All he was trying to do was ease her chronic back pain, but when Dr. Stuart Meloy placed an electrode into one patient’s back, she groaned.
Not in pain, but in delight.
“She said, ‘You’re going to have to teach my husband how to do that,’” Meloy, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist in Winston-Salem, N.C., said in a telephone interview.
Meloy had stumbled onto an unexpected side effect of the pain device he was using — an ability to cause orgasm.
He has just patented this unexpected use of the device, a spinal cord stimulator made by device company Medtronic. Now he is trying to talk Minneapolis-based Medtronic into testing and marketing the device for this use.
A Routine Operation
It all started with a relatively routine operation for Meloy, who was trying to help a patient with severe and untreatable back pain.
“She had had a number of back surgeries for degenerative disk disease and fusion surgery,” Meloy said.
He was trying Medtronic’s spinal cord stimulator to see if it might work in her case. “These people are either suffering a lot or there is certainly a place for narcotics to be used.”
The surgeon has to place an electrode very precisely in the patient’s spine. The idea is to find the specific nerve bundle that is carrying his or her pain signals to the brain.
It requires some trial and error and sometimes, Meloy said, the surgeon hurts a patient, who will groan or cry out.
She Made a 'Different' Sound
At first he thought this had happened with this patient.
“But the sound that she made was a little bit different. I asked her what it was,” he said. That was when she recommended he teach her husband the technique.
“The next day in the operating room, the nurses were all asking me how one gets that,” Meloy deadpanned.
Meloy said he repositioned the electrode and was able to help the patient’s pain. “We able to reduce her narcotics usage by about a half,” he said.
He was not able to offer her a dual use of the pacemaker-sized device, which is implanted under the skin.
A Buzzing Sensation
The device works not to block pain but to change the way the patient perceives it. “Instead of feeling pain, they feel what most people describe as a buzzing sensation in the affected area,” Meloy said.
“It’s not so much a distraction as a change in perception. You are altering what they feel.”
This seemed to work the same way in pushing the a patient’s orgasm button. “Yes, she literally got a buzz,” Meloy sighed. “Yes, we turned her on. The puns can go on and on.”
But he hopes to turn this to a serious use.
“Once you get past the giggles and smirks, as far as orgasmic dysfunction goes, it is a very real problem. People don’t like to talk about it. But if we are going to utilize a device like this, it would be to allow people to have more of a normal life than some sort of supernormal life.”
In other words, no “Orgasmatron” as featured in the 1973 Woody Allen movie Sleeper.
Meloy hopes he could develop the device for temporary use, to retrain a patient’s sexual response. “You could just get them back in the groove or whatever.” Then the device could be used outside the body via a catheter.
But Meloy stressed it was no toy.
“Even for pain management patients we certainly exhaust all other possibilities before we start utilizing this type of technique,” he said.
Will it work on all kinds of people, men as well as women? “I observed it twice,” Meloy said.
“I hang out with other people who do pain management, and I have heard of it working with men as well,” he said.
“Is it reproducible? I sure hope so.”