I have a quiet week lined up. I try to restrict my week just to a couple of things, just so that I don’t overload my body.
The only thing showing this week is an appointment with the FES people. FES is Functional Electrical Stimulation, which involves sticking a pair of electrodes on my leg, and applying a small current when I walk. This stimulates the muscle that controls my foot, artificially raising my foot to give me a more natural gait. See? I’ll be you never knew there was so much that happens when you take a step!
I’ll talk a little bit about FES. Old hat? I mean, electricity has been around for 200 years, right? Wrong. FES is actually leading edge, at least in the medical world, so much so that the NHS does not provide this treatment as “standard” – In fact, I was only offered this treatment after they’d checked my address – apparently I live in the “right” county (Wiltshire) and am eligible for the treatment. Of course, this then raises the question about what treatments I haven’t been offered, because I live in the wrong place?
The equipment itself is a couple of electrodes stuck to my calf, as I’ve said, and these are attached by wire to a control box which sits on my belt. In addition, the thing needs to know when to apply the current, and so you also wear a small, flat pressure sensor on an insole in your shoe. this too is wired. So you have two wires which run pretty much the lengt of your leg, to this control box (in which, by the way, there sits a 9V battery).
Whilst it is true that the device does improve one’s gait (which means you walk faster), there is an offset here, and this is installing the device each day, making sure these wires are placed under your trousers. So whilst, for me, there is a gain, there is also a cost in that dressing becomes slightly more complicated and time-consuming. Consequently I find myself asking myself whether I’m going to walk anywhere that particular day? If I’m just going to stay around the house, it is quicker just not to fit the device that day.
When I first got the kit (and it is probably a reasonable question to ask why I didn’t get it until 6 months after I left hospital yet another to ask why I didn’t even know about it) I got back in touch with the people with some suggestions for improvements. As you might imagine, at the top of the list was to make the thing wireless. “Ah, we’ve already done that” was their reply. But I’d been given the more basic (and, presumably, cheaper) “wired” version. So there you go – by default an NHS patient won’t get the service at all, and even if an NHS patient does qualify, you’re not offered the bells-and-whistles version by default.
Of course, the bells-and-whistles gadget is available if you’re prepared to approach the company privately. The company is called Odstock Medical, although beware – you need to create a login in order to see the prices of their products (they say this is necessary because these things attract different duty depending on which country you live in, although I don’t see why they can’t quote a price which excludes duty). I am not sure whether these guys are the only company in the UK to offer such products.