Spinal cord stimulator (700 x 415)

Wow, what a crazy two weeks it’s been. On April 7th, I had a temporary spinal cord stimulator implanted in my thoracic spine to see if it would give me relief from the overwhelming chronic pain that I have been experiencing for so many months. The pain was centered in my back and radiated down both legs into my feet. It brought me to a very low point as I described in my last post “Chronic Pain Wallops Even This Optimist.”

I am thinking that you may be curious about the process of implanting a spinal cord stimulator. Here’s what happened. It is actually quite interesting. My doctor, under fluoroscopy, used spinal needles to access the dural sac. He then threaded two leads containing electrodes on them onto my spine at about T7-T9. Since it was a temporary device, he coiled up the length of the leads on my back together with the battery. Then, he secured them with copious amounts of very sticky tape to ensure they would not move.

 

It was the most amazing week!

I experienced, almost immediately, an approximately 75% reduction in pain over about a 90% coverage area. These are quite impressive results both for Medtronic (the manufacturer of the stimulator) and for me.

What was so amazing was how different I felt after the device was implanted. I was able to cook, sit up all day, and walk around the house, even do light cleaning. Yes, I was tired, but I was my old self again! The enormous weight of the chronic oppressive pain was lifted off my shoulders almost instantly.

Within the first 24 hours after the device was in place (despite the pain associated with a couple of lumbar punctures), I was able to eliminate an entire dose of pain medication and easily go longer between the other doses. I did have a migraine which I initially feared was a spinal headache but was relieved when a migraine pill helped.

It was amazing to feel as if I was walking on air because of the relief from the horrific chronic pain I had been experiencing. I was so happy and was able to interact more with my wonderful husband, Mark, as well as the rest of my family.

The weight of the oppressive, persistent pain had been lifted by the device and I could just enjoy life! I cannot wait to get the permanent stimulator placed (which should happen in the next week or so).

 

What happens next? Life after the test period

On Friday, April 11th, they pulled the leads from my dural sac, ending the test phase of stimulator and disconnecting me from my life saver. It was very hard. I definitely bonded with this device and had, in a short period of time, come to love the electric impulses it sent down my legs and into my back to block the pain signals from being perceived in the brain as pain. I even had a name for my stimulator—I called it “Sparky.”

It seems like a cruel joke to have extreme relief and then immediately be thrust back into the world of pain again. By the time we got home from the doctor’s office after the device was removed, I experienced the imbalance in my CSF fluid from the spinal puncture. I became very sick with a spinal headache (not my first, given my long history of spinal surgeries). I was instructed to lie down and drink caffeine (which makes the body produce more spinal fluid). The pain has been much more intolerable because I had experienced such a relief from it for an entire week.

 

What it’s like to live with chronic oppressive pain

There is an amazing dichotomy between a person experiencing oppressive pain and that same person experiencing a much lower rate of pain. It’s like the difference between the concepts of heaven and hell.

Heaven, I envision as a place with joy, light, warmth, and happiness. Hell, I envision as a place with wicked creatures, cold, almost like a prison for the soul. I write about this because it occurs to me how different I am with less pain—I am the happiest most optimistic person I know.

Even though I am an optimistic soul, I become different when under the throws of severe chronic pain. It is unbelievable how lifted up and more optimistic and happy I am unconsciously when the pain is lifted. It’s like I’m walking on sunshine, smiling from ear to ear taking in all the wonderful things in life and exuding that back out to others.

I cannot wait to get “Sparky” again. It’s like that device was a part of me, a supportive device doing more than relieving pain, but also giving me a life again. Mark and I were able to hang out more. I could sit up for meals and we interacted more. I could even laugh more than usual. Everyone who talked to me said how more light-hearted I sounded and more happy, truly happy.

When I am experiencing aggressive pain, chronic or acute, it carves away a small piece of my soul as time passes. I am acutely aware of the difference in my personality with and without oppressive pain. I am like a child on Christmas Eve waiting to have the surgery, the one where they implant the permanent spinal cord stimulator.

Thanks to my family and friends

Thank you for all those in my life who experience me with and without pain and love me no matter what. I long for the days of connecting even more with Mark and my family. It will be so nice to have a life and actively engage with the world around me.

Thank you, Medtronic, for offering such an innovative and effective device that is a life changer for so many. You’ve given me the hope of a better tomorrow and to literally feel like

“I’m walking on sunshine…” as sung by Katrina & the Waves.

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