Not much more than ten days after dismissing me to his junior acolytes as a hopeless case who would never show any recovery, my consultant pitched back up again at my side one day and demanded that I show him my hands. I did so – the left being relatively functional, the right moving but not actually able to flex or grip or straighten.
“Mmm” said the consultant, ‘I think we will try Das Kerplunk machine on you’
(if memory serves it wasn’t *actually* called that but it was pretty similar so I’m using this as its working title).
‘What,’ I asked, understandably, ‘is Das Kerplunk machine?’
‘It’s this new electrical stimulation machine from Germany’ he replied “It’s had very promising results. We put it over your spinal cord where you have your lesion and it could help restore function in your hand. I think you should try it.’
I regarded him with some suspicion but I wasn’t going to turn down any chance to improve my hand function so I acquiesced to the treatment. ‘Marvellous’ said the consultant, I’ll get it out of my car boot and we’ll try it tomorrow. Be in your ward by your bed at 11am.’
The next day rolled around overcast but not raining. Frankly, had I known what was coming I would have demanded a dark, stormy night with lashing rain, crashing thunder and flashes of blinding lightning. I’m given to understand from films that this is the sort of weather that usually accompanies insane scientists attempting to reanimate inert bodies with vast quantities of electricity. My own Dr Frankenstein arrived pushing a trolley upon which sat a sizeable box trailing wires and electrodes and a junior doctor clutching lube.
They whisked round the flowery curtains and this was my first warning that what was coming was not going to be pleasant. ‘Take off your top’ instructed my consultant as he fiddled around with the machine. He flicked a few switches and the machine began a low hum which slowly built in intensity. I stripped off my sweatshirt with the junior doctor’s help. ‘Cover her in gel’ – this whilst he plugged things in and fiddled with dials. The junior doctor duly slathered me in cold gel. The hum was now loud enough to hurt my ears. Dr Frankenstein grabbed hold of a large metal probe and approached me. ‘Right, ‘ he said ‘hold still’ and with that he flicked on the power of Das Kerplunk.
I’m finding it very hard sitting here now to accurately convey the sensation that exploded into my central nervous system with all the finesse of an armed SWAT team kicking in the front door. Once, when younger and more stupid, I decided to find out the voltage of an electric fence by grabbing hold of it and that felt like being punched in the chest. Another time, when attempting to get a daft horse out of a field, the horse stuck his backside on the live fencing. The shock went through both of us like a thunderbolt and the horse, for good measure, went vertically up in the air and then came down, all 600 odd kilos of him, on my foot. This was like both of those experiences combined, multiplied by a factor of ten and then transmitted through my spinal cord in both directions. If I’d had any fillings they probably would have lit up like a Christmas tree. I tried to speak but could only emit a strange vibrating noise along the lines of ‘Eerrrrrrrrrrggrrrrrrrr’ . The mad consultant cackled, probe in hand and firmly planted against my neck. ‘Aha, yes!’ he crowed, ‘That will shake it up a bit. Just think, if this works, you could win me a Nobel prize!’
Still unable to enunciate words and with God knows how many volts still roiling through me, the realisation that he was possibly certifiably insane occurred. Only ten days earlier I had been written off as a waste of time and physio. Now I was going to be the successful guinea pig that won him a Nobel prize – probably still glowing. “Errrrggrrrrgghh’ I responded, my eyes rolling back frantically to fix on the horrified ones of the junior doctor. ‘Um,’ she said shakily ‘I think she might need a break’. The consultant ‘tsked’ irritatingly and removed the probe from my neck. I slumped back into my chair like a puppet with its strings cut, my brain – and presumably my spinal cord – still trying to work out what the hell had just happened.
“Well that will have given it something to think about’ said the consultant. ‘Take a minute and then we’ll give it another go. How does your hand feel? Can you move it any better?’
I regarded him stonily. “I can’t’ I responded ‘actually work out whether I still have hands or not’. He treated this as amusing repartee rather than the accurate, real-time, patient feedback it was. ‘Excellent!’ he said and reapplied the probe.
Afterwards, when the consultant, the junior doctor and Das Kerplunk had departed, I spent some time staring aimlessly into space whilst I tried to process the experience. Was it, I wondered, worth undergoing that again multiple times in exchange for a better right hand? I’d started the day pretty convinced that I would do almost anything for more function. Now I wasn’t so sure. Ultimately my desperation and my consultant’s ambitions of Nobel fame ensured that a second session was indeed scheduled a few days later. and this one was given extra allure by the anticipation, now I knew what was coming. Once again the process was repeated – but with a pause occasioned by the battery of Das Kerplunk giving out, presumably drained by the extraordinary power it was being called to bring forth. My relief was short-lived however. ‘Don’t worry!’ shouted the consultant ‘I always carry a spare battery in my boot!’ ‘Oh goody.’ I responded as he dashed out to the carpark.
As it was I was saved from any more torture by a combination of my injury’s recalcitrance and the consultant’s impatience. I had two Das Kerplunkings over a fortnight and my hand failed to live up to his hopes by staging any sort of recovery from them at all so I was taken off the ‘could be possible ticket to a Stockholm prize-giving ceremony’ list and relegated back to the ‘hopeless’ division. Personally I would have thought that two sessions, given the glacially slow healing nature of neurological injuries, was too few but perhaps he was getting better results from somebody else. Either way, his electrical enthusiasm stymied his ambitions when he blew up the Das Kerplunk machine the following week and it was retired and never heard from again. Wohahaha.