9. A Concussion That Worsened Over Time and Nobody Could Tell Me Why

A New Job and More Setbacks

My job and what I thought would be my new life out of college was in Boston.  For a healthy twenty-two year old my set up would have been a dream come true.  The company that hired me was amazing and Boston was a city I loved.  Yet, as I laid in my bed with a warm rag over my eyes, unable to muster the strength to help the movers lug my furniture into my Beacon Hill apartment, I should have known my post-grad dream would just be a continuation of my on-going nightmare. 

A view of boston from the rooftop of my beacon hill apartment.

A view of boston from the rooftop of my beacon hill apartment.

Once I started work in October 2014, each day was more difficult than the one before it. My unforgiving headaches were growing worse and more debilitating with each passing minute.

The demanding workweeks and my increasing symptoms left me largely unable to do anything over the weekends.  Instead of exploring a new city, socializing with friends and co-workers, and willfully embracing this chapter of my life, I confined myself to bed with the lights dimmed and Netflix turned on low volume. 

A short walk down the road to Whole Foods became the very bane of my existence.

And, somehow, I couldn’t understand how I got to this place. 

How did things get so bad?

Just one year earlier I had been a Division One athlete at the peak of my physical fitness, willing and able to take on any level of intense and grueling activity.  And now the idea of traveling any distance by foot, no matter how short or slow-paced, felt truly excruciating. 

Soon life simply became about surviving – miserably scraping by while counting down the hours until my next relieving opportunity to lie in bed with my head underneath the covers. 

By the time Thanksgiving rolled around and I was home for the long-weekend, the gravity of just how bad I felt began to sink in.  Being in a familiar place and having some time to take my mind off the stress of work made me quickly realize just how far I had digressed in less than two months.

Doing so much as sitting at the table for Thanksgiving dinner was more then I could handle.  My brain felt suffocated by such an unrelenting constriction and tightness that I could barely hold my head up.  My family looked at me and they too could not understand how things had gotten so bad.  They, like me, barely recognized the person I had become, twenty pounds lighter from my days as a college athlete and no longer able to fake a smile. I fought back tears in front of them, nobly attempting to hide the physical and emotional turmoil behind my eyes. 

I felt so helpless

Why hadn’t any treatments worked for me? 

Why didn’t any doctors have the answer? 

Why were my headaches getting worse rather than better?

These questions furiously wracked my brain, keeping me awake at night and distracted during the day. 

Although I didn’t have the answers, one thing was becoming increasingly clear: I had to take a leave of absence from my job. One lucky break in this series of bad misfortune was how well my company took the news that I had to take time off.  They were and continue to be incredibly supportive, and have allowed me all the time I need to make a full recovery, which I am extremely grateful for. 

Back To The Drawing Board

By the middle of December I was living at home, feeling worse and more handicapped than ever, and no one could have predicted that things were about to get so much worse.

My first stop was a trip back to the brain rehab facility in Atlanta, where I was given another unlikely diagnosis.

This time, I was told I had a Tullio Phenomenon, which meant I had sound-induced vertigo and dizziness.  I was skeptical, considering neither vertigo nor dizziness had ever been one of my concussion symptoms.  I still followed my doc's instructions, but it was not a surprise when I saw no improvement. 

While I was there, I again inquired about the role my neck may be playing in my symptoms. My doctor confidently asserted that any investment in treatment on my neck would be both a waste of time and money. Incredibly, he also told me that I didn’t have to rest anymore!  He said I could begin exercising again, too.  This would have been amazing news if I hadn’t felt so awful that I could barely hold my head upright, let alone go for a jog. 

It was during this second trip that I learned a very valuable lesson about heath: you know your body better than anyone else.  It doesn’t matter how awesome your doctor thinks he/she is or how fancy of a facility you’re receiving treatment at, if you are told something that doesn’t make sense with how you feel, then don’t buy it.  Keep searching until you find the doctor that can answer your questions, give you a diagnosis that makes sense, and most importantly, treat your illness or injury appropriately. 

This brain center was absolutely not the place to do that for me, which meant I was back to square one, tirelessly searching for help because it was abundantly clear that my symptoms were not resolving on their own. 

Unexpected Relief

Since it appeared that no doctors were able to help me, I returned to the Internet in search of answers; something I often did when I felt especially upset or frustrated with my predicament.  This “take control” tendency had been polished from many years as an athlete. If something wasn’t working, I did everything I could to fix it.  In this case the overwhelming powerlessness I felt, the lack of structure to my recovery and the absence of any clear-cut path towards healing left me voraciously in search of answers. 

I resumed these Internet searches one day in January 2015 after storming upstairs to bed, my head hurting so much that I hadn’t been unable to stand upright long enough to make breakfast.

When my search that day produced no results, as they always seemed to, I violently slammed my computer shut and, for some reason, impulsively grabbed the right side of my neck.  I aggressively started digging and gnawing into it upon realizing how tight the muscles felt.   

As instantaneous as it was shocking, the temporary loosening of those neck muscles somehow caused an overwhelming relief of my headache.  It was a miraculous, yet short-lived, release of the chronic tightness enveloping my brain.

Finally, I had the long overdue confirmation that my neck had played a role in at least some part of my injury.  It no longer mattered how many hotshot neurologists told me I was wrong about this, because now I knew I was right. 

Suddenly all I had to do was find the right doctor to validate this neck trauma and treat it correctly. 

As you might expect, this was much easier said than done because, by this point, I had already seen eight chiropractors, two massage therapists, and two physical therapists. They all had evaluated my neck and most concluded that any neck issues were secondary to the injury stemming from my brain. 

All except one.  There had been one chiropractor who, out of all the doctors I had seen thus far, had agreed that the primary issue was my neck. 

               Source: RehabMD

               Source: RehabMD

So back to Vancouver I went to see him.  It had been exactly a year since my last trip and he was excited to introduce me to a new treatment called prolotherapy.  Prolotherapy is a nonsurgical injection therapy used to speed up the healing process of damaged ligaments and joints.  These injections, which are solutions comprised of dextrose (sugar) and a numbing liquid such as Novocain, produce micro-injury in an already damaged area of the body.  This micro-injury then re-stimulates your immune system and facilitates a rapid healing process.  

This doctor agreed that I had suffered neck trauma.  He confirmed the structural damage to the right side of my neck, which was more than likely generating all of the symptoms in my head. His method of treating this was by pinpointing specific areas of my neck to inject a prolotherapy solution.  The main area that he rightfully pinpointed was the facet joint in between my C2 and C3 vertebrae on the right side of my neck.

When this area was injected something miraculous occurred:

My headache disappeared.  

Within seconds, I went from feeling the worst I’d ever felt in my life to the best I’d felt since getting my concussion.

I didn’t completely understand how it happened but that didn’t matter.  You couldn’t take away the smile plastered on my face even if you tried!  (What I didn't realize at the time was that the Novocain from the prolotherapy solution was numbing my pain.  Although the relief was temporary, it still confirmed that the pain was in fact being generated from that specific area of my neck, which was very useful information.)

Suddenly my world wasn’t so dark and decrepit anymore.  At this point I believed I had finally – FINALLY – found the treatment that was going to enable me to run with my dog again. And all of the grief, the tears, the uncertainty and hopelessness that resulted from that dreaded hit from behind felt okay now. 

I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

I started looking forward to the future, to all of the joy and happiness that was ahead of me because I was finally getting better. 

I thought about going to the grocery store without pain, having the luxury to leisurely walk down the aisles and take my time picking food items. I thought about returning to work much sooner than I had originally anticipated, no longer having to spend my weekends in bed.  Most of all I thought how amazing it would be to exercise again; blood pumping, sweat dripping, heavy breathing and all. 

ALL WAS WELL – the final three words in the culmination of J.K. Rowling’s brilliant Harry Potter series reverberated in my head, a series I completed in its entirety on audiobook at the very beginning of this journey. 

Yes, all was well. 

Until suddenly it wasn’t.