03/11/2014 04:17 pm ET Updated May 09, 2014

Evoked Potentials

A stem cell clinical trial for MS here in New York is about to begin. I am part of it. I have endured a bone marrow aspiration (video at, assorted other procedures and endless blood work that rendered me anemic. This final test, though, took the cake.

I had a pile of prescriptions for drugs and tests to be filled as I wait for the damned trial to begin. Part of me thinks this has been a way to make sure I am busy and keep me out of the bars until clearances come through and we can stop talking and start doing. The non-pace has been driving me crazy.

Dutifully, I worked my way through the list. There was a test called, evoked potentials, which was tough to schedule. I had to go through the epilepsy department at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital up by the George Washington Bridge. I knew nothing about the procedure, only that it would provide a baseline for measuring change, should there be any a year or so after the stem cell infusions began.

I was ushered into a room full of high tech gadgetry, and a pleasant technician began fastening electrodes to various spots on my head. He told me we would start with my eyes, then work with hearing before -- pause -- finishing with tests I "would not like too much." He added that he would be asking me to lie on an examination table and pull the legs of my jeans up over my knees.


After working on eyes and ears and listening to vague references to the final tests, it occurred to me he was sending me a less-than-subtle message that pain and suffering would not be far behind the tests north of the neck. How bad could it be? I wondered.

There I was, on my back, pant legs rolled up and electrodes and stray wires everywhere. If I looked like the Bionic Man, I had not signed up for the role. When the guy was ready and assured me he would begin with a low current going into one leg at a time, it occurred to me this would be a good time to disembark and go to lunch.

True to his word, the man in scrubs did start with my left leg and move to my right. I wondered if he had a black hood on. The current was low and only mildly uncomfortable. All went well, until he told me he was going to increase the current until he saw a certain twitching, which did not seem to be happening.

"Are you with me?" He asked. "Can you take more?" I thought I smelled something burning. By now my legs ere slightly above the table and shaking violently. Are they freaking twitching? I asked politely. "Yes. You are doing great," he responded, demonstrating no interest in cutting the power.

"Okay, we're done," he finally announced as my legs went limp. "Now we will do your wrists. This will not be as bad as your legs." Right. My arms felt like they were going to pop out of their sockets. When we were done, he walked me down the hall to the elevators. The technician's boss, who had screened the data on a monitor in his office, stepped into the corridor, smiled a celled from a distance, "Is that the guy you tried to execute?"
Very funny.

Everybody there that day was very nice, actually, and only collecting data that may be critical in evaluating change. I have thought of myself as a pioneer in this process, going where no one has traveled before. It was time to toughen up. Playing trail blazer is no game for the timid. No free lunch is served around here.