For most of his life, Jeff has had a condition called Essential Tremor, which is an uncontrollable, rhythmic shaking of the voice, hands, neck and other extremities. ET can usually be treated with medications, but severe cases can be helped by a revolutionary surgery in which a deep brain stimulator (DBS) is implanted in the patient’s brain to control the tremors. The stimulator is similar to a pacemaker and sends electrical impulses into the brain to override the tremor signals.
For more information on DBS surgery and Essential Tremor, visit www.newhopeforessentialtremor.com.
Last year, I received an e-mail via the new Web site Medtronic developed for Essential Tremor patients who are considering deep brain stimulator (DBS) surgery. Ron is a gentleman with tremors who wanted to know how things went, both during and after my DBS surgery. He was the first person interested in surgery with whom I had been put in touch via the Web site.
When I called him that evening, I discovered that his story sounded very familiar. He is 36 years old and lives in Houston. His tremors had become severe enough that he had become withdrawn and was trying to avoid being out in public as best he could. Fortunately, he was able to find a job as an online travel arrangement booker. It allowed him to stay employed, but it kept him away from contact with lots of people who would see his tremor. Working from home allowed him some sense of dignity.
Ron’s biggest concern was the amount of time it would take to go through surgery and then be able to physically function again. Brain surgery sounded intense, so he assumed he would be laid up for a long time as a result. When I told him that I went in for surgery on a Wednesday and was back at work on the farm by Saturday, he was incredibly relieved. I could sense an immediate change in his voice and his attitude.
Then he wanted to know what I could do today that I couldn’t do before surgery. I went down a list of things that are easy for me today that I wasn’t able to do before DBS. The one that caught his attention (and that was at the top of my list) was drinking from a glass with one hand.
“You don’t even use a straw?” he asked.
“No, there are no straws in my life anymore,” I said. “They still arrive with a drink sometimes, but now they stay in their wrapper through the whole meal.”
That one hit home with Ron. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to drink without a straw. It had been so long since he had been able to do that, it was only a distant memory for him.
Ron and I corresponded a few times. He told me he had a surgical date lined up. As the day set for his DBS surgery grew nearer, he sent me another e-mail. He had been getting very anxious prior to surgery. One thing kept him focused: being able to drink something without using a straw. He told me about a recurring dream he’d been having. It had recently changed slightly.
“Some friends and I were all sitting at a table in a bar. The waitress brought over our drinks and I noticed there was no straw in it. I asked her for a straw and she said they were out. I reached over and grabbed the glass and drank straight from it. I woke up just happy and smiling and realized that in just a few days time, I’ll REALLY be able to do that! Hey, it’s a small dream, but a HUGE one at the same time.”
After Ron’s surgery, I talked to him in his hospital room. Surgery went extremely well for him. His tremor control was outstanding. He described the surgical procedure to me. Then I asked what he did to test his tremor control during surgery.
“Lots of stuff. They had me push my hand against their hand. They had me touch my finger to my nose and back to their finger. There was lots of stuff.”
I asked him if he had to pick up anything and handle it to test his tremor control. He almost choked up and said they gave him a glass.
“I picked it up and brought it to my mouth like I was drinking from it. It was just perfect, Jeff! There was no straw. It was absolutely perfect. Just…perfect.”
Being able to do one simple activity can mean the world to a person with tremors. That one little straw can seem like a lifeline when you’re trying to drink something, but it can also feel like an anchor at the same time, never letting you forget why you need it.
Ron is extremely grateful for the opportunity to cast away that anchor. I was glad I could come along for the ride.
Guy No. 2