I’m a huge advocate of clothing camouflage. Loose shirts and cardigans are great to hide a flabby stomach or that back-fat area around a tight bra strap; however, I’m wearing them to hide both a back brace and a TENS unit. (And the bra fat. Let’s be real.)
Here’s me in my extremely stylish office bathroom:
I usually only wear the TENS on occasions when my back pain is truly escalating and refuses to level off. This week has been particularly bad. The TENS is keeping me at a functioning level, considering I am backing off the Lyrica. The electrodes irritate my skin after more than one use, which is unfortunate, but the only cost-efficient way to use the device is to reuse the pads until the gel wears down and the pads electrocute you. Tiny shocks to be sure, but electrocutions nonetheless.
Side note on the electrodes: Don’t go through the supplier from which you acquired the actual unit. My insurance company holds the very ridiculous philosophy that while they will cover the device, they will not cover the electrodes. Tufts, you silly company, the device does not work without the electrodes. Going through Empi was far more expensive than getting similar pads on Amazon.com, where I could A.) buy them in bulk and B.) get free two-day shipping. (Husband doesn’t like Amazon.com because of vertical integration, but I love me some Amazon Prime.)
Here’s a stupid story for you. About a year ago I woke up early one morning because I was too uncomfortable to sleep. I snuck out into the living room, accompanied by Fattie. It was about 5 a.m. on a Saturday.
I’d just gotten the TENS unit from my spine surgeon’s office at one of my post-surgical followup appointments. I’d tried using a similar device a few years before, but I had not enjoyed the experience. It was too bulky, too noticeable. I remember trying not to cry as my father hooked up the wires and placed the electrodes on my back. This one, at least, was smaller. I was in my bathrobe and fumbling with the electrodes, tired and working in the dark, when somehow it turned on while my finger was attached to the sticky pad.
I was Thor in a lightning storm, electricity coursing through my body. Fattie meowed at me, like, Food? Wat u doin? I needs food, Mama. And all I could think was, I had to get the cat to be quiet so Husband wouldn’t wake up. This wasn’t lightning-strike electricity; this was therapeutic electricity. And it hurt like the dickens.
Somehow I managed to whip my body around and fling the electrode off, where it went SPLAT on the floor. Fattie went over and started investigating while I smacked the power button on the device. And that was how I learned to never, ever turn the TENS unit on while the electrodes were not in their proper positions.
So here’s how I wear the TENS and the back brace:
For your reference, I am 5′ 7″ish tall. I currently weigh about 157 pounds, which refuses to go down despite exercising and diet because of my medication increasing my appetite and a metabolism that is slow as molasses going up a hill in January. However, there’s a lot of clothing magic I can still perform. Like with dresses!
I talked about this in my first post, but let’s revisit the topic. Clothing and medical devices can be hard. Even Googling it is difficult; I had to finally search for how people hide insulin pumps. Those are generally smaller than TENS devices, but the principle is the same. Other smart people have spread the word as well and offer advice: Clip it to the front of your bra. Wear a garter under your dress. Hook it up to your belt. There are even pump bands. I have always been partial to Ruthanna Kuhn on Etsy; her lace garter belts are perfect for wearing a TENS under a flared dress. Or for carrying a gun. You know. Whichever.
Wearing a medical device can feel embarrassing. I have an overweight friend who doesn’t like being out in public because people stare at her. Those sidelong glances from people when she goes to the gym feel as obvious as laser beams. That’s how I sometimes feel when wearing a TENS unit. I feel like everyone can see everything about me. Or they just look at me and wonder what’s wrong. What’s the matter with her?
It’s gotten to the point where I’m defiant about it. Sure, I’ll go into a changing room at the gym in order to place the electrodes on my back, but then I’ll walk out in my pants and bra to the main locker room, my back brace fully visible, my wire and electrodes exposed. I see people glancing at me, trying to be subtle while they dry their hair and sneak glances in the mirror. It doesn’t bother me anymore. Yes, I’m pretty much bionic. This is me. This is what I need to do.
So I put on my shirt, throw on a cardigan, and start my day.