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Friday, May 15, 2009

The Trial

My trial stimulator was scheduled to be "installed" on May 11, 2009. It's an outpatient procedure that supposedly only takes about 20 minutes. Nonetheless, I was horribly anxious about having wires put in my head, about the fact that they said I'd be awake for the surgery, and that they'd have to shave off a bit of my hair.

During my surgical consultation the week before, we had decided to put two wires in, both on the left side since that's where my pain has always been. One wire was to cover the occipital nerve, the other was to cover the auriculotemporal nerve (if I remember correctly). Both nerves control sensation to the head. The occipital nerve controls sensation by the base of the skull and the back of the head, while the auriculotemporal nerve controls sensation near the temples and on the top of the head. There are other nerves that may also be targeted with nerve stimulation, but these were the two that were found to be causing my pain.

When the time came, they actually put me under for the surgery. I remember them prepping me, the doctor double checking where my pain was to make sure he was putting the wires in the correct place, and then before I knew it I was asleep. I wasn't even expecting to fall asleep. I had been told they would use a local anesthetic, and would give me some sedation, but that not enough to put me under. I woke up when they were turning the stimulator on. They wanted to make sure I could feel it, that it was covering the proper locations. The whole thing was much less scary than I had anticipated. And they didn't even shave off any hair!

The wires were inserted a bit behind my ear...one headed up toward the top of my head, the other headed down toward the base of my skull. They were secured by a few stitches here and there, but the stitches were buried in my hair. I wasn't sure what to expect pain-wise, but I wasn't given any pain medications, just an antibiotic. But the pain was tolerable, I never felt the need for anything stronger than some Tylenol. Sure, my scalp was quite tender because I had just had wires burrowed into it, but I guess the pain was about as would be expected...not as painful and an incision but still tender to the touch.

During the trial period, the wires just come out of your neck and are attached to an external power source which you must carry around with you (it's on a little clip that attaches to your belt). There are also some wire connectors and whatnot that are taped to your neck and shoulder (as you can see in the photo). According to my doctor, the biggest risk during the trial period is infection, because it's considered and open wound where the wires come out of your neck, even though it's stitched up. You cannot shower during the trial period. My doctor decided to leave the trial stimulator in until Friday, so I had 4 full days to decided if it was working for me, and whether I'd want to proceed with having the permanent stimulator installed. I've heard of trial periods lasting up to 10 days but honestly, I had my answer in less than 4 days and was ready to get those connectors un-taped and that battery pack unhooked by Friday so I thought a 4 day trial was sufficient.

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