Well, here I go again. Diving head first into a "promising new depression treatment." How many times have I read that?
Somehow I've made it into a second clinical trial for TNS depression treatment. I was told I was fortunate to qualify at this time because this study is "open labeled" meaning no placebo—everyone knows this is the real deal. The next trial will be "double-blind" where not even the doctors will know who has the real treatment and who has the placebo.
Two appointments so far. First one with the facilitator who interviewed me extensively and had me fill out all the necessary paperwork. I then met the two doctors who are spearheading this research. One a neurologist, the other a psychiatrist. I won't mention names out of sheer common sense. Extremely nice folks. Thorough, attentive, personable and even caring. I was given a neurological exam which went well. They seemed genuinely excited about this study.
Two weeks later the second appointment lasted much longer. I agreed to undergo a brain scan. The purpose of this scan is to literally see what the electrical current is doing in the brain and specifically where it's going by examining the brain's blood flow. I was scanned with and without the device. They used a "tracer" to observe where the current was going. This tracer was radioactive water administered through an IV. I'll repeat that. Radioactive water. I was injected with it not once but six times, one for each scan. Of course I was assured it was an extremely low and safe level of radiation that dissipates very quickly. It didn't bother me at all. As a matter of fact I was hoping a dose of radiation to my unforgiving brain would possibly jar it to a happier state.
The scanner was similar in appearance to an MRI machine. A narrow tube with an adjacent table the patient lies on then slowly moves head first into the chamber. My head was barely half way in. It was comfortable enough. The whole session lasted about two hours. At the conclusion of the test the clinician overseeing the process held a geiger counter near me. That was a first.
Following the test, it was hands-on time with the device. It was nothing more than a basic TENS unit powered by a 9-volt battery. For those unfamiliar, a TENS unit is a small contraption that sends out electrical impulses through wired electrodes that are adhered to the skin with a sticky gel. I used one years ago for my back pain but it didn't really help. I was slightly disappointed to see it was a garden variety product instead of some sleek new prototype never seen by the public. I learned this was precisely the intention of the doctors involved. To design and produce a modified TENS unit like device specifically for people who suffer from epilepsy, ADD, ADHD, depression, and a host of other possible health issues. Since this study is literally in its infancy, the TENS unit serves its purpose at this time.
It's simple to use. The electrodes are centered just above the eyebrows. The voltage settings are determined by my comfort. All I have to do is attach it to my head and sleep with it nightly. In addition to the introduction of the device, I was given an EKG with and without the device and a blood pressure check that lasted an hour, again, with and without. This is all for safety's sake. They will eventually present this study to the FDA but they must make sure it's safe and all testing for safety has been documented.
The first night was restless for me. Later in the day I got a dull headache but not sure if I can attribute it to the unit or not. I felt no difference but it takes weeks to experience results. The neurologist told me I was only one of three that had the brain scan. They will be looking for common denominators in each case so they can zero in on what part of the brain is making depressives so miserable.
He told me I was a pioneer. Thousands of doctors all over the world will be studying the data once released. I will remain anonymous of course but if this works for me, I'll be indirectly helping others for years to come if all goes as planned. I've been here before however. In uncharted waters trying not to get my hopes too high. I've become so jaded. I shared my skepticism with the doctors. They told me they wanted me to be skeptical. They don't want me to develop my own placebo. They need honest answers.
After spending most of the day there I collected all the items and paperwork, shook their hands and thanked them for spending so much time with me. I should have felt some inkling of hope but there was only numbness. As I stepped out of the building to get back to my vehicle, I saw the streets were jammed. It took nearly a half an hour just to travel 5 blocks to the freeway. It took a total of over 2 hours to make my way home in the dreaded southern California 5:00 rush hour traffic. Today I'm a pioneer –– yet also traffic.