It was unusual for someone my age to have difficulty getting an erection, especially since it had a medical and not a psychological cause. Yet, in more ways than I knew, what I would experience in the following year happens all too frequently to men at every age.
I was confused and frustrated. Something was wrong and I knew it. It‘s hard to talk about erectile dysfunction at any age and I realized that there was not a single person with whom I could speak about it other than my father (hang in there with me).
I was lucky. My dad, Dr. Michael Reitano, was a physician and an expert in sexual health. That was a lucky break, one few people get. Growing up, very few things were off limits at the dinner table. One day I mustered up the courage and finally brought it up (and when I say ‘finally’ I mean as long as a boy can wait when something might be wrong with his penis).
My dad asked me a few questions (“Are you depressed? Stressed? Using drugs?”) but after a few minutes, he reassured me that I shouldn’t worry—we could fix this. Still, I’d seen that look on his face before when my sister was ill. He was concerned.
The next time we were exercising together, he came up and said, “Hey Z, can I take your pulse?” I stuck out my arm and he held my wrist and closed his eyes. I assumed he was just counting away as I kept running. I had kept my pace slow thinking it would help him count, but it seemed like forever, so I decide to kick it up a notch.
After about 10 minutes, he asked me to step off the treadmill. There was that face again. He stayed calm — he is well-trained — but he knew something wasn’t right. He scheduled a stress test for the following week. (In a stress test, you exercise in front a physician as they monitor your heart; the treadmill gets steeper and faster every three minutes.)
I remember walking into the doctor’s office and passing a waiting room full of men in their 50’s and 60’s. Looking back on it now, I should have suspected it was a bad sign that men who had as many years left as I had lived were taking the same test. Anyway, at the time, I felt pretty confident I was going to crush it. It’s amazing how naive you are at 17.
The stress test starts. I hop on the treadmill and start walking. Minute 3 hits and I’m doing great. Minute 6 passes by and I’m having a good time. Naive and cocky. Minute 9 and I am barely breaking a sweat. Minute 12 and I kick it just to show off. Dumb move. The last thing I saw was the EKG monitor go nuts and the last thing I remember hearing was my doctor yell for help. My heart stopped. I collapsed and zipped off the treadmill.
They brought me back. Before I knew it, I was in the hospital for an ablation procedure to burn the parts of my heart that were causing it to do something it shouldn’t.
Fortunately, my heart was fixed. Unfortunately, my experience with ED was not yet.