One year ago today, a beautiful relationship between man and machine began.
I shall weave my disclaimer into the story: This day last year, FedEx delivered the Quell pain relief device that I’d bought during their Indiegogo campaign. I hadn’t been contacted by the company to try it, and I paid for it with money that I earned. I keep several alerts on my news feeds, and I found it in a story about new medical devices that contained this slim, mostly unobtrusive wearable. It sounded too good to be true — it could produce endogenous opioids within my body, like natural versions of the medications I fought so hard each month to receive? All-over pain relief by wearing an electrode on the calf? I didn’t care if it sounded too good to be true. I had to try it.
And I have tried it for approximately 350 out of the past 365 days. About one week of that was when I transitioned to a work-from-home situation. My routine was so interrupted that I simply forgot to put it on. Believe me, I noticed those days but was too stupid to figure out what was different. The rest of the days were post-cervical fusion, so I was too medicated to care.
I have been wearing the Quell for a year now. What are my thoughts?
The Positives: Our Love Will Never Die
I wear this black athletic band-looking device every day on my pasty white legs because it absolutely works. It works so well.
As I say to everyone on my blog, it doesn’t get rid of all the pain, but it dampens it enough that you can get on with your life and feel productive for a change. I can’t say that’s the same experience everyone would have; I’m sure those with pain at, for instance, a normal 9 out of 10 on the pain scale (10 being the worst), it might bring it down to a 6 or 7. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but for anyone who’s had the lovely opportunity to describe their lives on a pain scale, they know that the difference between a 7 and 6 can be tremendous. It can mean a day out with friends. It can mean a romp in the sheets with hubby. It can mean throwing a baseball around with your kid for once without having to spend a day recovering.
It does wonders for my sciatica, my low-back pain, and a good portion of my mid-back and neck pain. I recommend the Quell to everyone in a similar or even distantly related situation, anyone who has chronic pain anywhere in the body (for some reason I think it draws the line at migraines, but that might be anecdotal; however, it did not do much for my cervicogenic headaches).
Pretty much everything else, though? Covered like a glorious numbing bandage. Anyone who emails me, I recommend it. I also instruct them to contact the Quell team for their specific ailments, because I have no idea what’s contraindicated beside the obvious, like pacemakers. But maybe even those can still be used simultaneously with this device! My point is that their team is ready and willing to answer all questions. They handled my idiocy with grace when I called a few months ago to ask why my replacement Quell wasn’t working (the slot for the charging cable became too loose in my first edition device, so they sent a free replacement under my warranty). It wasn’t working because I hadn’t read the calibrating instructions correctly. The customer service representative was endlessly patient with me as I tried to figure out what “put your foot flat so your ankle is at a ninety-degree angle while calibrating” meant. Because, as we’ve established, I’m an idiot.
Some people complain that the initial cost of the device ($249.00) and continuing cost of the electrodes is prohibitive (one month’s worth is $29.95). And yeah, that’s an initial punch. The offset is that I didn’t have to fight the medical and insurance systems to get it. My TENS unit was expensive even though it had been prescribed by a doctor and covered by insurance. Want to know why? They only covered the machine and not the ledes. IT DOESN’T WORK WITHOUT THE LEDES. Meanwhile, every TENS that I’ve tried doesn’t work as well as the Quell.
So I buy the replacement electrodes with a smile because I know that they will bring relief. I don’t care what they cost. I don’t care that the machine isn’t covered by insurance. This is an investment that A.) is tax-deductible, so hey, I’ve got that goin’ for me, which is nice, and B.) actually works.
The Negatives: Any Relationship Quirks?
The vain part of me still sometimes gets self-conscious when wearing the Quell, especially at events like weddings or just when I’m walking around in shorts. I can’t go without the device because I know how I’ll feel, and it’s not worth it — not even to wear the hottest dress at the wedding. Because of this vanity, I do one of two things: 1) I let the Quell dictate my outfit, which isn’t usually a bad idea; and 2) I showcase my blinding white legs complete with the black strap.
It’s changed my outfits, sure. Skinny pants are out, and many of my skirts just don’t work. I don’t exactly feel sexy while wearing it. If science were up to me, I would somehow translate this device into an adhesive Band-Aid-thin patch that contains a battery within the gel. I want to wear my skinny pants, guys!
Second problem: Should the calves become irritated or if you want to switch it up, you can wear the Quell above your knee. Maybe this works easier for men because their legs are narrower, but for women, we, uh — we have thighs. We might be, shall we say, voluptuous. This means that for me to keep the Quell strap in place when I wear it above the knee, I have to use safety pins to hold it there. Kind of MacGyver-ish, but this makes sense. He went to my alma mater. We think alike.
The only other problem? You can increase or decrease the intensity of the Quell by using the iPhone app (a recent update that I quite like and which is not the issue — heavens, no). By the way, I thought about the negatives for this section for a good five minutes, and the only other issue I have with the device is that the electrodes, when operating at a high intensity, can irritate the skin. I’ve had to turn mine up very high lately because of increased pain during a flare, and even though I don’t wear the Quell at night, my skin has an itchy rash where the electrodes rested during the day. Keep in mind I have this thing turned up to 11. I ended up buying lotion specifically designed for rashes, and I have to slather it on in a layer that slowly soaks in over about an hour before I go to bed. You have to keep switching up the placement of the electrode so that the skin can air out in between uses. Sometimes I get lazy about that, so it’s pretty much my own fault.
But seriously, it’s not even that big of a deal. What’s that you say, chronic pain patient? Itching and a distinct lack of skinny jeans are the only side effects? Done. Dealt with. I swear, I really had to think hard about this section. Like, yeah, the band is jet black. It can look weird when wearing it out and about. Nine out of ten people assume I have a knee injury. The tenth person asks what it is or — as I said a year ago — assume I am a felon with a very forgiving GPS tracking system. I am more than happy to explain that, no, I am not on parole. I’d wondered at one point whether a flesh-colored band would be better and less obvious, but then I realized it would look bizarre. Like some weird, lumpy growth. Better to make it obvious. Take the stride of pride.
In the end, I don’t care about itching or fashion or safety pins. I would endure the worst itching for this device. My legs could bleed and I’d still use it. I would wear a sleeve of safety pins like a high school goth. I’d wear a hoop skirt to cover my calves.
But I’d certainly live without skinny jeans.
The Quell enables me to do so many things that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. I can go for long walks in the woods. I can go on spontaneous adventures with friends. I can work longer during the day. I can do more. For someone in my position, that is immeasurable. A few extra hours in the day means I can make money to pay bills or spend real time with my husband or see a friend I haven’t in seen in months. The Quell pain relief device means I can live more of my life. And that is worth everything.