A hand so swollen that it had doubled the size of the left hand, engorged to the point that hardly any veins or bones could be seen. The hand throbbed.
Nearby, a doctor dampened two green towels with water and prepared a therapy machine to begin treatment on the patient in the anesthesiology department.
The doctor took wires, stretched them from the machine, placed them around the swollen hand and then wrapped the damp towels around the wires. The towels acted as a conductor for the microcurrents, which stimulated the patient’s hand.
Half an hour later treatment ended and the hand was unwrapped. The throbbing pain and plumpness were gone from the treated hand and it almost looked identical to the left hand.
No pills. No drugs. No prescriptions.
The doctor looked just as relieved as the patient. They shook hands, talked a bit more about the procedure and then parted ways.
This might not be Dr. Susan Durham’s specialty, an anesthesiologist at Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg, but it is her passion — curing pain without traditional medicine.
“I love working here and helping all of our patients,” Durham said. “If I can help them with pain or help guide them in healing and being more functional, it gives me a lot of personal satisfaction.”
One of Durham’s colleagues spoke about her dedication to healing and helping patients.
“Doctor Durham is one of the most caring and passionate physicians that I’ve met,” said Dr. Anthony R. Plunkett, director of acute pain medicine at WAMC and an acupuncturist. “She does this in addition to her operating room responsibilities. So, this is something she does above and beyond what her traditional job title describes.”
Plunkett spoke about the negative effects and possible addictions to pain medications, as well as the effects of alternative treatment in the pain clinic.
“I think Doctor Durham’s role is pivotal, important and is very, very valuable to the patient,” Plunkett said. “Not only to treat their pain, but to help them function better, do their jobs better, to interact with their Families better, allowing the patient to live a better life.”
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Andrew E. Maykovich, Company B, 6th Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Group started seeing Durham in the Womack Pain Clinic after his most recent deployment to Iraq.
“I don’t like taking pain killers, so I was looking for alternative treatments,” Maykovich said. “Doctor Durham and the pain clinic take the time to try and find alternative methods to help you resolve the issue without pushing you into a cycle of take more, take more, take more.
“I think she is the best doctor I’ve seen the entire time I’ve been in the military,” said Maykovich, who has 24 years of service.
When Durham first arrived at WAMC in 2006, she was doing a fellowship in anti-aging, regenerative and functional medicine. This taught her about the stress that could be put on a body and it’s harmful side effects. She said she felt it would be useful knowledge, and offered to help in the hospital’s understaffed pain clinic.
“A lot of the things that I learned, applies to our Soldiers,” Durham said. “Even though they are young, they have things going on that normally don’t occur until they’re much older, because of chronic stress and chronic pain.”
With a new outlook on pain relief, Durham took what she learned and used it for fibromyalgia patients, which then led her to discover energy medicine.
I was very skeptical about energy medicine, because it’s not something that most physicians hear about,” Durham said. “I ended up investigating further and was one of the first 600 people in the United States to get trained on it.”
Durham was trained on the frequency specific microcurrent therapeutic machine, which is a form of energy medicine treatment.
“Like traditional devices, it is very safe, but is different because it uses very low levels of energy with combinations of frequencies that studies showed increased energy and decreased inflammation, (for the most part) couldn’t be felt, but certainly didn’t hurt, could speed healing and usually helped with pain and function immediately,” Durham explained.
She said FSM treatment has been found to help with ailments such as orthopedic injuries, acute and chronic pain, nerve pain and neuropathies, acute and chronic anxiety/stress, post traumatic stress disorder and even acute and chronic head injury.
She explained further, “Often, with the stress of pain of injury, patients have increased nutritional requirements but often don’t eat well, don’t sleep well, and their hormones can get out of balance, so I try to address those things too.”
“I find that treating the whole patient using a combination of therapies works well for most of my patients,” Durham said.
The pain clinic has many forms of non-narcotic, non-medication treatments such as nerve blocks, injections, acupuncture, chiropractic, physical therapy, pain psychology, and an outpatient detoxification program for opiates. Last year, clinic doctors saw more than 6,000 Soldiers and averaged 400 to 600 patients each month, depending on how many providers were available, said Lt. Col. Donald W. Algeo, Interdisciplinary Pain Medicine Center chief.
Algeo explained that the clinic staff bases their success on the patients’ satisfaction with their discomfort level and if their quality of life had improved.
Algeo estimated a 90 percent positive response with patients in the clinic.
“My headache is still a problem, but they continue to help me deal with it,” Maykovich said. “It’s the fact that they haven’t given up and they continue to try and work with it that make me so appreciative of the clinic and Doctor Durham.”