First she started with a trial device. It's important to do a trial run before getting a permanent implant, because not everyone can handle having a tiny machine zapping her spine, for some reason. The trial surgery is a simple matter -- they just have to stab this electrical shit into your spine, and they can't put you under beforehand. "The trial surgery is really strange because you have to be semi-awake. It's a lot like getting an epidural several times because they put in more than one lead."
The doctors need you awake so they can find the right spot to put the implant. Amanda has hers in her lower back because the pain is mainly in her legs. The implants can be put higher up, even in the neck, if that's where it hurts.
You know it works because it glows.
After that, well, there are a couple of things to watch out for. "It's really awkward during the trial, because you can't get wet because you could get electrocuted. I live in Florida, and we just had monsoons, and I had my trial during torrential downpours."
But rain is far from the weirdest danger:
"I was on the way home in the car, and I sneezed, and I felt like my whole body was vibrating. Another time I was sleeping and rolled over, and that put pressure on the device against my spine, and I felt like my legs had fallen off. ... I wasn't sure if my body was still there, so I had to reach down and make sure my legs were still there. There's a very bizarre disconnect for a while. When you first get it, and during the whole trial, if you move the slightest bit strangely, your legs will go crazy." When it's working properly, she says, "the best way I can explain it is it feels like a cellphone vibrating in your legs."
Which still sounds obnoxious, but soundly beats the shit out of life-altering pain.
After the trial, the permanent one is inserted during general anesthesia, but they pull out the first implant while you're awake. "It feels like a very long IV being taken out." The permanent one comes with a remote -- you have to keep it with you at all times to make adjustments. You're also meant to turn it off while driving or operating heavy machinery. The remote has two parts: a disk you put over the device implant, and a thing with buttons that lets you choose programs. You can even set it to pulse.
So ... does it actually work?
Well, an SCS implant isn't considered a complete cure: It's a success if it decreases your pain by 50 percent or more, and it doesn't work on everyone. But for Amanda, the implant made the pain go away from the moment she woke up after surgery. "For the first 24 hours, I was giddy. Pretty much laughing hysterically. You wake up from the surgery, and you feel it working. Very strange to wake up and not be in so much pain after you've gotten so used to it being there all the time."
If you're curious, studies show that the implants do nothing at all for about 20 percent of patients. For the rest, though, most of them get at least some relief, and still get it years later. The ones who get great results from the start usually can expect to keep getting relief long term. That means Amanda's huge, initial dose of pain relief bodes well for her future, assuming the implant doesn't become sentient and turn into a Doctor Octopus situation. So far, so good. Or in Amanda's words, "This is awesome."
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