In 2000, I was involved in an aircraft accident that injured my neck, back, and head. But it was actually the treatment of those injuries that caused my spinal cord injury—adhesive arachnoiditis—immediately followed by central pain syndrome, complex regional pain syndrome type II (CRPS Type II), cauda equina syndrome (CES), and epidural fibrosis. With that many severe, intractable conditions, I was given a diagnosis of Cardiac Adrenal Pain Syndrome.
People with adhesive arachnoiditis know that the term dysesthesia or “bizarre sensations” is an accurate description of many of our symptoms. My condition, however, was made more complex by the fact that the “twitches, throws, and jerks” of myoclonus, spasticity, dystonia, and fasciculations are symptoms shared, and multiplied, by two of my other conditions—CRPS Type II and central pain syndrome.
With all of these symptoms, I did not notice anything unusual about my reaction to outside electrical stimulus. But in June 2004, that would change when two incidents brought my attention to this matter front and center.
The first incident happened when I tried lying on a large pad containing therapeutic magnets for pain relief. Before 3 minutes had passed, I began feeling a warm “shaky” feeling in my abdomen that quickly moved to my legs and feet. Suddenly, a searing hot pain hit my lumbar spine with a force that made me jump off the mattress. The pain ratcheted up another notch, and started traveling up and around my body like a racetrack, repeating the path over and over again. The “circuit running” continued for 45 minutes, only slowing down about 10 minutes before it stopped.
The second incident occurred when my niece brought a joke pen by the house. It was the kind of pen that shocks the user when the button is pressed. When the pen shocked me, pain shot fiercely up my arm to my head. My head instantly filled with a bright white light, just like when my spinal dura was first punctured during a discogram. Again, burning electrical sensations ran circuits around my body for 90 minutes.
It was after these two serious events that I started thinking about earlier unusual “coincidences.” For example:
- Use of a simple TENS unit caused spiky, jabbing pain.
- Five flashbulbs “just happened” to suddenly blow.
- Three wireless optical computer mice burned out while in my hand.
My father, a research engineer, was the first to suggest that my body was responding like any other entity would when filled with static electricity. “Static” means: “a build-up of electric charge in one place.”1 It is generally formed when damaged wires or other elements spark and arc because the damage prevents a smooth flow of electricity. Having no clear path is partly what makes static electricity dangerous and unpredictable. The trapped electricity can rush out all at once in an “electrostatic discharge,” causing damage at the other end—like lightning.
My father explained that electricity is a force that is constant in nature; it will act the same whether it is flowing through a copper wire, a biologic nervous system, or striking as lightning. That being the case, he theorized, the same factors that cause a static electricity buildup in an appliance would cause it in the body. First, the physically damaged nerves in my spinal cord would act like damaged wires in any other circuit.
Secondly, for me to be as sensitive to electrical fields as I had been demonstrating, it may mean that my skin resistance is weakened. Human skin is a very important barrier of insulation for our bodies from stray electric and magnetic sources. When I told my father about the incidence with the magnetic pad, he noted, “It is a physical principle that when magnets are placed near a source of static electricity, an electric motor is made. An electric motor works to condense the electricity into a path and accelerate it, making current electricity.” My father believed that because the magnetic pad incident turned out as badly as it did, it meant I had a substantial amount of static electricity in my body at any given time.
To test my skin resistance, we measured 8 people at my house using an ohmmeter to measure skin resistance in Ohms. In our home experiment, the average reading was .26mmOhms. Mine, on the other hand, was .08mmOhms—less than half of the average. We repeated the experiment three times throughout the day, and the results were the same, on average. Though not a scientific study, our experiment showed that there is at least an anomaly in my skin’s resistance, which deserves to be explored further as well as the internal build-up of static electricity.
For the record, to date:
- I have burned out the light bulbs in 22 flashlights.
- I have “killed” three wireless computer mice.
- I routinely cause laptop touch pads to malfunction.
- I notice a big difference in my energy and pain level during monsoon/electrical storms. I get fatigued easily and my skin’s allodynia acts up.
- I consistently drain the batteries of cell phones and cameras if they are touching my skin for too long.
- I cannot hold regular batteries for very long in my hand or I start getting light-headed then nauseous—and beyond.
To counter this somewhat, I ground myself often by walking barefoot in my backyard grass, wearing cooper bracelets, or by grabbing a hold of a bathroom faucet for 30 seconds or so during a flare.
I now also have appropriate pain management, which makes a big difference in how my body responds to stimulus—noxious and non-noxious. For instance, the “jerks and twitches” are still a part of my everyday life and dystonia episodes do still pull at my neck every night, but now after a while, these times calm down, too.
My regimen is multimodal, with high-dose opioids the key. I am still disabled, but “abled” is the appropriate suffix as I can take care of myself daily and work at home as an artist, freelance writer, and pain advocate. Though my pain is intractable and quite complex, it is much more controlled. I once again have hope for my future and hope is priceless!