For as long as I can remember, more than 40 years, I’ve had a stabbing electrical pain that attacks my left groin when I least expect it. If it weren’t so bothersome, it would be funny. I’ll be cruising through the day, happy as a lark, and ZAP! — I nearly jump out of my wheelchair. If I were a cartoon character, my hair would stand straight up and my eyes would bug out.
Such is the nature of neuropathic pain. It is not like any other. It doesn’t ache or throb or hurt like a bruise or a sore tendon; it acts like an electrical signal gone haywire. Most people who have it describe it as a burning, tingling kind of sensation that is always there. My neuropathic pain is different in that it is mostly quiet, but when it strikes, it can feel like a single jolting electric shock or a series of sharp, stabbing jabs with a sharp-pointed knife. Sometimes it seems to have no explainable cause, but when it becomes strong and repetitive, it is a warning signal telling me I have a UTI, a rash, hemorrhoid irritation, a pressure sore or some other problem. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel it at some time or other.
People with SCI tend to experience neuropathic pain at or below the damaged areas of their spinal cords. Diabetics with severe neuropathy mostly feel it in their lower extremities. The pain is always related to damaged nerves and is a symptom of electrochemical nerve impulses being misdirected, amplified, or electrified. No single painkiller seems to erase it entirely, but there are ways to dampen or dull it —to quiet the constant white noise of pain.
Valerie Bohrman, 28, of Hood River, Oregon, knows about pain, both professionally and personally. She was three months from completing her residency as a nurse anesthetist in 2013 when she sustained a C5 incomplete spinal cord injury in a rollover car accident. Her mother, also a nurse anesthetist, made certain that Valerie was well-medicated for pain during her first two weeks in ICU. But when she emerged into the “real world,” she experienced the full effect of ne