Sunday, March 30, 2014

CRPS treatment part II

This post has been a long time in coming- part I was done months ago, but I confess to starting this section, and then managing to forget all about it. However, now that I'm 3 months post-op from my SCS surgery, my doctors and I have decided to resume the SNBs to treat one or two symptoms the SCS doesn't yet cover (mostly just blood flow issues- I have much better blood flow to my legs when I get the injections than when I don't). And so I decided to celebrate my return to Sympathetic Nerve Blocks by finishing the epic post on them. 

3) Sympathetic Nerve Blocks

These are a type of injection that goes in from the back, directly next to the spine, into the sympathetic ganglion nerve bundles that branch off the spine between the spine and the internal organs. These injections should always be done under fluoroscopy, a type of x-ray, for safety considering the proximity to organs and the spinal cord. The mix of meds injected includes a local anesthetic to numb the nerves to ease the pain from the injection and anti inflammatories to reduce inflammation in the nerves of the sympathetic nervous system. By slowly reducing inflammation in the nerves, the pain and other symptoms of CRPS can be reduced.

Like all treatments for CRPS, the results tend to be mixed. Some patients find them nearly miraculous, and having 3 or more succesful injections within 1 year of onset of the disease has actually be found to prompt remission in a few lucky patients. Most patients recieve partial relief and find them a valuable tool. And some people recieve no relief from them, just as with all types of treatment for any disease.

The sooner into the course of the disease the injections are started, the more effective they are, in general. However, that's not a hard and fast rule of thumb- I began recieving nerve blocks more than 6 years after the onset and I get decent relief from the shots (I personally find them most effective on the burning type pain, the swelling and discoloration, and the allydonia). I'm a firm believer that if there are no contraindications, such as allergies, that they are worth a try, especially in patients who are within 1 year of onset. I'm not going to lie, though- the first shot isn't always going to work. It can take up to 3 tries to find the right vertebrea to target, as not everyones anatomy is identical. If, after 3 shots, there is still zero relief, then most doctors recommend discontinuing the shots. The first shot usually gives about 1 hour to 1 day of relief, and that's fine- the effect of the injections is cumulative and after a few rounds, I get 4 weeks from them. Between 4 weeks and a few months is the norm for duration of relief once you've recieved several injections. 

Since the doctor who does my SNBs is an amazingly awesome guy, and a massive believer in SNBs, he actually took pictures of me during the injection process for me to share with people. (Doc is such a big believer for a reason- he started his career as a pediatrician, and actually was my doctor when I was a little girl. He developed CRPS type I after breaking his ankle years ago. Due to his connections in the medical field, he had a diagnosis and his first injection within 1 month of onset. He got lucky, and went into remission and changed specialties right after, to help others recieve proper pain care. I love this guy for so many reasons!)

Step 1- An IV. Most patients prefer to recieve a small bolus of pain meds to relax them and help dull the pain of the shot. I'm a crazo, though, and my IV contains only saline, to help offset the fact that my already low blood pressure loves to drop right after the injection. Works like a charm for me, and I find the pain of the injection to be very transient. If you choose to recieve pain meds in your IV, you will need a driver to take you home and your appointment will take about twice as long. 

Step 2- Get comfy on the table under the floroscope machine.

Step 3- The assistant will prep your back using the same type of scrub as before a surgery. My doctor likes to mark the right spot for the injection first, by using a small piece of metal and quick X-ray via the floroscope to make sure he's got the same spot as prior injections, then he'll put a small dot with a permanent marker on the spot, then they prep the skin. 

Step 4 (optional)- Numbing the skin with lidocaine. This is totally optional and only some doctors even offer it. I'd skip it even if it was offered- frankly, the lidocaine will only reach 1/3 to 1/4 as deep as the actual nerve block needle goes, so all this does is numb the skin to the tugging of the needle. 

Step 5- Inserting the nerve block needle. As I've mentioned, these needles are long, but they are thin and flexible. While inserting, the doc will assess several times with the floroscope, to make sure he's in just the right spot. The needle will actually go in to the side of the vertebrea, then hit the side of the bone and use it's curved shape to curve under the spine, allowing it to access nerves trapped between the spine and major organs.

Step 6- Checking final placement. When the doc thinks the needle is in just the right spot, they will remove the metal, inner portion of the nerve block needle, leaving a thin plastic catheter behind. They then inject a teeny bit of dye and use the floroscope machine again to confirm the needles placement. If the dye is in just the right spot, the doc will then inject a teeny portion of the nerve block cocktail and wait a few minutes. This is to make sure the needle isn't too close to any major blood vessels. If it's too close, then the medication can get sucked into the blood supply and cause ringing in the ears and a metallic taste. If all is good, after a couple minutes of waiting to be sure, then the doc moves on. 

Step 7- Inject the full cocktail. They like to keep you laying flat for a minute or two, to let things soak in, then all is said and done and the doc will remove the needle (which is quick and easy). 

Then you're done! 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mall Revamp Brings Equality to Shopping

A local mall, the Kenwood Towne Centre, recently decided it needed a bit of a refurbish. Considering the mall had last been updated when I was a very little kid, it was likely past due for such a high traffic place. I assumed that like most overhauls of public spaces, they'd take the easy way out and just fix the cosmetic issues. Instead, the mall went above and beyond, in a fabulous way. 
This mall has a very peculiar set up. The second floor is twice the size of the first floor, and the half of it that has no first floor changes heights frequently as you go down the hallway. 

Stores on the right hand side of the hallway could be as many as 6 steps higher or lower than those on the left. This meant, with the old setup, that there were frequent stair cases. In order to get to stores when using a wheelchair or pushing a stroller, you had to follow the "Stroller Path", which was S shaped. To get a store not on the Stroller Path, you'd have to go one of the far ends, then double back on yourself, up to 10 stores, using steep ramps, causing excessive fatigue for a simple trip to the mall. 
This shot of the old pathways shows the height difference. If you look carefully, you can see 2 separate stair cases down the center. This was what the entire hall looked like, with a total of 7 or 8 stair cases. (This picture is not mine- it was pulled from the background of an old youtube video, as I never imagined I'd need a Before picture when the construction began!)

As part of their overhaul? They added a ramp every single spot they have stairs in this wonky hallway. 

These new ramps make the mall. It's fantastic! I can now get wherever I need to go with far less effort, and with no backtracking. I'm no longer constantly separated from my family or friends when I shop with them, allowing me to be more included. 

My hat is off to the folks managing the Kenwood Towne Centre. They did some pretty awesome things with this revamp, or should I say, reRamp. Now, if we could just get all public places to follow suit. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Zebras DO Exist!

Today's THE day. The day of each year where I become even more loud mouthed than usual. Rare Disease Awareness Day. 

Not-so-Fun Facts, courtesy of The Global Genes Project:
- 1 in 10 Americans, on average, have a rare disease
- 80% of all rare disease are caused by genetics
- 95% of all rare diseases have not a single FDA approved medication
- 50% of those affected by rare diseases are children
- of those children, 30% do not live to see their 5th birthday
- approximately 50% of all rare disease have NO disease specific group supporting patients or research

It's a grim picture, all told, for those who suffer from a rare disease. Many don't even have a diagnosis, or suffer unnecessarily for years due to a lack of a diagnosis, due to current practices. I spent 6 years without a diagnosis for one of my rare diseases (RSD/CRPS) and 7 years without a diagnosis for the genetic skeletal disease I have (MFD). With proper diagnoses, I likely would have had fewer surgeries and a much easier journey. Yet, most doctors feel no need to ever look beyond the most obvious answers.

In fact, in medical school, they teach new doctors a phrase: "When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras." The gist is that when you see a set of symptoms, you should always assume the most common answer is the right one. The problem with the No Zebras mindset is that if you don't fit into a tidy box with perfect test results or a common diagnostic criteria list, you're not going to get help. Too many people suffer for years, even decades, because no one will look outside and see that one of those horses has stripes. 

When you find that one doctor willing to look past all the horses and see the lone zebra standing there, hold on tight. They might be your only hope for decades more to come.