Monday, August 25, 2014

The Day That Changed My Life Forever

Happy Monday, friends! A couple of weeks ago, I eluded to some health issues that I have been having for a long time. However, I didn’t go into detail about those issues and thought it was time that I was open and honest about them on my blog, since they have definitely made me who I am today or at least highly contributed to the person I am. On Friday, I had a couple of doctors’ appointments, and I realized it had been 14 YEARS since my health issues began during an incident at my middle school. Where did the time go!? I want to tell the story of how this all began, but WARNING, this is a long post, with a second part tomorrow! Sorry, but it’s a long story! :)

When I was in sixth grade, I was a high jumper for my track team. I was trying to beat a goal, and I guess I was too intense because I only had one more try to clear the bar. I ended up landing on the ground outside of the mat entirely. We came to find out that the mat being used was not appropriate for this type of event, and that was changed shortly after. The nurse wasn’t there that day, but they made sure I stayed on the ground and didn’t get up right away. I was stubborn, so I ended up getting up eventually without a doctor or anyone checking me out first, and my dad, who was there to watch, took me home. My neck was instantly stiff as a board, so my parents took me to the Emergency Room where they did a X-ray and immediately prepared me for transport to Springfield’s hospital due to a diagnosed C-3 neck fracture. That ambulance ride was SO fast. I wasn’t the best patient, and I remember the EMTs (who were wonderful) telling me to not nod, just verbally speak, but I was terrified. I immediately had numbness in my arms and legs, and everyone was worried that I was going to be paralyzed.

When we arrived in Springfield, they did a CT scan to confirm the fracture and ended up negating the original diagnosis. They told me that I was young and the bones just hadn’t formed completely, but there was no fracture line. So, they sent me home with a neck brace that I was supposed to wear for 2-3 days. The leg and arm numbness and nerve sensations went away, and it appeared that I just had swelling around the spinal cord, but I was ok. And as far as we knew, I had not broken my neck.

I couldn’t take the brace off. I ended up wearing it for over 6 weeks because without it, I literally couldn’t hold my head up. I eventually was able to hold it up, but there was always pain. It eventually got better, but it never went away.

I went back to doing sports because I was athletic, and that’s what I loved to do. I was a cheerleader during basketball season, and one of the stunts left me with extreme pain. I went to church with my family a few days later all together, and as I was sitting there, I realized a good portion of my right arm was numb. I thought it had just fallen asleep or something, but I couldn’t get it to feel right again or come back for a long time. I told my mom, but at the time, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Except that it kept happening. It would become numb, and then I would start having mostly regular sensation, but then it would go away again. We knew something was wrong and started investigating.

After over a full year of new doctors that searched for the answer, one found the reason for the arm numbness and pain, as well as the neck pain. I did, in fact, have a C-3 fracture two years before. There was a clear fracture line, and several doctors confirmed it through X-rays. Obviously, it was not given the chance to heal correctly, so all of the muscles had tightened up to protect it from moving further and causing paralysis. I am SO lucky that I was not paralyzed from the neck down. The muscles were incredibly fibrotic and tough, and they were pinching the nerves that ran from my neck through my brachial plexus (the area between the neck and shoulder) and down my arm. It made sense. But how to fix it was another whole issue in itself.

My physician had me start physical therapy right away. That was where I met a good friend of mine, my physical therapist. I became friends with the entire clinic family. I was there so often and would end up being there for many, many years. I loved them, and it was helping the pain. I wasn’t so stiff anymore, and my range of motion and strength were slowly but surely coming back. However, one of the machines they used to strengthen my neck was too much for it. It sent me into weeks of extreme pain where nothing I used could cover it, and I lost all the strength I had gained. So, we went back to square one and started doing more passive physical therapy, as well as occupational therapy to help with the arm strength that I had lost through losing so much sensation. It was a long process, but it was helping. Just not quite enough.

I was seeing a pain management specialist, and he was determined to figure out something that could possibly fix the nerve pain and sensation loss. He knew the longer we waited, the more damage to the nerves. So he recommended a world-class neuro micro-plastic surgeon who specialized in brachial plexus and arm neurosurgery. She suggested a “cubital tunnel” surgery which would act just like carpal tunnel surgery does for the wrist, except in the elbow. They would “transpose” or move the ulnar nerve, so it freed up some room for the nerve to stretch and would hopefully loosen up the pressure on it. So, we tried that, but all that really happened was that I had more sensation loss at first, and I again lost all the strength that I had built up. So, we went to the next plan: decompressing the brachial plexus and removed cervical ribs that I also had (yes, weird, I know, but it turns out 30% of all people have them!!). They also removed a ton of muscle to allow the other muscle room to regrow and heal.

I waited a long time, and the surgeries may have been beneficial, but almost nothing was helping the pain. I would only notice pain decrease at times when I had PT a couple of days before, and they would loosen the muscles with massage therapy, stretching, etc. Otherwise, I was constantly rotating heat and ice on my neck and shoulder (which had become very weak, as well, due to all the muscles around it), and I was constantly doing nerve glides that my physical therapist taught me to help the nerve pain. I wasn’t sleeping much because the pain kept me up. I couldn’t do school very well, so I had to start having a teacher come to my house (homebound) to bring my schoolwork and help me with it for a time. It was just too hard.

It was an incredibly frustrating time, not only for myself, but for my family. They stuck with me through it all, determined, even more than I was, to find an answer that would take away the pain and not leave me on medications for the rest of my life. They knew I wanted to have a career, be successful, and have a family. Back then, it seemed like it would never happen because I could barely attend a class or two without having to lay down. Even when I would be able to make it through a class, I was constantly at the back of the room or walking around because I couldn’t be in one position for too long. It was horrible. But, we kept searching for answers, and for that, I will always be grateful to my parents. They didn’t give up on me even when physicians told me I was making it all up. We went to several that couldn’t find a separate answer for the arm pain/numbness and didn’t even explore the initial injury, just telling me that I didn’t have this or that, and that I must be making it up. What teenager wants to spend her entire life going through medical tests and going to doctors’ appointments? It was insane. I didn’t get to see friends much because I couldn’t handle being out for more than an hour or so. My life was not a normal life.

That could have been the end of the story since I am still dealing with chronic pain, but I had so many supportive people that kept encouraging me to look for more answers and try new things, and it’s helped so much in the long run. I’ll post more about that tomorrow, but for now, I’m honestly able to look back on this part of my life and be thankful that I went through this. Even though I may not be a physician today like I thought I would, it has helped me be truly empathetic towards others. I’m now committed to doing research to find new developments that can help improve the medical world. And I love that. I realized a different path for my life than I had planned, and I am so thankful for the way my life is going.

After one of my surgeries with two of my good friends!
Sorry for the poor quality and smaller photo--these are old!

Right after another surgery. So thankful for those that ]
supported me along the way! Excuse the fact that I
look horrible--I had surgery two days before.

Thanks for reading this truly long story. I hope you stop back tomorrow! :)


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  1. Amazed at your strength and attitude! :)

  2. Oh my goodness. What a scary experience to go through, no matter the age! You are definitely a fighter and I have even more respect for you now, knowing your strong character!

  3. You are one incredible person. I can't believe all you have been through! I love your positive attitude about life!

  4. An incredible story; I'm so sorry you had to go through all that, it sounds like you've been able to touch people through your testimony

  5. Thank you all so much!!! I'm so sorry I didn't reply before. I thought I had! Your sweet comments truly mean the world to me.


Your comments make my day! I look forward to hearing from you! -Gen

Much Love!

Much Love!