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~ Stephen Foster
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THE BIONIC WOMAN
15 May 2004
Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better ... stronger ... faster.
I’ve been living with The Bionic Woman.
I’m not sure she’s better … stronger … faster, but she’s definitely bionic.
Some years ago, I took Olivia to the hospital for minor surgery. As the nurse came in to take her history, she looked at Olivia and asked “have you had surgery before?”
Olivia and I both laughed.
I don’t know exactly how many surgeries she’s had, but her surgical life began back in her early 20s when she was in a convent, had an accident, and was put to bed without medical attention and told that she’d be fine. For the pain, “offer it up.” (Nuns were big on telling you to “offer it up” when things were painful or difficult…you were supposed to offer the pain up for the poor souls in purgatory to help them get out sooner.)
As it turned out, it wasn’t a minor incident and the delayed medical attention set off a whole rash of back problems, which continue to this day.
She’s had multiple spinal fusions. She once spent a year in a full body cast (just the thought of that gives my claustrophobic soul panic attacks).
She’s had so many surgeries, I suspect she has a “frequent flyer card” at many local hospitals.
At the time I first met her, she was famous on CompuServe because of her bionics. To help her deal with her constant pain, she had a “neural stimulator” installed. Her doctor invented the device and she was a successful guinea pig. A neural stimulator consists of a bunch of electrodes which attach to the nerve endings in the spinal column, controlled (turned off and on, and setting level of intensity) by a battery pack. Electrical impulses cause the nerves to tingle and it seems to make the pain bearable. It’s not exactly what “getting a buzz” normally means, but that’s what happens.
Now, you have to know that the surgery to install this device is draconian at best. The patient must be awake because only the patient knows when the electrodes are placed properly. Olivia has described it as a long, slow electrocution.
When the electrodes are in place, the battery pack is installed under the skin and she has a device which looks like a computer mouse which she can put over the battery to adjust it (during electrical storms, she has to turn it off, or she gets intermittent electrical shocks. I have visions of her hair standing on end and her eyes popping out of her head…) .
Over the years, it turned out that the one stimulator wasn’t enough, so she now has separate controls for the upper part of her back and the lower part of her back. And every few years, she needs to go in for more surgery to have the battery replaced. They haven’t yet devised a way of recharging the battery externally, so she must once again be cut and stitched back up again.
However, she hasn’t let any of this significantly slow her down, though I swear she has a death wish.
I think the spinal fusions and the stumulator(s) were all that were in place when we first became friends and ultimately took up biking together.
Then came the bike accident. While she was riding her bike to work, a car pulled out suddenly from a hidden exit and Olivia ran smack dab into the car and went flying over the hood and onto the street. Her first thought, of course, was about the electrodes in her spine. She’d had an auto accident a year before which had knocked all the electrodes out of line and she’d had to go through the whole surgery again to have them reset. But this time, miraculously, there was no spinal damage.
However, she is not a person who does things by halves and she couldn’t just have broken a bone or two. Instead she powdered her left elbow and fractured her right wrist. Several surgeries followed to attempt to give her as much mobility as possible in the left arm (it will never be right again). At one point she ended up having surgery on both arms at the same time just to get it over with because she couldn’t face another surgery.
She’s adjusted to the increased limitations brought about by the bike accident, which has made it impossible for her to ride her bike any more.
And then she moved to Boise. This winter, she slipped while she was emptying the garbage and fell. She thought she had torn her anterior cruciate ligament, something she’d done before, so she didn’t seek medical help but just walked around on the injury for 8 days. But when the pain wasn’t diminishing, she finally saw the doctor and discovered she’d fractured the tibial plateau, the bone which holds her knee in place. (Oh yeah, she also did tear both the medial and anterior cruciate ligaments, just for added fun.) Nobody could believe she'd actually been walking on it. She was given a brace and told to stay off her feet, but she had too much to do and couldn’t see staying bedridden for several weeks, so she’s been walking around on it and is now facing more surgery—probably a new knee.
I have a feeling that her medical history file looks something like the old family bible...very heavy, very thick, with pages that are yellowed and well worn from being turned so often.
I’m wondering how many more body parts she can have replaced or augmented. Surely there's a finite limit on how much can be artificial. In this era of homeland security, getting her and her many metal body parts through security screens is a terrible ordeal, and requires many indignities (and since she travels a lot, she is not happy about that!)
She does make me feel like a piker, with my little shoulder and knee injuries. These are the kinds of things she'd hardly even notice.
But now my time with The Bionic Woman is over and I'm on my way back to Davis and to my own reality again.