Archive for August 15th, 2009

Some Nerve.

Kind of a run-down of what happened last week when they did the thing on my neck.


Radio-Frequency Ablation.

Sounds kind of cool.  Rolls off the tongue similar to “Low-Tar Cigarettes”.  That’s not a commentary or judgment, just a statement.

So imagine that you have headaches as a result of a car accident 30 months ago.  Now imagine that the headaches feel roughly like a fat gravel-encrusted parasite is living behind your eyeball.  If you can picture that parasite snacking on twinkies, ho-hos, pringles, and beer, and at some point growing large enough to need to knock down a few walls so it can stretch out it’s corpulent legs, and then picture it scraping it’s way through the bone until it finds suitable floor space in a sinus cavity… well, now you imagined one of my milder headaches.  Take the resultant exquisite pain and spread that love around, so it goes up over your skull after boring out through your eyesockets, down the back of your head and right down to the base of your neck.  Think of the pain you endure during a time-share meeting and multiply it by 57.3 raised to the second power.

It makes it hard to think.

The procedure is very simple.  Take a nerve, stick a wire next to it, pump it with radio-frequency current, and wait for the nerve to jell up like an egg white and then for it to completely die.

Now, a year ago (or was it more?) I had looked into this procedure and found a number of interesting things about it:

1)  It hurts more than the original ailment..

My fevered imagination pictured butt-clenching pain, which wasn’t too far off from what I had experienced many times already.  But even worse butt-wrenching pain?   Keep your butt-wrenches over there, please.

2)  It hurts more for possibly a long time.

What, several years isn’t long?  Ohhhh, 6 weeks?  But it still might not be effective. Problem here is that doctors live in normal time and pain sufferers live in bullet-time.  You know how annoying it is waiting the five minutes (subjective) it takes for a cigarette butt to hit the ground?   Well, that is where pain takes you… bullet time… where everything is slow and takes forever.

3)  It hurts more and could stay that way if you were unlucky.

Is there any answer designed that could give you more unease?  The thought of it being worse and overstaying it’s welcome like a strange aunt. who has a personality as engaging as an apathetic diseased hedgehog with halitosis… eh.  Not so attractive.  Face it, if you were a lucky individual you wouldn’t be going through this, so how lucky are you willing to bet that you’ll be now?

4)  It would need to be re-done.  Every 6 months to a year.

Again, this is a hard sell.  Let’s see – 6 months between procedures… anywhere from two weeks to one and one-half months to recover.  Leaves 4-1/2 months but then you subtract out the time where the nerves are growing back and hurting again (necessitating repeat procedures).  So you get what, a month or so of true relief?  It doesn’t sound like the optimal solution.

5)  It doesn’t really fix anything, just gets rid of the pain.  Temporarily.

Questioning the nurse (ve haf vays of mekking you tock, dammit) there is damage there that could possibly be worsened while you are active and you’d not know it… until later.  Oh yeah, sign me up for that train.  All aboard the Decrepit Express!  Whooo-whoooooo!

We opted against the procedure at the time because I/we was/were hoping that some other less invasive treatment would work better.   Obviously my quality of life this last year is proof that other treatments were not so effective.

So with great fear and loathing (but semi-longingly) I revisited this option.  When your options are essentially a choice of whether to be eaten by wild tigers (behind you) or run willingly ahead and be eaten by giant fluffy man-eating rabbits you tend to go for the softer cuddlier method of meeting your fate.

Leading up to last Tuesday I was pretty worked up.  Had a day where I didn’t feel too awful bad and thought “Maybe I’m over-reacting and this isn’t necessary – wouldn’t that be nice?”  But then later that same day I was treated to what would be three days of nail-biting pain.  The universe is not without a sense of Irony, it seems.

Tuesday morning rolled around finally.  I huffed and puffed through my morning “runners high” that I now get just from getting out of bed and crawled into my clothes.

The rest of the family was due at a swimming lesson so we headed on over there before they dropped me off at the pain clinic.  I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the tang of pool chemicals in the air, the sound of splashing water, the smell and feel of Ben-Gay smeared throughout my Speedos by my team-mates.  Yes, I missed my water polo days; Chemical burns on your “guy parts” sure classify as one of those bittersweet moments.

Arriving at the clinic I did the standard questionnaire – Yes I still have pain (I’m here, aren’t I?).  No, I’m not: taking blood thinners, not on antibiotics, not on ED medications, not (currently) huffing paint fumes, not engaged in a cross-species relationship, not training for a marathon, not preparing for gender reassignment, not currently menstruating, not a practicing Wiccan, not dizzy, nor currently suffering from peyote-induced hallucinations.  No, I don’t drink strychnine or handle snakes.  No I’m not a Scientologist.  No, I do not consume more than 3 pots of coffee per day (anymore).  Where is my pain?  Right here, my friend… right here… let me show you…

We spent some time looking at the giant aquarium in the doctor’s office.  The medical practice included the aquarium filled with expensive salt-water creatures bathed under cancer-causing UV light not because it has shown to have any effect on pain but so it would provide a good focus for someone who is hurting to endure bullet-time.  The boy was sitting on the edge of the big glass tank and poking at the fish with his toes and the girl was banging on the sides with a brick she found outside.  Loud noises and squealing children have been shown in study after study to alleviate pain in sufferers by 2 points on the pain scale.  Not really.  Not even close.  Quite the opposite.

They called me back to the staging area and  I was shown my bed and the thneed-like gown that is de-rigueur in any hospital, office, or dominatrix’s studio.  They use these fiendish things because it is the height of hilarity to watch patients try to puzzle out why the hole for the neck is in the crotch region and why there are three arm holes rather than the standard two.  I donned my “gown” and got comfy on the gurney/bed (again, these things are made from concrete, broken glass, and chicken-wire).
Medical settings like this are always interesting.  If you’ve seen Men in Black when they pass through the alien immigrations area, it gives you an idea of the people you see in these places.  Funny gaits, twitches and tics, strange keening sounds, drooling, short barks and squealings, tendencies to hit heads with a closed fist, and profanity to make a Tourette’s sufferer blush.  Believe me, the patients are even stranger.

I was asked the same questions that were on the questionnaire no less than three times by nurses that slipped into a rote recital of said questions, their eyes glazed and lidded in some sort of pseudo-REM state, muscles slack, and ceaseless fingering of worry-beads.  If you have never been questioned by a zombie nurse with worry beads, it is quite distressing.  Another nurse came by and asked if I was to receive an anesthetic (OH HELL YES).  She set the IV while looking at me with condemnation in her eyes for daring to have deep veins.  Me and my vascular system, we felt a vague but noticeable unease under the soul-dead, thousand-yard stare of the affronted nurse, and I hid in vain under my sheet for about five minutes, praying that she would soon leave to seek out another victim.  Luckily I had a dog biscuit in my pocket from working with Zoe the night before and using my IV-free hand I skillfully skipped it along the floor away from my bed, which was sufficient to make her leave.  I could hear her panting as she loped away to find the biscuit, which ended up beneath the bed of a fellow traveller.  Unfortunate for him but better for me.  Tough old world, fella.

A short while later I was approached by two more nurses wearing inch-thick leaded body-shields.  They said their task was to wheel me into the procedure room.  The wheels on these beds are regulation-standard which means that, by law, no two wheels may ever point in the same direction nor must they roll smoothly, and a large number of them are made of an aggregate of soft rubber and pea gravel which gives a wonderful roll-roll-scraaaaaaape-roll-roll sensation when going from point A to point B.

I mentioned the lead shields, didn’t I?  The course of the rusty ten-penny-nail needle as it plies it’s way through the tender tissue of your neck is observed using a fluoroscope that puts out enough radiation to sterilize food and small rodents from 50 feet away.  As horrifying as that sounds, the choice is still relatively simple:  pain vs. radiation burns, radiation sickness, and cellular mutations.  So these nurses-turned-walking-tanks wheeled me along on the way into the procedure room with one minor stop as we slammed into the door frame with the squealing of tortured hot metal (strangely reminiscent of the auto accident).

For reasons unclear to me, the procedure room is kept at a brisk 47 degrees.  My wheeled death-cart was positioned next to the table and I was rolled over and positioned face-down.  The table itself is roughly ten degrees colder than the room temperature and has a hole cut out in it for your face to rest.  They gave me oxygen and while I was getting used to having the cannula tubes stuck up my nose they used ratchet tie-downs to secure me to the table.  Once trussed they opened up my thneed and let me experience the early stages of frostbite on my back.  One nurse said “this will be cold”  (no kidding?) and upended a one-quart container of betadine on my neck and back.  Little rivulets of antiseptic ran down the side of my face and dripped off my nose and I began to lose sensation in my neck and back from the numbing cold liquid.  She grabbed a belt-sander and started working the stuff deep into my abraded skin while another nurse screamed maniacally “Another cold thing coming!”

I thought “This thing feels like a nearly-frozen sticky piece of flank steak positioned over my left kidney.”  I said “What the HELL is that?”  The nurse laughed and says “Oh, that’s just an electrode.”

I offered my opinion that it might be more comfortable if they just stuck one of my feet in a bucket of water but she wasn’t moved to change the procedure.  Between chattering teeth I asked her why they needed an electrode there when they were going to zap my neck.  While I was waiting for her to answer the question I laid there and tried to determine if the placement of that electrode relative to the site of the procedure created a conduction path that passed through my heart.  Short answer:  Yes.   She mumbled something nonsensical and I could tell that I was on thin ice (on several levels) when I asked her questions and behaving as if I had a brain.  Imagine a democrat senator being irritated by questions regarding health-care reform and you get a sense of her behavior.

Enter the doctor.  Without further ado, he lifted my IV and injected the glowing contents of a large syringe into it.  I asked if he was going to keep me awake for part of the procedure and then I woke up as they wheeled me out of the procedure room.  It happened that fast.

Two boxes of fake juice later I was led by the arm to the waiting room and dumped like last week’s laundry.  I was shaky as a newborn deer, as dopey as a drunk sorority girl, and really really tired.

The nurses said something I don’t remember.  I said something back that I don’t remember.  And before long I was picked up and given a ride home where I promptly went to bed.

By 4or 5pm I was feeling pain as the anesthetics wore off.  By 7pm we were calling the doctor to see if I could take the pain meds more frequently.  While the headache was greatly lessened the arm pain and generalized neck pain was significant and my right arm felt as if a bowling ball had been dropped on it and the forearm felt like it had been burned.  Still, while the pain was more severe, the worst aspect of it was alleviated when the headache was knocked down.  Not all pain has the same effect on your ability to cope.  A broken finger you can ignore.  The same pain in your forehead is darned near impossible to ignore.

Now it is four days later.  I am extremely grateful to have my pain meds – even though I hate them with a passion – as the discomfort I am feeling today is significant.  But, they say two weeks, give or take, before the nerve endings truly die.   I’m not going anywhere, so I’ll be here – waiting.

A lessened headache will do for starters.  Quite nicely, it will.


The Gutless Turd of the Year Award goes to…

Dem congressman refuses to return home over the break (to avoid conflict with his constituents?)

Congratulations Congressman Dennis Cardoza!!  You may call yourself a Blue Dog Democrat, but I call you a Yellow (bellied) Dog Democrat.  You are well paid to do a job – go do it.  If your familial obligations are more important than telling people how deep you’re going to dig the hole you want to throw them in to… well, perhaps this job isn’t for you.


Speaking of some nerve… can the British papers do anything other than act like a bunch of hysterical schoolgirls over a Ouija board?

The headline in the Daily Mail reads thusly:

Swine flu jab link to killer nerve disease: Leaked letter reveals concern of neurologists over 25 deaths in America

Now, you read that headline and you think “Oh my, they’ve done trials and 25 poor souls out of the several-hundred persons  tested came down with Guillain-Barre Syndrome.  How terrible!  How awful!  How worrisome!

No, what it means is that there was a letter written that harkens back to the 70’s Swine Flu immunizations that sickened about 500 and  killed 25 people out of 40 million who got injectionsthirty-three years ago. It is only people being prudent and saying “Well, we should keep an eye on things.”  That is it!

I must point out that 500 people out of 40,000,000 is:


Keep in mind that I think the whole issue of this go-around with the anxiety over the  swine flu is a bunch of bull.  It kills less people than the regular seasonal flu.

The Daily Mail purposely wrote this to scare people and is the biggest hysterical crock-of-excrement hype I’ve read in a very very long time.

The British Neurological Surveillance Unit (BNSU), part of the British Association of Neurologists, has been asked to monitor closely any cases of GBS as the vaccine is rolled out.

One senior neurologist said last night: ‘I would not have the swine
flu jab because of the GBS risk.’

There are concerns that there could be a repeat of what became known as the ‘1976 debacle’ in the US, where a swine flu vaccine killed 25 people – more than the virus itself.

Oh yes, by all means lets terrify people regardless of the facts.  Mention “one senior neurologist” (with anonymity) and your case for scaring the pee out of little old ladies, children, and well-meaning-but-mentally-asleep adults is rock-solid.  Such effect for so little effort, those three little words.

The letter from the Health Protection Agency, the official body that oversees public health, has been leaked to The Mail on Sunday, leading to demands to know why the information has not been given to the public before the vaccination of millions of people, including children, begins.

It tells the neurologists that they must be alert for an increase in a brain disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which could be triggered by the vaccine.

GBS attacks the lining of the nerves, causing paralysis and inability to breathe, and can be fatal.

The letter, sent to about 600 neurologists on July 29, is the first sign that there is concern at the highest levels that the vaccine itself could cause serious complications.

This is done for EVERY vaccine – that is, they ask the medical folks to be alert for anomalies.  The only reason they kept a routine letter confidential is because they did not want a panic – and swine flu has enough of a panicky following already.

Yes, Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a serious condition – kills 2-3%.  It can be triggered by a prior infection (campylobacter bacterium for example) or unknown triggers but it is the result of the body’s autoimmune attack on the body’s own nervous system.  It paralyzes the body.  It can be treated with immunoglobulin.   An interesting note is that the vaccine in the 70’s was not itself thought to be the cause but that it was contaminated with a bacterium that triggered the condition.

Ok, lets start the hysteria merry-go-round up again, shall we?

But vaccine experts warned that the letters proved the programme was a ‘guinea-pig trial’.

Dr Tom Jefferson, co-ordinator of the vaccines section of the influential Cochrane Collaboration, an independent group that reviews research, said: ‘New vaccines never behave in the way you expect them to. It may be that there is a link to GBS, which is certainly not something I would wish on anybody.

‘But it could end up being anything because one of the additives in one of the vaccines is a substance called squalene, and none of the studies we’ve extracted have any research on it at all.’

He said squalene, a naturally occurring enzyme, could potentially cause so-far-undiscovered side effects.

Jackie Fletcher, founder of vaccine support group Jabs, said: ‘The Government would not be anticipating this if they didn’t think there was a connection. What we’ve got is a massive guinea-pig trial.’

Yes Squalene could cause side effects, but so could a piece of moldy cheese, perfumed toilet paper, or a vibrator.   The risks aren’t negligible – it was either use squalene or battery acid.  Squalene was cheaper.  Oh for Pete’s sake!  Nobody chooses to put stuff in a vaccine without some knowledge of what it is.  Well, perhaps the Chinese do, but no one in the western world.

Fletcher’s statements border on criminal.  Trying to say that the decision to be alert is proof that the gov’t thinks there is a solid connection between the vaccine and GBS  is the worst kind of fear-mongering there is.

What the British gov’t is doing is called being prepared – far worse would be to not have contingency plans  in place.  Trying to be prepared for anything is the sign of a GOOD GOVERNMENT, not one that is hiding something, you utter dolts!

The authors of the article could not stop there.  They gave a sloppy anectdotal account of a woman who had GBS.  (emphasis mine)

Doctors did not diagnose Guillain-Barre until her condition worsened in hospital and tests showed her reflexes slowing down. It is impossible for doctors to know how she contracted the disorder, although it is thought to be linked to some infections.

‘I’m frightened to have the swine flu vaccine if this might happen again – it’s a frightening illness and I think more research needs to be done on the effect of the vaccine.’
All very carefully calculated by the reporter – calculated for a reader to make connections that are implied but not really there and to cause that reader anxiety.  Anxiety and fear are very good at word-of-mouth selling of papers.

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