Spinal Cord Stimulator

By: Amber Wetrosky

The neuropathic pain drowned out any happiness I had. The shooting pains, the burning…

My neuropathy had been steadily increasing in severity. I had reached the therapeutic maximum on the medication gabapentin. I rejected other pain medication. As a nurse, I have seen the throes of opiate addiction in patient care and I swore that I’d never venture down that path myself. The intense burning and shooting pains in my feet were stealing my sanity and I had contemplated suicide many times. If it weren’t suicidal plots, I’d often drum up ways to amputate my feet myself. I knew that the pain had pushed me too far into the dark zone of insanity.

I began seeing a pain specialist. Given my stance on opiates (their mainstay for service), I was at a loss. The pain specialist did however mention a spinal cord stimulator as an alternative to my request to ablate (destroy) the nerves. My first stimulator leads (wires) are placed near the spine in my upper back at the area of Thoracic vertebrae #8 and are connected to an implanted battery. I had the unit re-programmed many times as the coverage area only changed the sensation from my upper-waist down to my knees. The desired target area was still burning. My pain was just as severe as before, but then I had an unnecessary tingling sensation from my waist to my knees.

I scheduled an appointment with a very successful neurosurgeon to see if he could remove the unit. He instead talked with me about the DRG stimulator. It is a stimulator that sits atop the dorsal root ganglia, the portion of the spine that is responsible for bringing sensation signals back to the brain. A DRG stimulator scrambles the pain message from my feet back to my brain without sacrificing motor ability. I researched it. At that point, I had nothing to lose. We went for it!

The DRG stimulator has leads placed near my spine in my lower back at the lumbar #4 and #5, and sacral #1 levels. They are also attached to an implanted battery. Everything is completely internal with both units. The DRG stimulator gave me my life back! Things aren’t 100% pain free and I don’t expect this holiday to last forever. I’m also very aware that the stimulator is simply a means to control the way my brain perceives pain. The DRG stimulator–any stimulator for that matter, has no impact on the course of this disease.

I have both simulators running simultaneously, at all times. They produce a deep buzz. One so subtle I can’t feel it without concentrating. To give someone an idea of how a spinal cord stimulator works, I would loosely compare it to a TENS unit (a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation device which is external and sometimes used to relieve back pain). I still take medicine though. I switched from gabapentin to Lyrica (100mg 3X daily).

For the most part I feel pretty good. I can’t run, and descending stairs is troublesome, but over-all I’m doing well enough to be a mom and to work full time.