The Tingler was a 1959 horror movie light years ahead of its time. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, the concept was so prescient, the film might as well have been a documentary. A pathologist, portrayed by the iconic Vincent Price, discovers a creature called a “Tingler,” a parasite attached to the human spine that feeds on fear. It curls up and grows stronger when the host is afraid, effectively crushing the person’s spine if curled up long enough. The only way to weaken the creature living in your spine and stop it from killing you is to scream. And keep screaming.
Check. And check.
Who knew I needed a Tingler in my spine? Well, a couple of docs did. One was a pain management physician at a famous hospital; the other, his colleague, an orthopedic surgeon. Two guys who had once taken an Oath to “Do No Harm.” And I’m certain nowhere in that Oath is there an additional requirement to become lying sacks of shit.
The reason the pain management guy (who bore no resemblance to Vincent Price) put a Spinal Cord Stimulator—my personal Tingler—in my spine was because the surgeon who performed an unsuccessful spinal fusion on me, said that, unfortunately, the only option left for me was to become a “Lifetime Pain Management Patient.” Hence, the referral to The Tingler guy.
The idea behind the Spinal Cord Stimulator (Tingler) kind of makes sense. The device, inserted into the patient’s back, uses electrical currents to block pain signals from the damaged spine before they reach the brain. In theory, sounds good. However, if a compliant FDA had ordered the medical device companies to test their Tinglers properly—according to a 10-year Associated Press investigation from 2008 through 2018—500 patients would still be alive, and another 80,000 would not have been injured from battery burns, shooting pains, paralysis, infections, and yes, electric shocks.
Like what the Tingler does.
Medical device companies aggressively push their Tinglers to doctors as a safe antidote to the deadly opioid crisis. One South Carolina neurosurgeon received $181,000 from Boston Scientific, one of the many SCS makers, over a five-year period in the form of consulting fees and payments for travel and entertainment. A Boston Scientific sales rep was even in the operating room—a common practice, the AP found. The hospitals themselves make up to fifty grand each for the inserting of the Tinglers.
Did I mention that from 2005-2010 there have been 50 recalls of these various devices?
Well, I wasn’t aware of any of that when the pain management doc sold innocent me on the idea, and inserted the Tingler into my spine. It was programmed and I returned home with a sense of cautious optimism—until I began to light up like a New Years Eve fireworks show on Waikiki Beach.
The next few days were a nightmare: not only getting the piercing electric shocks, but not knowing when they would come. But come they would. I went back to the pain management guy and made him take the Tingler out. And I didn’t even have to scream.
The story kind of has a happy ending. Okay, I’m grading on a curve here. I was referred to another orthopedic surgeon, who discovered that the failed fusion had failed because it never ever did fuse to the bone in the first place. In other words, the original orthopedic surgeon left out that rather important piece of info, because his path of least resistance was to have me go away and become his colleague’s “Permanent Pain Management Patient.”
Except that guy’s idea of pain management was having The Tingler manage my pain. The happy ending to this movie is I’m no longer getting electrocuted on a daily basis; however, I now have more titanium in my back then all of Kazakhstan, China, and India combined.
And I also have one awesome chapter in YOU MIGHT FEEL A LITTLE PRICK (spoiler alert) that has a pain management doctor character experience first-hand what it’s like to have The Tingler taking residence in his spine.
At least while he’s alive.