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Saturday
May112013

Wires To Wings

My glass of optimism is a-dew with possibility. It has to be. I have a life to live and wide eyed little ones who search my face for hope.

My left flank and leg vibrate, reminiscent of a pedicure chair set by an angry girl named Tiffany, who should really be named Kim. But there are too many Kims already. They got there first.

But back to my spine.

Wires protrude from it, coiled into a carefully crafted cocoon of water-proof medical tape. I am smack in the middle of turning into a butterfly.

Turning into a butterfly is never easy, even for the most ambitious of caterpillars.

The wires are called leads that go up through the epidural space in the spine and send electrical impulses that prevent my brain from registering a portion of the pain. The receiver is temporarily attached to the outside of my back and controlled by a remote that could easily be mistaken for my ceiling fan's. It sounds crude, but borders on space-age fantastic. This is the Electro Spine Stimulator Trial - the first step in the approval process to receiving a permanent implant.

I look at the pain I have left as the fracturing of the chrysalis, when a beam of light illuminates a preview of the butterfly forming inside - the faint outline of folded wings and curled up legs that make you smile - because you know that once it opens, no matter what color the butterfly is, it will be beautiful.

From the moment I entered the OR area for the implantation of the leads, it was clear this was no ordinary procedure. The representative from Boston Scientific (the maker of the spine stimulator) , was by my side - a lovely woman named Katherine. My tissues soiled, I felt as though my soul laid naked in front of a stranger. But all she saw was hope.

It was time to transfer me from the gurney to the operating table. This process has become more difficult with the progression of my pain. For years I applied makeup prior to doctor visits, procedure, even post-op in hospitals- a subconscious posturing of optimism. But this time, I was completely defeated.

As much as I wanted to speak to Dr. Graf as I usually do prior to going under, it's a little difficult to speak when you can't put any words together besides, please-put-me-out. He woke me up in the middle of the procedure just enough to assess where the leads were covering my areas of pain. Then they knocked me out again. Next thing I knew I was in the recovery room. "It's time to program you." It was Katherine. I shook the inside of my head. Program me? I was now officially a Cyborg. Even with all the metal parts, you're not officially a Cyborg until wires and electrical currents are involved. Kind of like a Russian astronaut, who is not a Cosmo-naut until he stows his liter of Vodka.


She handed me the remote control, and the programming began. A customized panel of four intensity and coverage options customized to my own personal pain levels; The coolest experience of my life that involved my epidural space - aside from childbirth. Dr. Graf then carefully went over the post-op instructions. Antibiotics four times a day. No shower or bath. Only sponge baths. Which I prefer to call soldier-bathing. It makes me feel special. You cannot raise your arms, bend over too far, twist, or in any way compromise the leads as they are only half the length they will be for the permanent implant. The last thing you want is a lost lead. I learned to shave my legs with a heated facecloth, without any visible bloodshed. However , I did have my stimulator on high, so who knows what's happened down there. (Oh and the dreams! Sleep with it on. I'm just sayin'.)

There is an unusual period immediately following surgery where you feel you can conquer the world due to the local anesthetics infused during surgery. For two solid hours I was Wonder Woman in my own mind. For two solid hours I was reminded of what it felt like to be sixteen and have a body free from a cage of pain. And that is exactly what pain becomes, a cage. You can decorate it so others don't see what it is, but you know deep inside that even if the door of the cage was open, you couldn't fly.

By the time I got home I was fiercely reminded that wires were protruding from my spine. I was given a journal to document my pain relief which quickly became my reprieve from the surgical pain. The muscles in my back ached to the point I couldn't see through the squeezing of my face. The journey upstairs to my bedroom, I would rather forget. But what has happened since has changed my outlook on life.

Two days after the trial I ventured to my daughter's second grade play, the play I had assumed I would have to miss. Without the trial inserted I would have lasted ten minutes. Max. But instead, even in a wheelchair, I smiled and waved to my child for her to see that I was there. I made it. Her worried face scanned the room from the stage, searching desperately for her mom in the ocean of eyes reaching for their own children. I held my hand higher and finally, just before the program began, caught her gaze. She melted as did my heart. Her face lifted, she sang her solo to me. She danced as though we were the only ones in the room. Because we were. The finale complete, my cheeks aching with joy, she ran to my side and crawled onto my lap. I came. She saw. We conquered. All because of wires molded into wings slightly bent in a cage with a door that is opened to a life filled with what my children always knew was there but couldn't yet see - hope.

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