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Where's back pain when you really need it?


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001

Some people in a church group I spoke to in New Port Richey a couple of weeks ago were very nice.

"Why do you always write about how old you are?" asked one of the group of citizens mostly more senior than I. "You're just a kid."

That, of course, is one of the main reasons I tailor my public speaking schedule to include many groups of retirees. I like going places where I am referred to as "the kid," as opposed to my office, where the average age seems to be somewhere between 15 and 22, where they mumble under their respective breaths and call me "speed bump," and things less flattering.

But let's face it, on my next birthday, sooner than I want to think about, I will be 57, which only qualifies me as middle-aged if I live to be 114.

All this is by way of introducing news, which appeared in the Boston Globe last week, of a medical innovation to which I will probably never gain access.

It seems a Winston-Salem, N.C., anesthesiologist and pain specialist was hooking up a woman with severe back pain to a spinal cord stimulator. He improperly placed an electrode, and she cried out.

It was, the Globe quotes the doctor as saying, "a little bit different" sound than the one a patient makes if the procedure causes pain or discomfort.

That's because the woman was experiencing an orgasm.

My problem here is that I never have back pain.

I might get a little sore if I've been working out too hard, and I once had a really nasty time with a badly bruised tailbone, but I have never had the problems that many of my friends do with lumbar pain, muscle spasms, degenerating disks or any other form of chronic back pain.

I have or have had most of the other physical symptoms of aging. My glasses are getting so thick I'm going to need to Krazy-Glue them to my forehead soon just to support the weight. My most frequent reply to any remark addressed to me in a normal tone of voice is, "Huh?" I have a bad knee, a horrible shoulder, two partial dental plates and arthritis in, of all places, my toes.

But my back never hurts.

I'm not making light of back pain. I once had a girlfriend who had severe back pain and used a machine similar to, but not the same as, the one that caused the interesting results in North Carolina. Come to think of it, the last time we discussed it, she was bargaining with her insurance company to buy the machine she had on loan from a physical therapist.


Come to think of it, it was right before she dumped me.

But I know back pain isn't a joke, and neither is orgasmic dysfunction, the inability to have orgasms, from which millions of women and a slightly smaller number of men suffer, and which the doctor who made this discovery thinks may be treatable with the machine. He is now trying to get the manufacturers, Medtronic, a Minneapolis-based firm, to market the machine for that use.

According to the Globe, the doctor, Stuart Meloy, said the device could, "allow people to have more of a normal life than some sort of supernormal life."

Bad jokes aside, a machine that produces instant orgasms (it probably shouldn't come with an automobile cigarette lighter power attachment) would have interesting social and philosophical implications.

I haven't talked to the doctor who will probably someday operate on my bad shoulder, but my own limited knowledge of neural anatomy tells me, and a doctor friend concurs, the same form of treatment for my injury wouldn't alas, affect the same part of my spinal cord.

Nonetheless, I hope Dr. Meloy and Medtronic seriously consider developing their anti-pain machine for its slightly more exotic use.

In the meanwhile, I have some heavy lifting to go do.

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