Fourteen patient deaths have been associated with problems involving Medtronic’s SynchroMed implantable pain pump. Most of the deaths were caused by a refill error in which the medication was inadvertently injected into tissue around the implanted pump, rather than into the reservoir of the pump.
Despite the deaths, scary YouTube videos, and chat room prattle, I had one of these pumps implanted into my backside last April.
I’ve had people ask me why I would roll the dice with my mortality. Honestly, I didn’t give it a second thought.
When I tell people that I have had constant pain for almost 8 years, the typical reaction is, “I don’t know how you do it!”
Like childbirth, unless you’ve done it, you really don’t have a clue.
Putting a potentially lethal pump into your body seems a bit insane. If I think too hard about it, it feels insane. But the truth is, if you told me pulling out all of my nose hairs, one by one, would end this sentence of pain, I would be looking for a tweezers.
The level of frustration and desperation that I push to the back of my mind each day is impossible to quantify. So when a doctor tells you that they have a tool that might help, you leap.
Part of my decision to implant the pump was strategic: I am trying to dump the numerous medications, including opioids, which I take every day.
I am terrified that I will soon lose my access to oral pain medications. The news is full of stories about patients becoming dependent or even addicted to their pain meds. These stories always make it so simple: opioids are bad, do not take or prescribe them. The part they never discuss is what people with chronic pain are supposed to do instead.
Suddenly we are not being given the option to use medications that work for us, even if we are willing to deal with their side effects. Instead of getting to know each patient individually, educating them about how to use these medications, and treating them for depression; we are losing the opportunity to use them at all.
From my side of the pain scale, it feels like we are being hung out to dry without recourse.
The pain pump offered me another option. The doctor controls my medication levels, so it is impossible for me to overdose myself. If I never have to stand crying at the pharmacy because my oral pain medication prescription was blocked, again, I will be a much happier woman.
The research bears out my decision: of the 200,000 SynchroMed pain pumps implanted around the world, 94.4% continue to perform to expectation. I like those odds.
My particular clinic participates in a safety council and has updated their procedures in order to avoid refill emergencies. I have had my pump for 8 months, I was told to expect it to take anywhere from 6-12 months to see sustainable results.
At the very beginning I had wonderful success, the pump was relieving 50% of my pain and I was able to dump half of my oral medications. I was truly a new person. Unfortunately, as they continued to raise my pump medication levels, I started having allergic reactions (itching, sweating, and hives). I’ve been on a back slide for the last 3 months as my doctor tries to find me a safer medication.
It is frustrating and even depressing, but a year ago I had no hope for relief. This year I have seen the possibility of life with less pain. Hope is a powerful thing.
I had my pump refilled last week and I still have to use my yoga breath to block out the fear. I close my eyes; imagine my daughters swinging at the park and bask in the hope. It is a gamble I am willing to take for a life worth living.
Malia Cole lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her family. She has a blog on motherhood and chronic pain called Labor Pain.
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The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.