No, I’m not retrogressing into Whitman (tried it once in college, didn’t like it). Walk with me for just a bit and I’ll explain.
For more than half of my adult life I’ve ‘rassled with chronic pain. It started with a misdiagnosed spinal cord tumor that wasn’t recognized for nine years. No fun! After six months of rehab, I had a year of relief, but then it got worser (as my daughter said) over the next ten years. Adhesive Arachnoiditis is one of those diseases that is incurable. One wag of an MD stated, “If Hell were a clinical medical condition, it might look something like Adhesive Arachnoiditis.” That doc was funny, but quite correct. It’s a really nasty condition. Professionally, this had slowed me a bit more than I liked. Still I was able to put in what most would consider a full career doing what I enjoyed, which is far more than most folks are blessed with.
Pills have their place, but the really good ones (narcotics) are just a dead end over time. The same goes for those really cool morphine pumps. I was interested in something with a bit more temporal consistency. An additional problem is that you are not quite the same person while you’re taking opioids. If you’re raising kids, they need to worry about what dad “might” do. If you’re doped up, they get a pass, and you’ve done them no favors in providing a sedated life lesson. I needn’t mention that it also limits your career when it comes to driving airliners.
What to do? Until a few years ago, there really weren’t any acceptable options in dealing with the problem. While it won’t ever get me back into the cockpit, Medtronic was kind enough to provide a solution. While visiting my pain doc, he showed me a little metal and plastic box that was significantly smaller than a pack of cigarettes.
Arguably, it’s a lot of trouble to get installed. You first have to go through a trial installation which involves placing a couple of temporary electrodes into your epidural spinal space. You can see the little fellows to the side of the stimulator. They are left sticking through your skin into your back where you get to enjoy their benefits for a full week. The battery pack, computer and wiring are all sealed under a clear adhesive covering to keep the parts protected. Don’t worry, they don’t hurt and you can’t see them anyway. This trial allows you to decide whether the benefits are worth the trouble of progressing to the next level of a permanent implant. In my case, it was far more beneficial than I dared hope.
After a couple of weeks of healing, I was back for the permanent implant. It took a little over an hour to get it placed. Generally, folks get to stay awake for the procedure. This is not nearly as problematic as it may seem. In my case, I not only got to have an epidural anesthesia, but was also administered a medication which has a side-effect that creates a temporary state of amnesia. That was unfortunate, because I really would have been interested in what was done to get the hardware installed.
In any event, I woke up with an electrode matrix installed within my thoracic vertebrate (you can see it there in the center), and the stimulator/computer/battery unit installed in my right flank beneath the skin. The surgeon was excellent. There wasn’t one problem with the recovery. There was no pain to speak of, and the big jar of narcotics I was sent home with remains unopened in the back of the medicine closet. Was it a big deal? Compared to previous surgeries I’ve had, this one was minor, but major in effect.
So how does it work? I’ll tell you in a bit.