The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve. It contains motor and sensory fibers and, because it passes through the neck and thorax to the abdomen, has the widest distribution in the body. It contains somatic and visceral afferent fibers, as well as general and special visceral efferent fibers.
Vagus means “wandering” in Latin, and true to its name, the nerve meanders around the chest and abdomen, connecting most of the key organs—heart and lungs included—to the brain stem. It’s like a back door built into the human physiology, allowing you to hack the body’s systems.
Vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS, got its start in the 1990s, when Cyberonics, of Houston, developed an implanted stimulator to treat particularly tough cases of epilepsy. That application was just the beginning. Researchers soon found that stimulation had the potential to treat a variety of ailments, including painful neurological conditions such as migraine headaches and fibromyalgia, inflammatory problems such as Crohn’s disease and asthma, and psychiatric ailments such as depression and obsessive- compulsive disorder.
VNS devices consist of a titanium-encased generator about the size of a pocket watch with a lithium battery to fuel the generator, a lead wire system with electrodes, and an anchor tether to secure leads to the vagus nerve. The battery life for the pulse generator is "between 1 -16 years, depending on the settings [ie how strong the signal being sent is, the length of time the device stimulates the nerve each time, and how frequently the device stimulates the nerve]."
Implantation of the Cyberonics VNS device is usually done as an out-patient procedure. The procedure goes as follows: an incision is made in the upper left chest and the generator is implanted into a little "pouch" on the left chest under the clavicle. A second incision is made in the neck, so that the surgeon can access the vagus nerve. The surgeon then wraps the leads around the left branch of the vagus nerve, and connects the electrodes to the generator. Once successfully implanted, the generator sends electric impulses to the vagus nerve at regular intervals.
So now you know that vagus is way cooler and way more useful than vegas...and that there is a device that can literally hack into the brain itself and by sending new electro pulses to help the brain deal with the trouble areas painlessly and without any adverse side-effects. To someone whose child has been at the mercy of the pharmaceuticals with their insane lists of side-effects for half a decade with little or no actual benefit, this sounds pretty much too good to be true. While it is true that the device doesn't always work for everybody, for those it does, it is a total game changer. To be able to administer continual therapy without pills and the resulting need for more pills to help counter act the side effects of the other pills, and then not having them help to control the seizures...let's just say the VNS sounded the way the trickle of water sounds to a man dying of thirst.
Leo's battle with seizures has progressed to the point where medications were not working well, and the frequency of seizures were effecting his quality of life.
After yet another desperate plea from me to his doctor, he recommended we try the VNS therapy. At this point, we've got nothing left to loose.
So this past Friday Leo had surgery to implant the device.
He was scheduled to be the first case in the morning at 7:30 which I was pleased about because it meant he didn't have to fast for too long, but since fate will always have her own way and because of someone whose need was greater, Leo surgery when it finally happened was at 1pm. During the wait we exhausted every single elevator in the hospital, every toy in the Pre-OP play room, and watched every single episode of "Little Bear" at least twice. Leo was incredibly patient even though he was quite anxious about the goings on in the hospital environment, he was even better behaved than his mum who was, I'm ashamed to admit, quite prickly at all the delays. I did however, make up for that when I basically single-handedly sprinted him from the place after the procedure. He was back from the OR at 3, and we were home by 4:30.
This makes surgery numero 8 for our little Lion man.
Justin calls him his Buffalo Soldier.
This kid amazes me, humbles me, scares me to death, and also keeps me living. I'd do anything for him and his sister. For us Orthodox Christians it is Holy Week, the week that culminates in Pascha, or Easter. It is a week filled with beautiful church services, and the incredible poetry of our gospel and hymns. Yesterday I snuck away from nursing the convalescent soldier to catch a couple of peaceful and meditative minutes in church. I was feeling drained and beaten down in body and in spirit, which I knew from my previous experiences with Leo's surgeries, is totally normal, but also no less real. I was filled with doubts about the procedure, about the fairness of putting him through out all that, re-playing the images of him post-op; lifeless and pale, whimpering and in pain...What if it all was for nothing?
And yet when I listened to the gospel reading about the parable of the Fig Tree, one that has always been close to my heart, it rang even louder that night, because I realized that whatever the doubts that consume me, if I only have faith, even a tiny bit, regardless of what really ends up happening, then everything that happened was worthwhile and necessary.
Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry.
And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away.
And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?”
So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done.
And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.
|My illustration of the fig tree parable|