Saturday, January 01, 2011

Welcome to 2011, Part I

Well, it’s Saturday morning for me, 1/1/11. 2010 was an exciting and eventful year, with many ups and downs. I’ll go over a few of the personal highlights and lowlights from last year.

First, the major player in my life for 2010, my chronic back pain. It’s hard for me to even explain what it’s like to know that you have a chronic condition, that is, something that you’ll never completely recover from. First, into the way-back machine. On Father’s Day 2008 I herniated the disc at L5-S1 in my back (thanks Erin! Just kidding). After a microdiscectomy to remove the bulge, I did physical therapy until November. I was progressing well. Christmas and New Years went well, and I was improving into 2009. Then in February I was walking to meet a friend for lunch and slipped on something (it may have been ice, it may have been too much salt on the little handicap ramp for the sidewalk) and landed sitting down. I knew something was wrong, but I was going to lunch anyway. Well, to top it off, I was stood up for lunch, too. The pain increased slowly, and after a week or so I had another MRI to discover I had reherniated L5-S1 and also herniated L4-L5 on top of it.

Begin more than a year of pain management treatments, ranging from trigger point injections to radio frequency nerve ablation, physical therapy, medications, and attempts at exercise.

Fast forward to around June of 2010 (yes, I’m finally into 2010. Be quiet and listen. You knew I’d get there). After the pain management doctor was disapproved by my insurance for Botox treatments on my back, he did get approval for a neurostimulator test. Make sure you follow the link.

After the successful test, I had surgery on September 23rd, with one night stay in the hospital (they didn’t want to send me home with heavy drugs while using a CPAP to sleep. Not a good combination). That and I wasn’t really ready to go home. After about a week or so of recovering and working from home, I started going back to work. Probably too soon. The recovery and healing process took much longer than I would have liked. The paddle of the neurostimulator between my shoulder blades was irritating the spinal column at that location, causing “Phantom pain” that felt like I’d broken a rib, and there was nothing I could do about it but take more meds. Not the result I wanted.

In early December I went in for a “Tune up” of my neurostimulator. The technician adjusted the power output levels of the electrodes. Since the scar tissue had started to develop, the level of pain control had decreased. I guess the decrease was significant, because she increased the levels by 4! The result was amazing. We took our oldest and grandmonster to Ohio for that weekend to visit his other grandparents while we stayed in a hotel. It was a cute little town, and we got the chance to walk around (!), relax, and just take in small town life again. We found an antique shop that had a cane with a brass horse head as the handle, so I got that, along with some Christmas presents. I’m sure we spent too much money in that little town, but we had fun. And even though there was a storm coming, I made it through the entire weekend with little pain!

One of the issues with having an implanted neurostimulator is that you need to remember to recharge your battery every week. I was told that if the battery ever drains completely, it will need to be replaced (I hope that’s not true). Anyway, I’ve set 9:00 AM on Saturdays as my time to charge up, so maybe I can remember to do some blogging during that time.

How does the neurostimulator work? Glad you asked. It’s basically a pacemaker for my back. The electrodes are placed over the nerve bundles around T7,T8 and T9 in my back (the neurosurgeon had to do a partial laminectomy to put it in place), with the power pack and controller implanted below the belt line in my butt. I can change the power levels and programming (I have three programs I can use) with a hand held controller that communicates through electromagnetic induction to the implanted controller. Charging works the same way; I have a battery pack that I charge from standard 110v current. When it’s fully charged (it can recharge the implant a few times on 1 charge) I can connect the “antenna” to it and use electromagnetic induction and inductive coupling to transfer the power from the external battery to the internal battery. I’m doing that right now. So far it’s been about an hour; my Christmas recharge took an hour and 45 minutes, so I’ve got some time left. It comes with a belt so I can walk around if I want to, but I don’t mind being forced to stay in a chair for 2 hours or so. It’s a good excuse.

My hope is that since I’m forced to stay in one place for so long, maybe I’ll remember to post something here every week (but don’t hold your breath, ok?).

So, now I’m officially one of the Borg. On Twitter, I’ve jokingly called myself 13 of 12, because the Borg don’t like me very much. I may have a few more “Tune-ups” in my future, depending on the build-up of scar tissue under the electrodes. We’ll see what happens. I’m also beginning the arduous process of weaning off the Neurontin, which is the primary nerve pain medication I’ve been on. Looking at the list of possible side-effects, sometimes I wonder which is worse, the pain or the medication. I’d have to say, it was the pain. Hopefully I can be off most of it by the end of February.

One of the biggest (pun intended) side-effects I’ve been dealing with is weight gain. From Father’s Day 2008 to October 2008 I put on 50 pounds. My weight hasn’t changed significantly since then. My goal for this year is to drop one pound a week for the year. That will get me down to around where I was when I retired from the Air Force six years ago, and hopefully a much more healthy weight.

Next week, I’ll take a look back at the technology I acquired in 2010.

Happy New Year!