The “Bionic Man” Comes Home

The Bionic Man Comes Home

By: Susan McKenzie

In April 2004 I brought home my own bionic man!

My husband had received a diagnosis of "severe spinal cord injury with a spinal tear" and was told to sit still and rest for 1-2 years. Given a 5-pound weight limit and no hope for recovery, the doctors loaded him up with Oxycontin, Percocet, Morphine, and a few other heavy-duty painkillers – all at levels normally reserved for the terminally ill – and wished us good luck.

His final surgery for the year, April 22, 2004, was an experiment to implant an electronic neurostimulator from the top of his back and down to his hip. Neurostimulators were becoming common in those days but no one had yet successfully implanted the apparatus into the region of the thoracic spine, we were told. The theory is, you shoot controlled electric currents into the spinal cord to shut off the pain. Cauterizing local nerves also served to help shut off the pain, theoretically. The computerized battery was designed to control the current on both sides of the spine and could be dialed up or down by the patient.

  The neurostimulator was to become yet another failed experiment that would forever impact our lives.

Making our way down the 401 from Bakersfield to California my husband went into out-patient surgery (yes, out-patient!) to have his back opened up and wires implanted along his spine, from top to bottom. In the middle, near the source of the injury, a junction box was installed that served to conduct electricity to the wires. Into his hip was implanted a computerized battery that was operated by a control unit with all kinds of fancy buttons.

Arriving in the recovery room, the doctor passed a box to me and told me to read the instructions, while a nurse handed out a yellow sheet of paper with standard surgical recovery procedures and then told me to bring my pickup to the front door. This was the 9th surgical procedure, so I just did what I was told, like always. With the nurse's help I lifted my husband out of the wheelchair and propped him up in the passenger seat, very droopy from anesthetic. I hit the bumpy 401 in the company's diesel truck and we returned to Bakersfield.

At home I opened up the box and curiously inspected a gray control panel with a lot of buttons… similar to a PlayStation controller. What in the world? I asked my heavily sedated husband, "Did anyone show you how to use this thing?" Blurry eyed, he said he didn't remember a thing.

Okay… if all else fails, read the instructions. Needless to say, it was all Greek to me. So we played with it. Controlling the electricity levels, he would have sensations of electricity alternatively jolting through his legs and out his feet… or hands… or even certain personal parts.

It was a bit odd, as I discovered I could make my husband hop, skip, and pee his pants!

We finally resorted to going in to see a specialist, where a company representative arrived to teach us how to use the control unit. Hooking Randy up to his computer, he began properly programming the control panel. Using his computer mouse to determine the appropriate places to shoot electricity, my husband performed like a puppet for the technician. Click the mouse and my husband's hand jumped. Click the mouse again and his feet reacted. Click the mouse again and my husband was yelling, "You're making me wet my pants!"

There were times when so much electricity would shoot through his feet that it was like he was disco dancing. It did the job for a few months, but then body fluids filled the battery and shorted out the whole system! Determined to beat the system, we elected for more surgery. This time they tweaked the junction box, excavated the battery from the back of his hip, drained it out, and then re-implanted it into the front of his abdomen. Fuzzy from surgery, the technician tested the electronics and, satisfied with Randy's responses, flew back to Colorado!

I pulled my pickup truck to the hospital, grabbed my dazed husband, and we left for home…. little realizing something was amiss. They forgot to turn on the computer! A week later they flew the technician back and she turned on the power. We finally left California and returned home to the mountains of Northwestern Montana.

Randy was still using a wheelchair, but it wasn't working very well on the rocky ground. I'd see his empty wheelchair and then rush to go find him, hoping he hadn't fallen down anyplace too hard to get him out of. I ordered two canes for him and he began dragging himself around the farm for short distances. But it was like having a 200-pound toddler to watch!

Randy was not one to sit for more than a few minutes. One day I lost track of him only to discover him limping out of the woods, totally drenched in sweat, the sweat of pure terror! In a drug-induced daze he had wandered too far out and had met up with fresh grizzly bear tracks and the sounds of a very large animal in the brush. One cane has broken in half and the other was severely bent out of shape. It's amazing he got out of the woods in time!

The neurostimulator was too delicate for antics like that, and it broke shortly after that incident.  By then our cobra insurance had run out and for the next two years we had no medical intervention except for appointments with the local physician, a country doctor, who said he could do nothing for Randy's back except prescribe drugs.

There seemed to be no end to pain and suffering in sight!

Without the neurostimulator, Randy's pain level shot up to the moon and we again experienced tortured nights of screams and groans. Sleep deprivation, the constant crises, and knowing that apart from a miracle our lives would never recover was like a dark cloud enveloping us day in and day out.

Living with a "bionic man" was so appropriate because all along Randy had been treated by his employers as little more than a machine… so much so, that my husband had begun to believe it and act like it! His significance and identity came directly from his work and how well he could out-perform most other men. But as anyone knows, who lives with an addict, especially an addict with ADHD, a former bull-rider, bull-fighter, and Motocross racer, wildlands firefighter, assistant fire chief, logger, rodeo clown, and basically anything 'on the edge' … it's a setup for emotional disaster!

Unfortunately, when life gets that tough, we often blame the loved ones in our most intimate relationships. The movie, "8 Seconds" is one of the best stories about this dynamic, especially in the life of a bull rider, that I've ever seen. It's a great story and really helps me to understand my husband!

Many marriages cannot withstand the stress of chronic pain without some sort of medical and psychological intervention. Randy and I had lost everything and our grief had yet to be processed. When you're living on adrenaline for years how do you stop and rest? When you've lost your health coverage how do you afford medical or psychological intervention? When all you know is work, how do you change?

Even at church there seemed to be few solutions. People loved us and cared about us, but they just didn't understand! Randy would come home from a back surgery, such as the implantation of the neurostimulator with dozens of staples up and down his spine, and the very same church leaders who prayed for him during the surgery would come up and slap his back, welcoming him back to church that week! It was crazy. I felt like I had to be his bodyguard but I so often trusted people to 'know' what was happening, when in reality many people hide from things they cannot understand or control… it scares them.

If you know someone in your family, or if you have been in severe chronic pain or disease, you probably understand the need of people around you for you to be 'normal' and if you're like Randy, you probably suck it up and wear a mask for as long as you can. Then, when you come home, you rip off the mask and let out all the pain… and if you're like me, you are probably the nearest shock-absorber.

Without resting and taking your troubles to God, how can you address the tremendous grief and the pain of loss?

The best we could do, and what turned out to be the very best solution of all, was to find every bit of Beauty, Truth, Humor, and Joy we could every day. You can read some of the ways we discovered Joy, Hope, Beauty, Truth, and even Laughter through these stories: "Mind Over Moose" and "The Horse Gourmet".

We continued to dream and to pursue BIG dreams. I learned to unleash my creativity and pursue time for ME. Taking walks in the wilderness were a big way for me to tap into God's peace. There was a looping mountain road behind our house that went UP the mountain on a fairly good incline. I would carry my heavy load of worries and troubles with me, beating out my pain with a fast clip up the mountain path. Near the top there was a slight dip in the road where a very careful middle-aged woman could sit down and rest for a minute. Then I would stand up high on this ridge overlooking our home and also the entire valley… a place where one could see with eyes like an eagle's for many miles. This was a sacred space – a place I only went with a very serious type of prayer in mind.

Shouting aloud, crying, and with the grace to ask for all of Heaven to be my witness, I made promises and vows to God that I would never give up. In fact, I prayed more dangerous prayers and asked God to send us to the most hurting, to the most broken… to do with our lives WHATEVER He wanted.

Then, having laid down my heavy load, I would skip and sing back down the mountain and pick up my work once again. Many times before I hit the end of the path I would have a clear idea of the next step.

I entered into personal coaching with Dani Johnson, of A Call to Freedom, Int'l, and within a year my sales pipeline was kicking out fairly well. For the first time in a long time, I could take my mind off of the constant crises and pain and focus in a positive direction. My soul was healing and the numbness that I had used to protect my heart from all the pain and constant crisis began to melt.

As soon as my own healing began, something in my husband cracked and in his own pain he began getting more and more angry. Years later he would apologize for those days, saying, "Sue, you didn't do anything wrong. I was just afraid if you got too strong and independent that you would leave me." His worst fear was that I would leave him, and in his broken condition, who would take care of him? Despite constant assurance that I was for him and not against him, the pain was having its way and my freedom to pursue business was tested in every which way.

Nevertheless, our lives were about to shift once again in ways that would forever change us. Randy left me for another woman and I learned to "Cowgirl up".

My Full Story     What I Believe    Contact Me

With all my love,


Susan Schiller knows how it feels to lose everything: marriage and family, church and reputation, finances and businesses, and more. Susan's upcoming, interactive memoir, "On the Way Home," tells the story of how she came to be known as "the most abused woman" her counselors had yet met and how she learned to navigate to freedom and fullness.  
Today Susan helps people write their life stories, unearthing the treasures of their past and sowing them into their future, creating new family legacies.

Copyright © 2010 to 2015 Team Family Online, All rights reserved.   For reprint permission or for any private or commercial use, in any form of media, please contact Susan Schiller


{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Trish Jones April 12, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Susan, you're a breath of fresh air. I held back the tears on this article, but that's unusual on your site. You have a way of painting pictures with words that is rare and I know that your transparency alone will bring healing to others.
Thank you for not holding back and telling it like it is.


Susan McKenzie April 12, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Thank you for giving me the encouragement to be vulnerable, Trish – I’m glad we’ve met!


Olga Hermans March 29, 2011 at 7:46 pm

This is such an awesome story. So, this happened in British Columbia, where I am living right now?? I would love to write my story/our story….God has been good to you and your husband; such great testimony!


Susan McKenzie March 29, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I hope you do write your story, Olga… I know it will be good!


Antoine McCoy March 14, 2011 at 1:11 am

Wow Susan! Such a powerful story of God’s power to work in our lives. It was so well written. You both are overcomers. I’m ready for part 3…


Susan McKenzie March 14, 2011 at 1:33 am

Thanks so much, Antoine… I appreciate your kind words! Part 3 is located at

Thanks for stopping by and sharing!


Michele M Tremblay March 8, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Wow! What a powerful story! Continued miracles to you.


Susan McKenzie March 8, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Thank you for reading and sharing, Michele!


Mandy B. Anderson March 8, 2011 at 3:19 am

Susan – this story inspires me and builds my faith and boldness to share my own story of healing! Yes, healings are mysterious and usually leave the medical field dumbfounded! Praise God for what he has done and IS doing in your lives!


Susan McKenzie March 8, 2011 at 3:24 am

Hi Mandy… I’m grateful to be learning who you are recently, and I’m glad if our transparency has helped give you more courage to share your story, because I’m very much looking forward to hearing it!

Our story is not yet complete… in some ways, 4 1/2 years later, we are still pressing in to overcome yet another, greater battle. I am learning from you and encouraged by you, Mandy! Thank you for sharing 🙂


Elvie Look March 7, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Wow and double wow. Susan, I can really relate with you. Here I was thinking I would be reading an article about your business, and instead what I read was a lot like looking into a mirror. You are kindred spirit!


Susan McKenzie March 7, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Yes, I can relate to what you’re saying, Elvie… I felt the same when your story about Ken!! There are a couple others that I know of in Sandi’s team that have gone through very much the same… it is like being kindred spirits because only those who have gone through something like that can really understand the behind-the-scenes “stuff” … Thanks so much for sharing, Elvie!


Anonymous November 30, 2010 at 10:15 pm

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but “Wow!” is about all I can say as well. That’s a fantastic story, and you’re a terrific storyteller.


Susan McKenzie November 30, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Thanks, Lily… it makes it all worthwhile if somehow it might help someone else, even just one person somewhere in the world! Thank you for helping me to find my voice 🙂


Susan McKenzie December 1, 2010 at 1:45 am

You have been such a source of inspiration and encouragement to me, Lily! Thank you for your kind words – I can’t wait to hear more of your story!


Victoria Gazeley November 30, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Wow! That’s all I can say. I’m dumbfounded, really. Speechless. What an amazing testament to faith – and how lucky we all are that you shared it with us. Wow…


Susan McKenzie November 30, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Thanks, Victoria… I wish I could say the hard part was behind us, when really it was just around the corner! Part 3 is coming soon 🙂


Angela Brooks November 28, 2010 at 2:19 am

This story is amazing – a testament to how pain can change who we are how strong our belief can be and what a support to lean on can be the crutch that it takes to keep us moving. Resistance cause most people pain and they do not even know that is the cause.
Thank you for sharing a piece of your life – God has handed you a story that someone needs to hear for faith, to kill resistance –
WOW Many blessings to you and your husband for continued healing


Susan McKenzie November 28, 2010 at 5:03 am

Thanks so much, Angela… it is not easy to be vulnerable, but for me, I must… I often think of places such as your hospital and ward and how many people are suffering with unfulfilled dreams and destinies. You are making an incredible difference just being you and being present there. Love never fails. What a remarkable opportunity we have to work together in a place and time such as this! Thanks so much, Angela!


Anonymous November 28, 2010 at 12:16 am

Speechless and smiling through the tears running down my cheeks…you are a blessing to many.Through your willingness to share so honestly you prove that there are no “ordinary people” …we are all extraordinary with much to share.


Susan McKenzie November 28, 2010 at 5:05 am

You’re so right, Denny…. it’s actually the greatest thing many of us fear, that we are out of this world, extraordinary creatures! So we diminish ourselves and the world suffers a loss as well as us. You are extraordinary, my friend, and I love your stories and hope to meet you in person one day … thanks so much for your words of encouragement!


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