I have just got back from Christchurch. Every 10 weeks, I travel to Burwood Hospital for treatment. I sit there for a few hours, swap stories with the other regulars (some of whom feel like old friends), then I’m off home again. It’s a nice, quiet and occasionally very entertaining few hours.
Sometimes I’m lucky enough to witness something quite remarkable: a patient comes in to have their implant tuned. These “lucky” people have been fitted with a spinal-cord stimulator, an electronic substitute for painkilling drugs. A small voltage generator is implanted under the skin, with a bunch of electrodes leading to various points along the spinal cord. Very small voltages transmitted through these electrodes interfere with the pain signals travelling up the spinal cord to the brain.
Result? no more pain! Except sometimes some fine tuning is required, hence the following conversation overheard between patient and nurse:
Patient (pale, perspiring lightly): “The pain is really bad”
Nurse (standing opposite patient, pulling a PDA from pocket): “where is it hurting?”
Patient: “My left knee”
Nurse (fiddles with stylus on PDA screen): “Well, let’s try increasing the voltage on the electrode 13″
Patient: ” That’s too much, I can feel it tingling.”
Nurse: “OK, I’ll back off a bit” (fiddles again with stylus on i-phone or blackberry or whatever)
Patient (visibly cheering up): ” That’s brilliant! Perfect! Thanks! See you.”
Patient shakes nurse’s hand, exits Pain Management Procedures Room. The whole, non-contact process has taken five minutes. It really is amazing technology.
We met one poor guy who, suffering terrible chronic pain after a car crash, had been connected to a morphine pump for more than two years. Now, fitted with a spinal cord stimulator, he needs little or no pain medication. Needless to say he was very happy with this improvement in quality of life!