As anyone who has read my ramblings previously would no doubt testify, I am often to be found pouring large buckets of cold water over any 'early breakthrough' stories that offer solutions for spinal cord injury.
This was probably brought most clearly into focus when I wrote a piece for The Guardian a few years back, and inadvertently courted a storm from self-described 'cure-advocates' who even went so far as to suggest that I wasn't interested in a cure for spinal cord injury because it would affect my position as an occasional contributor to the newspaper.
I still tend toward cautiousness whenever I read a story about a medical breakthrough relevant to my injury. This is partly driven by a jaded cynicism when it comes to the media reporting of medical stories, but mostly it's an act of emotional self-preservation. To draw an analogy: Sometimes my daughter will ask me if I ever try to move my legs (just in case my paraplegia has gone, but I've just forgotten to check). I understand the question, and it feels important that I do try and move my legs sometimes, if only to remind my brain what he thought process is, should a cure ever come my way.
However... When I was first injured, I devoted a great deal of effort and energy into trying, willing my legs to move. I felt that if I could only solve this neurological puzzle, I'd be able to get back to my old life. Admittedly the morphine that went so far in defining my emotional state during the first couple of weeks rather scrambled my thinking, but after reality finally bit I learned that trying to move my legs caused a rising wave of utter panic, and the effort required to overcome that feeling was immense.
So I learned not to try. And so it is with the guarded welcome that I give to any medical breakthrough, first looking at the timeline between concept and viable treatment, then looking at how my individual situation affects the likelihood of me benefiting from said treatment.
But every once in a while, something comes along that gives me hope, despite my best efforts at keeping my unfeeling feet on the ground. And the latest surgical treatment of SCI pain is one of those somethings.
Because for me the one thing above all else that makes having a spinal cord injury really, really shitty is living with near constant pain. all the other stuff- the inability to walk, the effort required to negotiate even small hills, the challenges of bladder management and recurrent uti's, the impossibility of accessing the beach and the surf, the inability to kick a ball with my kids, etc.- is coloured by chronic pain.
Everything takes effort.
Sitting still and reading the paper, for instance: I can't sit still for twenty minutes without some kind of episode of sharp pain. And it's not just because of the appalling standard of current political discourse.
Going to sleep: I have to find the mental energy to face the twenty minutes of increased pain. I have to allow it to flow over me, to build to a peak and then subside before I have any chance of getting to sleep. The irony of this is that the more tired I feel, the less I feel able to face going to bed.
Playing sport: It hurts. I know, it hurts most men nearing 50 who don't devote some time in every day to an exercise regime (and probably hurts those who do, too), especially if they then attempt to chase a ball like an over-excited puppy in traffic. But the pain the day after basketball training sucks. On the plus side, the base levels of pain for a few days after that definitely improve.
Playing with the kids: At some point in any game, I have to break off and focus on my pain to get past a wave that is impossible to ignore, regardless of how many water pistols/Nerf guns/cushions are aimed at my head.
Right, self-indulgent gripes done with. The point is that the video below does seem to signal a significant clinically viable breakthrough in the treatment of SCI induced chronic pain. I shall be watching the story very closely indeed.
Here's the video: