Playing Snooker with a Rope

That headline is just one of a lengthy list of euphemisms in the Sicktionary, an online source of ways to laugh at the limp and the lonely (

It is a euphemism for erectile dysfunction, a sexual ailment that describes the male body’s inability to maintain an erection during sexual activity. Hence, playing snooker with a rope, limp noodle, floppy jalopy, pink puncture, Mary Celeste, brewers’ droop. Good, now we’ve got that out of the way, you can stop sniggering in the back, sit up and pay attention.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common ailment for males in the their late 40s or over 50. In Ireland, it is estimated more than 50% of the male population experience it.( For people like me, with haemochromatosis, an iron overload in my blood, it is a symptom.

Men might not mind sharing a joke about it but they don’t want to admit to it, even when it is so common and easily treated. If it isn’t treated you can add stress, loss of confidence and marital disruption to your list of problems.

In haemochromatosis, it is diagnosed as hypogonadism or the under-production of sperm or testosterone. Since the symptoms of iron overload appear in men approaching their 40s, they may already be manifesting hypogonadism, but don’t want to talk about it.(

If you notice you’re losing body hair, muscle definition and, of course, erectile dysfunction, combined with extreme fatigue and aching limbs, chances are you need to visit a doctor and ask them to run a ferritin blood test to determine the level of iron in your blood.

It’s a difficult thing to get through but believe me, it’s common and a relief when it gets sorted. I will admit to going on an Egyptian holiday, myself. Yup, I was ‘in denial’ a full cruise, which, on reflection, might have been appreciated by my sexual partners of the time as I tended to ‘overcompensate’ in other areas. There’s a joke about an Irishman’s concept of foreplay is to buy his partner a bag of chips before sex. If that’s the case, then I laid on a three course meal with champagne and a live band.

The answer for me was a monthly injection of testosterone which, hilariously, had the opposite effect. The box said, ‘may experience some erectile discomfort’ but that meant my ‘morning glory’ suddenly turned in to a 7/11, like there was a corporate takeover in my trousers, the pink darth vader moved in and erected a trouser tent. Happily, time and custom help it settle. My muscle definition returned, the ‘moobs’ retracted and the hair grew back on my legs, chest and arms.

Now, I get a three month dose of testosterone, a self injecting needle that would scare the bejaysus out of The Rock and an intramuscular jab in the buttocks, recovered my self confidence and can say, ‘how’re you doin’? with a meaningful glint.

Fun with Metal Detectors

Sinead O’Connor saved my life. Yes, that Sinead O’Connor. We were close friends and lovers at the time. She was dropping her daughter off at school and stopped at a shop to pick up a copy of the Irish Times, on her way home.

There was an article on the front page about a medical conference happening in Dublin and how the keynote speaker, Professor John Crowe, had read a paper about a blood disorder that came close to wiping out the Celtic race, a millennium before.


She read on and began to realise the symptoms of this disorder were manifested by her boyfriend: arthritic pains in my fingers, particularly the left index; bouts of fatigue and diabetes. So she called me and I called my doctor. I explained to her what Sinead told me. My doctor asked me to come in.

There’s too much iron in my blood. It’s called hereditary haemochromatosis and it’s caused by a faulty gene. The body absorbs too much iron from the diet and then it deposits in the liver and other organs, particularly the pancreas. It also deposits itself in the joints.

Globally, one person in twelve has a chance of having that faulty gene but if you’re Irish, you have one chance in six. That’s why it’s called the Celtic Curse. It has other names, like Bronze Diabetes or Blood Rust.

Twenty five years ago, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Ten years later, I began to experience pain in my joints, particularly the index finger of my left hand. As a journalist, who had to meet numerous daily deadlines, that was painful. Think, while you’re typing, how many times your index finger hits the keyboard.

Back then, I was experiencing frequent bouts of fatigue which, considering my work schedule, didn’t surprise but it did frustrate me.

My doctor performed, what I now know as, a ferritin blood test and, since she worked, as a sideline, in the blood testing laboratory of a local hospital, asked me to come back the following day for the result.

As suspected, my blood showed an inordinately high level of iron. It read 1450 units, she told me and what, I asked, is the normal level of iron? Anywhere between 15 and 50, she answered. An appointment was made with an endocrinologist and two days later, I began my first treatment for haemochromotosis.

Since then I’ve got two artificial hips and no, they don’t cause panic in airport metal detectors because they’re made of a chromium alloy, which doesn’t set off alarms. That said, whenever I travel, I carry a letter from the surgeon who performed the arthroplasty (hip replacement), because it is better to be sure, than sorry.

But that’s for another blog…