Friday 17 August 2018

Dealing with Erectile Dysfunction: 'Having an erection is an integral part of your masculinity'

Martin Ryan about his experiences dealing with a troubling sexual problem.

Martin Daly at home in Co. Wicklow. Photo: Tony Gavin
Martin Daly at home in Co. Wicklow. Photo: Tony Gavin

Joy Orpen

When it comes to problems of a sexual nature, Irish men are reluctant to voice their concerns. This is what Wicklow resident Martin Ryan (50) discovered when he faced a troubling problem concerning his own sexual health. At that time he could find no one else to share their experiences with him.

Martin, who comes from Tipperary, joined the civil service soon after school. Over time he earned a degree in languages and ended up working in IT in the government's valuation offices. In 2001, while at work, he performed what should have been a simple manoeuvre, with disastrous consequences.

"I had to lift a cartographer's monitor up and over the surround of a desk," he explains. "But when I did that, something gave in my back." Martin thought rest would resolve the problem, but his condition only got worse. Eventually doctors decided he needed surgery to repair two displaced discs in his back. Unfortunately, the desired result was not achieved.

"Following the operation I lost control of my bowel and bladder," Martin explains. "I was told there had been nerve damage. Over time the nerves in the bladder regenerated themselves, while there was a partial healing in the bowel."

Read more: Why Irish couples shouldn't be afraid to talk about Erectile Dysfunction

However, some months later Martin realised he was also suffering from erectile dysfunction. And even though he wasn't romantically involved, he felt bereft. "Having an erection is an integral part of your masculinity," he says. "When you can't have one there is a sense of grief for the loss of sexuality."

Martin then saw urologist Ted McDermott who consults at the Beacon Hospital. The first stage was to see if medication would help, but it didn't. "I ended up with awful headaches," Martin says. "The next thing was an injection into the penis but that didn't work either."

Finally, two years after he first consulted the urologist, Martin was offered a "penile prosthesis", which, he says, is only done as a last resort. "There were definite dangers involved," says Martin. "But by then I felt I had nothing to lose. Nothing was working and I was getting depressed. The surgery took about one and a half hours. They insert a reservoir of saline solution into your tummy. That is connected to two inflatable tubes in the shaft of your penis with a trigger button in your scrotum. If you want an erection, you press the trigger button."

Martin says while there was some discomfort he didn't experience much pain. "I walked like John Wayne for a week. The first time it (his penis) was inflated, it was in the presence of Ted McDermott. It worked and that felt strange but good too. It's all about your self-confidence and manhood."

Read more: 'PE' - The dysfunction that dare not speak its name

Though Martin has had several surgeries on his back in recent years - he is delighted at least, to have resolved the erectile dysfunction problem.

He moved home last summer to a house that sits, like an eagle's eyrie high above a lake in Wicklow. His collections of beautiful things - everything from original sketches of Edith Piaf to good furniture and bog-oak sculptors, define this lovely, two-storey retreat.

Martin deserves to live in such lofty surroundings. In 2007, he was forced to take early medical retirement and even though he continues to endure considerable pain, he retains an inspiring attitude. "I use a wheelchair as I can only walk a little bit and I can't straighten my back," he volunteers. "But my upper-body is fine. I decided if I wasn't going to die from this I needed to dust myself off and get on with things." Martin has all sorts of interests from collecting antiques to hand-making greeting cards, and from playing the piano to making the most delicious scones.

However, for him, a most disturbing aspect of this painful journey is the realisation that Irish men are not talking about their sexual issues.

Read more: Testicular cancer survivor: 'I came close to losing my life twice so I value every single day'

"They need to open up when they have a problem," says Martin vehemently. "There are so many people out there who need to talk about erectile dysfunction and other related problems, but they don't know where to turn. I'd like it if people weren't suffering so unnecessarily."

Martin has already begun sharing his experiences with some of Ted McDermott's patients from the Beacon Hospital in Dublin. But he will also lend an ear to anyone who needs guidance on men's sexual issues. After all, there may be a relatively simple solution to a problem that has already caused untold anguish. And who would say no to that?

Contact Martin Ryan at

Sunday Independent

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