My neck was came darned near being broken in the car wreck. I have always struggled with neck pain: back in high school, I was trying to show off how extremely cutesy and agile I was, and I tried to do a back flip in our gym without a pad. I had never done one successfully before, even with a pad. The resulting damage left me in a soft brace for six months, which my mother tried to dress up by covering with attractive fabrics to coordinate with my, of course,deeply trendy outfits. Embarrassing epic fail.
Anyway, because of that old high school stupidity I have had degenerative arthritis in my neck for years. Then when I began playing piano for hours at a time a few years ago, it began hurting terribly, so my doctor ordered a course of physical therapy. During the PT, we found out that I needed bifocals, of all things, I was holding my head at such a weird angle trying to read the music and look at the students, back and forth, that that was triggering this latest episode.
So I didn’t start with the greatest neck history.
The impact of a heavy truck, hitting my little car, when he drove through what should have been a stop sign at over 70 miles per hour and hit the side of my car, was….very harmful. Let’s just say he made a very, very bad decision. But back to my neck. Never strong at the best of times, it was slammed back over my headrest so that most of my brain damage was to the back of my brain. My neck condition, was for months, critical. There was virtually no chance that, if I ever got the brace off, I could avoid an extremely invasive neck “fusion” surgery. I only vaguely understand this, but as I do comprehend it I would have lost a couple of inches of my neck, and much of the functions the neck performs beyond simply holding up your head and being a conduit for food. Turning your head, looking around, looking up and down…not so much, apparently.
And one of my vestibular problems, BPPV, was so drastic that I was simply throwing up anytime they would change my position. Move me. Try to sit me up. Turn me over. Roll me over. Instant spew. Again, thank God for the coma because I don’t remember any of this, but my family and the nurses certainly do. To all of you, I’m so sorry.
Then right when I began awakening from the coma, I was moved to On With Life. Enter Amy, the vestibular specialist. She watched my eyes, saw me doing all this spewing business and ventured a preliminary diagnosis of BPPV. But she couldn’t be sure, and she couldn’t treat it. The diagnosis AND the treatment both required some pretty fast movements involving my neck, which were clearly impossible with the neck brace on.
The neck brace came off just before I was released from On With Life in early January. Until that time, I had been taking motion sickness pills to dampen my vestibular symptoms and make them less noticeable. The week it came off, I was scheduled for a diagnosis and first treatment. They put these cool huge goggles on me, brought a trash can over, you know, just in case. Then you do a whole complicated series of movements, rolls, sitting up, laying down, and all the time people are watching your eyes on a screen to see the fine movements that the nystagmus causes. I asked Amy one time what exactly they were watching for, and she asked “Do you remember Cookie Monster’s eyes when he would see a cookie?” “Well, it’s a lot like that.” Interesting.
At first without the neck brace there was a LOT of neck pain. Because of all the trauma to my neck, and because it had been immobilized for months, my neck was simply unable to support my head. Its ligaments were basically noodles. By evening it would be aching really, really badly. I slept in my old neck brace for months.
All the time I had been in the brace, I had had to sleep flat on my back. My normal sleeping position was on my stomach. After the brace came off, I couldn’t lift my head high enough to get it on a normal pillow. We found the coolest travel pillow, very bendy, with the center cut out of it. I slept on that, flat on my back, for another year. Now I sleep on a low pillow on my side, but I still spend at least half the night on my back.
People were praying for my neck to heal: Thousands of people, through my Caring Bridge, were praying, and for this surgery to not be necessary.
Three months after the accident, I went for my first set of neck X-rays. It was guardedly optimistic. Much better than expected, certainly, but far too soon to tell if the weight of my skull would still drive my head down into my neck, making the surgery necessary. Come back on the one year anniversary.
We came back at one year. More X-Rays. The doctor came into the room. Very, very good. Almost less than one millimeter of my head settling down into my neck during the first year, which was the danger point before my ligaments were strong yet. Still too early to be absolutely sure, but if the two year anniversary was just as good, he said I would never need to come back again and NOT NEED THE SURGERY.
Two year appointment. No fear at all in my heart. In the last appointment I had asked him for neck strengthening isometric exercises he could show me, and I had been doing them regularly with no pain. I was turning my head so much farther, looking around me so much more normally. I felt total peace whatever he said. I knew God had it.
After I had the X-rays taken downstairs, we went up and waited a little for him to read them. Finally he called me back into his off. He started out, as my husband said he always did, with a history lesson. I could wait. I knew it was going to be all right. Then he got to the point. He said “There’s virtually no more settling of your head into your neck.” “You never have to come back and see me.” And then he kept looking at them, and looking at me. “It’s odd. The only explanation for why you avoided injuring your neck more, and didn’t need the surgery, was your coma. If it had been even a week shorter, I think we would be looking at a very different set of circumstances with your neck.”
Sometimes God says “Yes.” Sometimes He says “No.” Sometimes He says “Wait.”
My husband says that he still wishes when all those panicked prayers were going up to Him….because every single day and hour that you don’t wake up increases the likelihood THAT YOU NEVER WILL! He’s the Creator of the Universe. Would just a text message have been too much? Just an “I got this one” or something? And I gotta say, that’s a question we’ll ask when we get there. But not right away. We’ll be too busy thanking and praising Him for stuff. Amen.