It's been five days since my surgery and four days since my Medtronic Intellis spinal cord stimulator was switched on for the first time. On Wednesday at midday, my medical technician visited me at my bedside and programmed the stimulator in a process that took roughly fifteen minutes.
That's all. I know right??
And it was cool in that all she used was an iPad with a nifty user interface and a handheld device - similar to the one I now own - to send a series of commands into the stimulator, then tweak them so that I would feel the electrical impulses in the right area - namely my left lower back, left hip and left leg. The sensations were strange to say the least. I equated them to being zapped by an electric fence when I was a kid at my uncle's dairy farm, but much more entertaining. After the initial flurry of shocks and zaps, which took place while the technician was establishing the programming parameters, the impulse settled down, becoming a ever present buzz that rose and fell rhythmically.
I'd had a rough sleep on Tuesday night after the operation. I think that was due to the post anaesthetic fog and the inevitable pain from the surgical incisions. I have a cut in my thoracic spine, which feels like I've been kicked in the back and ribs, while the cut on my buttock makes finding a comfortable position when sitting or laying down difficult.
The first thing I noticed after the switch on - my hip pain virtually disappeared. Instead of the ache that would usually have me struggling to move, the buzz from the unit had taken its place - and it was pleasant! The pins and needles that I usually experience often come in random bursts throughout my leg, ranging from an unpleasant popping and fizzing to an intense burning that can and has lasted for days at a time, they have been replaced by the rhythmic tingle from the stimulator. So the early signs are really promising.
Working with the handheld device has been an interesting dance. It requires some playing with in order to find the best current for a given positions. I find going from a standing to a sitting position, I have to adjust the intensity of the electrical current, otherwise it can be overpowering. The ideal range when standing seems to be around 2.3 to 2.6 mA (milli-amperes). When sitting, I'm finding that I have to dial it down to between 2.0 and 2.3 mA. And when laying in bed, depending on what side I'm on (I tend to be a side sleeper), I find that sometimes I have to dial it up and sometimes I have to dial it down. Laying flat tends to push the paddles against the spinal cord - as does sitting taller - which they say is a good thing anyway.
The rules, if there are any, seem a little rubbery. For now, it's been good to discover and learn what works and what doesn't. I will meet the technician again in the coming weeks to make some adjustments and add some settings to the handheld for me to play around with.
While I heal, I have to stay out of the swimming pool. I'm not happy about that, given the progress I'd made leading upto the surgery. I was achieving 1km distances in around 24 minutes, which I thought was pretty damned good. The most important part of the healing process is ensuring that the leads and paddles don't move while the fascia and muscle layers knit together. Fortunately, I won't need to wait as long this time around.
All in all, I'm in a good place. I feel positive.