Friday, July 12, 2024

Spinal cord stimulator patients left to “die”?

Patients with lifelong back injuries resulting from the use of spinal cord stimulators find themselves in a two-front-war – a battle for justice and a battle to live.

They recently initiated a class action lawsuit against the government.

The patients complain of lack of adequate medical treatment and support. Allegations of neglect within the government healthcare system have left these patients feeling abandoned and desperate for relief as they continue to endure unimaginable pain.

The journey of the patients, who once put their faith in the same health system that recommended the spinal cord stimulators, has taken a harrowing turn. Rather than experiencing relief, they are grappling with a healthcare system seemingly unwilling to provide the care they need to alleviate their suffering.

Doctors have reportedly run out of ideas. No solution seems to work. While some recommend treatments such as rhizotomy, some have discouraged them from taking that route.

“Another doctor explained that the procedure, which had been suggested for some patients, carried a risk of paralysis,” Margret Morapedi, a victim of the stimulator, told Sunday Standard.

“We were then left in limbo as ozone therapy was suggested as an alternative, with no concrete plan in place.”

A rhizotomy is a medical procedure used to treat chronic pain or muscle spasms. It involves damaging specific nerve fibers using different methods such as cutting them with a surgical tool, which can be done through open surgery or a small incision with a camera to locate and cut the nerves (endoscopic approach). 

It can also involve damaging them using a chemical like glycerin or glycerol, the third alternative being to burn them using focused high-intensity radio waves (radiofrequency ablation). Ozone therapy refers to the process of administering ozone gas into one’s body to treat a disease or wound.

The fear of further pain and complications from surgeries has left patients hesitant to explore invasive interventions. “We are practically on our death beds just waiting to die,” Morapedi said.

Their ordeal is made even more complex by the patients’ intricate medical conditions, which doctors say require a multifaceted approach.

Physiotherapy, psychotherapy, and painkillers have been recommended, but their efficacy remains uncertain, given the severity of the patients’ injuries.

Doctors have openly admitted the challenges they face in managing these cases, as traditional treatment approaches have failed to yield the expected results.

“I feel your pain,” expressed one medical professional to Morapedi in a text message, acknowledging the frustration and despair of both patients and healthcare providers.

The doctors’ attitudes are reflective of their own limitations in managing these complex cases. Some of the patients, who can no longer afford private healthcare, are pinning their hopes on the neurosurgery team at Marina Hospital in hopes of providing more specialized care. Plans for individualized reviews and appointments with spine care specialists are in the works, alongside arrangements for psychological support.

Another patient, David Kiberu, was hospitalized at Bokamoso Private Hospital at the time of going to press. “I’m in a bad shape,” he told this publication. “The health system has abandoned us. I literally survive on pain medicine. The pain is often unbearable.” He says he now has to also grapple with hospital bills even though there is no solution in sight. “The government has abandoned us.”

The patients’ plight sheds light on the shocking negligence that has marred the use of spinal cord stimulators globally. The Ministry of Health, responsible for endorsing these treatments, now faces overwhelming evidence of its failure to prioritize patient well-being. Patients, often desperate for relief, unknowingly signed consent forms that exposed them to a life of perpetual pain and suffering, confining some to wheelchairs.

The patients who filed the class action lawsuit were initially referred to the Gaborone Private Hospital for surgeries to alleviate their chronic back pain. The procedure involved the insertion of spinal cord stimulators, conducted by a certain Dr. Thabo Rowland. Some patients were later forced to travel to India for the removal of the stimulators during a government-sponsored trip, highlighting the gravity of their plight.

The patients’ struggle for justice now intertwines with their fight for proper medical treatment. As the legal battle against the government progresses, these individuals find themselves grappling not only with their physical pain but also with the emotional toll of feeling forsaken by the very system that should have provided them solace.

The untold suffering of these patients speaks to a broader issue of accountability within the healthcare system.

It exposes the harrowing accounts of mismanagement, negligence, and a lack of effective treatment options. The patients are not only battling for compensation and recognition but also for a chance to reclaim their lives from the clutches of pain.

Their stories echo the need for a healthcare system that prioritizes patient well-being above all else, ensuring that no one else falls victim to a system that should have been their source of healing and hope.

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