. They refused to do further surgical work.

    "Most urologists don't deal with reconstructive issues like this where there was no abnormality to start with," says Dr. Jack McAninch, the surgeon and vice chairman of urology at UC-San Francisco who finally took Ron's case. "Some doctors feel like it should be Rosenstein's problem." McAninch--who is the repair surgeon for at least 11 of Dr. Rosenstein's patients--will attempt reconstructive surgery on Ron's embattled penis in March.

    In the meantime, Ron can only wait, hope the over 10 pounds of weight he attaches to his penis and hangs over the edge of his loft each night will do some good, and cry.

    Roughly a year ago, Ron found work in San Jose as a bodyguard for an exotic dancer named Veronica. "I see the most outrageously fine women doing the strangest things to each other. People tell me I've got the best job in town. And I feel like crying. I'm worse than a eunuch," he says. "I've got a penis, but I can't use it."

    Since the surgery, Ron has been intimate with three women, each a current or retired exotic dancer. And each time, "my soul was willing, but parts of me were on strike." Ron shakes his head. "I've masturbated till I'm green trying to get this thing to work. There's no feeling," he sighs. "It's dead. ... No one put a gun to my head, but--" and the crying begins.

    Ron says he never cried before the surgery. He claims he was a different person. "I wasn't the most secure person in town, but I wasn't insecure."

    His boss, Veronica, met him a couple times before the procedure. "He was outgoing," she recalls, "your typical, aggressive male. He didn't have a care in the world. It's hard to see someone change from someone who's normal and outgoing to someone who's mentally crushed."

    According to the attorney handling Ron's and a dozen other suits against Rosenstein--and according to doctors who have worked with victims of botched enlargement surgeries--thoughts of suicide are common. Dr. McAninch reports, contrary to couples in Rosenstein's video who gush with satisfaction, almost all of his patients have had "major stress problems after they've had this done. They say, 'My relationship's totally collapsed.' Their girlfriends leave them. Some of them have been suicidal."

    Ron may be more open about his depression, but McAninch says all of his patients are distraught: "The typical reaction is anger." Patients refer to Rosenstein and other doctors as "butchers." They blame themselves for being stupid enough to go for the surgery in the first place. Unlike Ron, most men refuse to come out of their lonely closets of self-blame. In current lawsuits against Rosenstein and even in medical board investigations, patients are re-named "John Doe" and assigned numbers.

    Solton at the Rosenstein Group wishes everyone would quit whining. "Everything's reversible. They're saying, 'I lost my wife, I lost my girlfriend, I lost my dog.' But they're exactly the same person as when they started. They're blaming all their problems on this one surgery."

    While Ron admits Mary might have left him anyway, he points out that he now faces a future of no sex, no girlfriend, no romance--er, no sex. That titillating moment in the evening when the clothes start to come off--for most men, an indisputable highlight--is, for Ron, a horror show in which he plays the monster. "I lost something that we men put on a pedestal," Ron says. "You categorize yourself in life. You're good at one thing, you're not so good at another thing. You've got your little graph there. And if an area that you're into is making love, or just fucking, or pleasing your partner--that was taken away from me."

    Rosenstein doesn't understand. "His penis is not deformed. His penis looks great!" the doctor crows.

    "It's sad that a person in his position would justify a tragedy like this," Ron says. "All I can do is compare before and after. Before was heaven compared to what I have now."

    Weighted Down: The penile-enlargement industry has spawned related entrepreneurial endeavors, including Ken Jons' weight sets for men who experience shrinkage due to scarring after surgery. Some doctors assign men to the weights as a matter of course after surgery.

    A Growth Industry

    Rosenthal and other competing doctors and plastic surgeons who perform penile enlargement surgeries are quick to discredit Rosenstein's methods while--somewhat awkwardly--championing the cause of penile enlargement surgeries generally.

    There are no substantive studies on the surgery's results, which makes it hard to say whether enlargements work or not. Certainly there are plenty of botched jobs, more than Rosenstein's salesmen and even Rosenthal would like to concede.

    Ken Jons dropped out of landscape architecture to market his "Penile Tissue Expander" weight sets for men who experience shrinkage due to scarring after surgery. Some doctors assign men to the weights as a matter of course, and Jons, who had the surgery himself and designed the weights to offset his own shrinkage, feels the only way to truly gain length is to use the weights.

    But many of his patients did not expect to be hanging steel from their members when they opted for surgery, and Jons says, "We get some real basket cases in here. I've had men call who are on the edge of doing something to themselves." Many of his clients "ended up shorter" than when they started, but Jons--who estimates he sells three or four of his $254 sets a day--is quick to reassure. "If they still have erectile ability, they're not so bad. Things can be fixed."

    Although he admits that, after two years, he still has "a little bit more work to do" on his own penis, Jons won't bad-mouth the surgery, or doctors who perform it. "If done correctly," Jons says, "the surgery is excellent." His rough estimate is that 10 percent of enlargement surgeries go awry. "That's not as bad as you might think," he says hopefully, then adds, "but maybe that's more men than is desirable."

    Like others in the field, Jons has great disdain for men who are suing their surgeons. "You handle this like a man," he says, "you don't go running to attorneys."

    It's a common refrain in the industry. "There are plenty of people who don't go running to attorneys," says Rosenthal, who is in the midst of suits and countersuits with Rosenstein. "If they would come back instead of talking to attorneys, we could correct things," says Solton of the Rosenstein Group, which is involved in suits against Rosenthal and the group's former marketing director, Ed Tilden. Charges fly back and forth. This doctor is a gambling addict. That doctor is a whiner. All those other doctors are just jealous. "They wish they had as many patients as we do," harrumphs Solton.

    While the fat-injection method Rosenstein uses is considered passé by some doctors, most enlargement surgeons attempt to achieve greater length by cutting the ligament that holds some of the penile shaft inside the abdomen. Penile augmentation surgery involving fat injection and "division of the suspensory ligament" is not recognized as a "safe or efficacious" procedure by the American Urological Association, according to its 1995 statement on the matter.

    Bruce Ritchie, who wrote one of the first articles on enlargements gone bad for Australian Penthouse, estimates that 15,000 American men have undergone the surgery. Ritchie says his interviews with an admittedly skewed population left him "fairly distressed. ... They're all shrinking away and contorting."

    No one knows how many men have suffered complications like Ron. Those who have come out of hiding to file lawsuits number in the dozens. So far, no one is keeping track of men who seek reconstructive surgery. No one knows if anyone has actually killed themselves because of the procedure. There are rumors.

    Rosenstein and others assert that complications are rare, and minor. He claims that of 2,456 patients tracked over a year, only 161, or 7 percent, needed any kind of subsequent operation. "And these were not necessarily complications," he asserts.

    Ron's case doesn't seem to phase the doctor, who says Ron once told him that after the operation, he received a positive comment about his size in a locker room. "And he actually burst into tears. ... He's a very emotional guy."

    It's not that Rosenstein doesn't sympathize with patients like Ron: "It tears me apart," Rosenstein submits. But does he feel responsible for men like Ron? "I'm a guilt-laden Jew, so I feel responsible for the whole world," he says.

    To Rosenstein's version of their conversation, Ron responds, "Oh, man," and adds, "I haven't been to a locker room since this happened."

    The Decline Of Dr. Dick?

    "Ron's story doesn't sound reasonable. It's all his word against the 20,000--uh, 5,000 patients who don't have any problems," Solton argues.

    There is no doubt that Rosenstein, who once bragged of performing up to 10 surgeries per day (he now claims to do five or six), has done more penile-enlargement surgeries than anyone else in the known universe. And Rosenstein has worn the "Dr. Dick" mantle as only a man who believes he holds the power to bestow manhood in a man's world can. The cocky doctor has shelves filled with phallus fetishes. Ron Nance claims to have seen a sign in Rosenstein's office that read, $56 million in two years! (The doctor says he's making "marginally more than I did in general urology.")

    In the promo video, happy men with larger penises are interrupted by a narrator with a question: "Who is responsible for all this happiness? One man, Dr. Rosenstein ... Dr. Rosenstein has dramatically changed the lives of his patients for the better, from doubt and frustration to inner strength and self-confidence." All for a mere $5,900.

    According to the Rosenstein Group, there are thousands of satisfied men. They send Christmas cards and thank-you notes. But as more men like Ron have come out of hiding, Rosenstein's stature is beginning to crumble. "I think that what Dr. Rosenstein saw in me was the flip side, the dark side of what he was doing. That's why he left me on my own," Ron muses.

    Rosenstein unravels a bit when asked about his legal trouble. "I have no suspension," he asserts. Again? "There is no suspension ... I have voluntarily agreed to not perform surgeries until after the hearing. There are no restrictions on my license. As a matter of fact, I am practicing urology."

    According to Deputy Attorney General Elisa Wolfe, Rosenstein's "agreement" is not uncommon for doctors facing suspension. Rosenstein negotiated for a partial restriction on his business--the doctor will not perform, schedule or advertise surgeries until the results of a Feb. 8 hearing are announced. If Rosenstein had not negotiated, he faced, at worst, a total shutdown of his practice while the attorney general's office prepares its formal accusation against him. Charges against Rosenstein reflect those of Ron Nance: devious sales pitches, rushed surgeries and poor patient follow-up, along with hazardous operating conditions and an infection rate one former Rosenstein Group staffer claims hovered at 90 percent. Ultimately, Rosenstein faces the loss of his license.

    Rosenstein believes the medical board's campaign against him is "a political witchhunt," he says. "They have nothing credible against me. I can't believe they go after good and conscious physicians when there are criminals out there."

    Is he worried? "Is the pope Catholic? I'm angry. I'm furious. [But] I know I can fight it. I've had an outpouring of support that has been the most gratifying thing, phone calls, letters. ..."

    Christopher Gardner

    Sadder and Wiser: To anyone considering the surgery, Ron Nance suggests they "do a little soul-searching. ... It's really an insecurity issue."

    Safety in Numbers

    For Ron Nance, action against Rosenstein comes as a relief, though late. Nothing will change the fact that his penis will never be normal. He's in therapy to deal with some of the thundering anger and guilt that is a result of his surgery. He may or may not win his money back in his suit against Rosenstein.

    But there is comfort in knowing that he is not the only victim. "I'm hoping to tell other men: Hey, there's other people out there going through the same ordeal," he says. "To live alone is to die."

    For Ron, being able to tell his story means he may have made a mistake, he may have made a dumb decision, but, hey, it wasn't all that dumb. "I'm responsible for my own decisions. And I made that decision. But it was based on information that was given to me. I wouldn't have done this if I had known the risks involved.

    "I would hope people would do a little soul-searching before they have this done. It's really an insecurity issue. And this procedure can't do anything but shatter something that's already cracked."

    Healing comes slowly. But Veronica reports that Ron's made "leaps and bounds" since he first had the procedure done. He cries less. He laughs more. And when he does, glimmers of the old, jolly Ron surface.

    Yet, a huge hurdle looms on the horizon: reconstructive surgery in March.

    "I'm scared," Ron says. "But I have something that hangs between my legs that is unfamiliar. I can't not do all I can do. ... If I can't be put back together, what do I do? I have to face the possibility that I might be forced to spend the rest of this walk on this earth alone. And that's my future."

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From the Feb. 8-14, 1996 issue of Metro

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