Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Messages getting through?
In the late eighteenth century, an Italian scientist by the name of Luigi Galvani observed that the legs of dead frogs convulsed when an electrically charged metal scalpel made contact with the frog's sciatic nerve. This discovery eventually led to our current understanding of nerve cells as transmitters of electrical impulses.
Early in Robb's recovery, he was issued a machine, which was to be used to electrically stimulate some of his leg muscles. The machine had adhesive electrodes that would be applied to Robb's legs, and through which mild electrical energy would run. The intention was to keep the muscles that were not enervated (or not getting electrical impulses from Robb's damaged nerves) from atrophying.
Although Robb and the therapists spent a lot of time and effort in finding the "sweet spot" on Robb's leg, they never had much success. They would move the electrodes around Robb's leg, without managing to get the muscles to react in the way they intended. Usually, other nearby muscles (which Robb could already control) would twitch. But the targeted muscles would not respond.
Because of the total absence of response, Robb's therapist Doreen speculated that the machine might be faulty. It worked fine when she hooked it up to herself. They also thought that the machine wasn't turned up enough, and for a while were sending shockingly painful impulses through Robb's leg.
Occasionally, Robb will check to see if anything had changed, and if his body will respond to the machine. Usually, this involves about forty-five minutes of moving the electrodes around, and not much of anything else.
But today, Robb managed to find the perfect spot on the first try. He ran the machine for about twenty minutes, during which time the machine alternated between stimulating and resting Robb's muscles.
Does this mean that his nerves pathways are less scrambled than they used to be? We have no idea. But it certainly seems like a change for the better.