Perhaps you’ve seen, in some of my previous posts, me moaning about how my fingers and hands hurt. It started one day a few months ago and hasn’t really got worse (or better) since. Sometimes it also affects my feet, wrists, legs, lips, nose and pretty much any of my skin to a greater or lesser degree.
In the process of getting what it is diagnosed, this week I had to have a Nerve Conduction Study. Before going in, I had a quick look at what it entailed – some sticky pads on my skin, a small electrical current, painless. A bit like an ECG crossed with a TENS machine. No problem.
I met the technician, who explained what was going to happen. Some stretchy metal rings were put round my finger. “Will this hurt?” I asked, hoping she’d confirm what I’d read. “Not at all. You might feel a buzzing sensation next to your finger, but most people don’t feel anything.”. Excellent. I was sceptical, but she’s done this hundreds of times. She wouldn’t get that wrong.
“OK, here we go. Relax your hand aaaaaand…” CRACK.
A massive belt coursed across my finger. An intense, searing pain. My entire arm was thrown backwards uncontrollably. I may have screamed.
“What?!” she remarked, somewhat surprised. “Surely that didn’t hurt?”, as my spasming, sweating hand clearly showed otherwise. “Yes, yes it did.”
I said to her, as I say to you now, “Perhaps I should explain”.
I’ve always been strangely susceptible to static shocks. Anything and everything can, and will, give me a jolt. Things you’d expect, like a car door after a drive (a belt from that once knocked me unconscious) or metal equipment when unpacked from polystyrene. PC tower cases are a nightmare. Frequently, my daughter shocks me. I’ve a few spots on my hands were actual blue sparks have burned the skin.
Everyone gets static shocks, but I get them all the time, and whereas most people go “ow!”, I collapse on the floor a quivering, twitching mess as the electricity goes to town on my synapses. You know in sci-fi when an android gets overloaded? That’s me. Once, I actually got a real electric shock (I touched the inside of a power supply when I thought it was unplugged), and it resulted in me temporarily being unable to control my hands or speak. I think someone may have needed to reboot me.
“Wow. How strange.” she said. “We’ve never had anyone like that in here before. Let me just check the settings.”. She cleaned the contacts, twiddled some stuff, and I sat there with what felt like my palms crying actual tears. “OK, I’ll try again”. CRACK.
And this was on the lowest setting. She had to zap my finger multiple times, so rattled through them quickly but it was still agony. The study required her to do the same test with a different finger. “Maybe this one won’t hurt so much?” she said, unconvincingly. CRACK. Perhaps I should also point out that this was an actual audible crack as much as a painful one. “This is really unusual. I’m not comfortable with carrying on the study if you’re going to be in this much pain.”. Me either, oddly enough.
But what was the alternative? I asked if there was a different test to find the same results, but of course, there isn’t. She said all that would happen is that I’d come back in three or four weeks and do the procedure again. “You’ll at least know what is going to happen, so it might not be so bad?”. No, what would happen is I’d stew for three to four weeks and make myself sick with worry. I had to do it then.
I discussed what more needed to be done. Turns out, we’d barely started – just a quarter of the way through my first hand, and still my other hand and both feet to go. Worst, was that the current so far hadn’t passed 16mA and “it could go up to 200mA”. I was going to die.
As luck would have it, I didn’t die. It certainly felt like I was going to, especially when the technician moved on from metal finger bands to an actual taser. Probing my wrist and elbows with two pointy bits, shooting bolts of blue terror down my arms. I swear I could see the route it took under the skin. There were certainly sparks. I was a golf club in a lightning storm. A couple of jolts caused me to involuntarily take a swing at her face. Honest.
The taser revealed an additional issue with my body. Long ago, I realised that (if you’re squeamish, skip this bit) it just refuses to allow anyone to take blood. Normally, phlebotomists try to needle you in the inside of your elbow, and for most people, this is fine. For me, it seems I have no veins there and best anyone manages is a slight red smear. Instead, I have to give blood out of wherever will give it up: my wrist, the back of my hand, or – on one particularly painful visit – the side of a finger. Mmm. Thankfully, needles don’t bother me and aside from the (bearable) pain of unusual stabbing locations, it isn’t that big an issue.
As an aside, I find I often get a “hero” nurse. I tell them not to bother wasting everyone’s time going for the arm, and just head straight for the wrist or hand. Of course I explain why, but then they go “Ah, so they’ve been doing it wrong. I have a reputation round here for getting blood out of a stone!” before pricking me three times and giving up. Or they have to get a more senior member of staff because they’re not allowed to try a non-standard bloodhole.
Anyway, I mention this because it seems my nerves suffer from the same hidden problem. This meant a lot more probing – test taser fire until the computer (and my hand) registered a “hit”. That, and having to push the electrodes further into my flesh in an attempt to get closer to the nerves themselves. When a nerve was found, the pain was in two places at once, and then she ramped up the current. What I learned here was that I could never be a spy.
With my hands and arms done, broken, burnt, she moved onto my feet. The taser here didn’t hurt so much when focused on my ankles. In fact, at first, I felt nothing at all. I had two thoughts; this isn’t so bad, it must just be my hands, and oh god what if I have no nerves in my feet?! It turned out something wasn’t switched on. Then, as the probes were moved up my calves, behind my knee, and unsexily part way up my shorts and along my thigh, oh my. You know that shot from Terminator 2 where the explosion hits and the blast tears the skin from the people in the playground? That was me.
When the ordeal was over, many hours (well, one and a half) later, it hurt. I could still “feel” the clicks. My nerves still triggering twitches. The azure fire that scorched me inside. Apparently my muscles could feel “a slight ache” for “a few minutes”. Hours later, I was still cursing this lie.
And the outcome? Of course, I need to wait on full results, but the preliminary suggestion is that my nerves are working just fine. My experience here would like to argue, quite strongly, with that.
The featured image is from Dustin Gaffke on Flickr, is unmodified and is used under this licence.