Two days after returning home from my trip to Vancouver, I awoke to a shattering feeling: my headaches had returned, this time worse than ever before. I couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. This wasn’t a part of the plan.
Just one day earlier I had walked an ENTIRE MILE, and now I couldn’t get out of bed again.
I tried not to panic. I told myself to wait another day before contacting my doctor in Vancouver. He had nicknamed me “Type-A” because of all of the questions I asked him and how seemingly desperate I was over this whole concussion thing. I didn’t want to give him another opportunity to validate what he viewed as my rather annoying Type-A-ness.
But when I awoke the next day feeling just as terrible, I decided I didn’t care what he thought, and so I rapidly typed up a concerned email to him inquiring about my setback.
He explained to me that these types of setbacks can occur, and it would likely take more treatments in order to sustain long-term relief. His recommendation was to find a doctor who used prolotherapy in my home state, Connecticut, and continue treatment there.
And so my tireless Internet searching promptly resumed.
It didn’t take me long to find a doctor who administered prolotherapy injections in Avon, Connecticut (an hour away from my house and less than fifteen minutes from where I went to high school).
I wanted an appointment, and I wanted it fast, so I didn’t bother to look up any reviews of this doctor or seek out any recommendations. I desperately needed that euphoric, pain-free feeling I had gotten in Vancouver.
So I hastily typed up an email to their office detailing my predicament. And to my pleasant surprise, within twenty minutes I received an email from the doctor himself, who I will refer as Dr. T, for short.
Here is his email:
Thank you for contacting me. I'd be glad to see you. I've been doing prolotherapy for over 20 years - longer than anyone in southern New England. And I have taught prolotherapy at national conferences as well. I have extensive experience treating the cervical spine.
Also, as a sports medicine specialist, I also see a lot concussions. Many physicians overlook the fact that oftentimes the same mechanism that causes a concussion also causes a type of whiplash injury. Patients get misdiagnosed as having post-concussion headaches when in reality they are muscle tension headaches from the whiplash. The chronic ligament damage that can occur in the neck from such an injury is very amenable to prolotherapy treatment.
Please call the office to schedule an appointment for an initial consultation.
I was pumped! And even better, he was able to fit me in the following week. My appointment the next Monday could not come soon enough.
In the meantime, I began working on logistics to make sure Dr. T had the right information about my case from my doctor out West, who had offered to speak on the phone with Dr. T and bring him up to date. Dr. T told me he was too busy for a phone call, but would be happy to accept an email with information. So my doc from Vancouver sent him an email detailing my injury and the areas of my neck that they specifically pinpointed to inject with prolotherapy.
When Monday came around, I jumped out of bed, did my best to brush off the overwhelming headache I had and told myself it would be gone soon enough.
Because today, today I was getting more injections. And in my mind, injections equaled relief.
Or so I thought.
I hopped in the passenger’s seat of my Dad’s car and pushed my seat back as far as it would go (a habit I picked up as my headaches grew worse over time.) I felt like Jennifer Anniston’s character in Cake – the middle aged woman suffering from intense chronic pain who always laid back in her car seat when she traveled as a way of compensating, in some small, miniscule way, for her unforgiving discomfort.
The drive to Avon was a familiar one since it was right around the corner from the prep school I had gone to. I didn’t indulge in the scenery, though, instead electing to keep my eyes closed and block out the twists and turns of the rural New England roads.
Within an hour we arrived. I slowly pulled myself out of the car and contemplatively peered up at the building, scanning it with hopeful uncertainty. These speculative perusals had become a part of my routine whenever I embarked down a road of new doctors and treatment. The idea that there was still a treatment I hadn’t tried or a doctor I hadn’t seen allowed me to have hope…. hope that maybe, just maybe, this next doctor would be the one.
I have always been sentimental in this way. If this was going to be the place that helped me get well, I wanted to be sure to solidify a clear mental picture of it in my brain, storing it in my memory as a pivotal turning point in my path to healing. I wanted to be able to reflect on the mix of emotions I would feel as I walked up the stairs and into his office – nervousness, fear, hope and excitement all in one – and feel grateful because it was the latter two feelings that ended up being fulfilled.
It turns out I was right – my experience that day was a pivotal turning point in my path towards healing. To my greatest dismay, though, it was a turn for the worst.
Upon my arrival, I was escorted into an appointment room and before long Dr. T entered and introduced himself to me and my father. He was a tall man with circular glasses and dark, curly hair that looked disheveled, as if he hadn’t had time to comb it that day.
He took a seat, and I began telling him the details of my concussion struggles. I hoped so much that this would be the last time I had to tell my story.
After I finished, he replied, “Let me grab something to show you – this is going to be your ah-hah moment,” he relayed with an heir of cockiness, certain that he was the brilliant doctor who held the key to unlocking the treasure chest of perfect health I desperately yearned for.
He returned carrying an ancient-looking book filled with literature on Osteopathic medicine, a field of medicine that relies on the manipulations of bones and joints to diagnose and treat illness and injury. He turned the pages to a section with a heading that read: “Barre-Lieou Syndrome”.
He pointed to the heading, which was highlighted in yellow, and said, “This is what you have.”
I couldn’t help but smirk ever so slightly since I had, indeed, come across this syndrome during my Internet searches within the second month of suffering my concussion (a year earlier). So, despite Dr. T’s best efforts, this was not an ah-hah moment for me. The syndrome produces a variety of symptoms such as headache, neck pain, dizziness, facial pain, fatigue, and numbness as a result of instability in the neck.
The truth is I didn’t really care what syndrome he said I had as long as I left his office with some injections in my neck because... injections equaled relief.
I asked him if he had received the email from my doctor in Vancouver. Dr. T said that he did, indeed, receive it. This is what the email read:
When I first evaluated Paige after a year out seeing her there appeared to still be a structural problem on the right side at the C2/3 region of the neck and along the nucchal line at the base of the skull. This region to me still tested unstable. When we injected prolo into the facet joint under ultrasound at this region inside the facet and at the ant scalene attachment at this level Paige's Headache went from a 5 to a 1/0 instantly and she felt clearer. Subsequent treatment was geared at regaining stability at this region and working out the soft tissue compensation. If you can help her in this area in any way I think it will really help Paige move forward in regards to her recovery.
As you can see, his approach was concise and pinpointed. But, shockingly, Dr. T disagreed with this course of action. Instead, he totally disregarded the email and said he was going to inject my entire neck to make sure he was covering all of the bases. My doctor might have missed something, he postulated, so it would be better to hit every area of my neck to ensure a full recovery.
I looked at my dad nervously.
Dr. T continued his pitch. “It’s going to cost the same amount whether we do one injection or ten. And besides, I promise it wont make things worse. Let me remind you, I have twenty years worth of experience with prolotherapy and never in my entire career has any of my patients suffered long term or permanent damage.”
I promise it wont make things worse. He was a good salesman. That was what I needed to hear before we proceeded. I needed his word that I would be okay. I couldn’t bear any more setbacks and I just needed some relief.
I promise it wont make things worse. The words are forever etched in my mind.
And so… we proceeded.
I was told to sit in a massage chair (the type you often see in the hallways of malls). My head was pressed against a circular cushion with a hole in it so I could breath.
Then Dr. T injected my neck with a solution mixed with dextrose (sugar) and Lidocaine (numbing medicine) in 14 different places. He injected at the base of my skull on both sides and then proceeded down my neck, hitting each facet joint between the C2 and C7. Then, to put icing on the cake, Dr. T convinced me to compliment his revolutionary injection treatment with another treatment I had never heard of….called “Prolo-zone”. This treatment meant injecting an oxygen gas solution down the center of my neck and, yes, into my spine.
They say hindsight is 20-20. I write these words and I am just as flabbergasted as anyone reading them. How could I allow this man to do this to me?
The only answer I have is…
I was desperate. For relief. For a treatment that worked. For a solution. For a quick-fix.
I desperately needed help. And thus far the medical community – every piece of advice I solicited, every doctor I worked with and every treatment I tried - had indisputably failed me.
And it’s true, desperate times call for desperate measures. My life would never be the same.