Saturday, March 30, 2013

A good day!!

Today is Saturday, the day before Easter.

Yesterday was Friday...Good Friday.

Nine years ago, on a golden Good Friday, I went out to the barn where my four charges were waiting for me to disperse grain through the little doors that open above the corner feed troughs. I probably swept out the alleyway, and then caught a tall, Paint gelding named Jedi. At the time, he was about nine years old, and he loved to jump. I loved to jump, too, so we made a good team.

As I curry-combed his shiny bay-and-white coat over his back where the saddle would be placed, I noticed that he flinched from the touch of the steel curry. Jedi is a long-backed horse, in my book.
Such a horse is not the greatest for soundness...horses with long-backs break down earlier in their careers than short-backed horses do. However, those who know jumping horses have written that a horse with a long back has "scope." He can jump out wider and he can usually jump higher than a stocky, short-backed horse. Individual horses have broken this rule of thumb many times and that is because the heart of a horse is the bottom-line, deciding factor. The heart, the willingness to do for his rider, can make up for hundreds of comformation faults.

I took notice of the flinch, and told myself that I should call the horse-chiropractor and have him come out to give Jedi an "adjustment." Chris had done Jedi a lot of good, a lot of "noticeable" good
and I trusted him and his son, who worked with his dad, to do what was best for all of the stable's horses.

About an hour later, I realized I was on the ground in great pain. I felt electricity pulsing rapidly through my arms,legs, feet and hands, painfully so. My brain, which I would later be told had been damaged by the fall I took onto the top of my head like a pile-driver, was probably stunned and confused, but I knew one thing only: that painful electrical sensation could mean paralysis. It's quite an experience to be alone, except for a grazing horse nearby, and respond viscerally to things around me. Nothing else registered except: this means I'll be paralyzed!

By instinct borne of a strong faith in Jesus Christ since 1978, 26 years earlier, I called out to God and I remember the exact words: "Please don't let me be paralyzed! Please don't let me be paralyzed."

I got myself up into a kneeling position and at that moment, I became aware that I had nothing with which to hold up my head. My head lolled forward, but I could not pick it up to look forward or sideways. I had nothing in my arsenal of usual muscle movements to control my head. Years later, when I was interviewed and examined by a true neurosurgeon who cared about his patient, I was told that the trauma had ruptured (in his words "Torn, Ripped, Demolished!")all of the ligaments in my neck and back of the head.

However, at that moment, all I knew was that I had to get up and walk to the house, I knew I would not wait here for someone to come looking for me. Out on a ranch, that could be days before anyone realized I was gone longer than I should have been! And then, I was a person who did what needed done herself, who did not wait for help. I'd move big rocks in my flower garden alone; I'd dispatch a rattler in a horse's corral; I'd rope a wild filly and dally her off to a nearby snubbing post and, then, lean into the charged, "danger zone" while the filly's eyes rolled back in her head and, gingerly, with whispered, beseeching prayer, buckle on a halter, a piece of equipment never seen by this horse, even though she was 3 years old. That done, I'd loosen the neck rope and she'd get back on her feet and I had gotten the job done alone. My father used to warn me with the same prophetic words, over and over: you're gonna break your neck someday breakin' colts! THEN who is gonna raise your kid?"

And besides, doing the job and not asking for help is just what cowboys do. No big deal. So, I thought this was no big deal either.

I stood up on shaky legs, not giving a single thought to my glasses that were ground into the hard, summer dirt of the sun-baked, Central California clay. I needed them for any sort of vision, but seeing things wasn't the top priority in that dusty moment. Noticing Jedi grazing on short grass nearby, his buckled reins having slipped forward to rest on his poll, thereby presenting an awaiting trap that we all know will occur if left to its own devices: he'd put a leg through the loop, lift up his head and then pitch a fit, break the reins, run back to the barn, it was instinctive to me to do whatever I needed to do to save the horse and the equipment, so I lumbered over, bent at the waist to allow my lolling head to dangle downward, reached out to feel for the reins and upon my electrically-charged fingers finding them, I lifted the reins lightly over his ears and gave a little tug to get him started.

I nearly fainted right there!

Shiver! I quickly realized a piece of anatomy I would have known if I'd been more clear-headed: hands and arms are connected to the upper neck (termed the Cervical Spine in medical jargon). Jedi didn't immediately come along with me, which resulted in a small tug of resistance, which zapped along injured nerves straight through to the back of my head like a 10 lb sledge.

But, Jedi was a good, broke horse and, when he understood I was wanting to lead him, he obliged. I lead him a short ways over to our house and under the carport to the back door, thankful that I'd led him back and forth under this very carport at this same spot several times the day before, calling out to Pete to look at how calm and willing this big, tall boy was. With head still dangling, I opened the door, and called out to Pete to "come 'ere, quick!"

The first hospital didn't want me after they took the first CT-scan. They loaded me back up into another ambulance and sent me for a ride down-county to another hospital 30 mi away.

Every iota of brain activity and muscle movement, recognition, awareness, thoughts and plans changed in that instant back at the ranch when I first woke up. I was told by a neurosurgeon that I'd broken my C1 into four pieces; 3 years later, another neurosurgeon would tell me that I'd also suffered "internal decapitation." 8 years later, I finally found a neurosurgeon who would take a chance on me, and would fuse my skull and my C1 to my C2 with long, titanium screws, wire and cadaver bone. During those 8 years previous to finding this doctor, I'd worn large, stiff "Aspen neck braces" or an extremely rigid, "Cervical Thoracic Orthotic" vest that went from my waist to my forehead. I'd searched and searched for a surgeon to help me, and had been seen by nine of them before the tenth would take pity upon me and be willing to try.

Good Friday....some folks might guess that I'd not think of it as having been a very good Friday back then when a young-spirited, strong, tanned, slim, 52-year-old woman saddled up to do one of the things she'd been blessed to have been paid to do for so much of her life. I don't really recall the pain. But I do first recall the sensation of soaring when Jedi had jumped that fence that day, the feeling of freedom and exhiliration and everything right in my world. That was the jump he took right before the oxer when he had suddenly put the brakes on and launched me (as some would later call it)up and forward like a "lawn dart." I remember certain events, but I always remember that feeling of pure, unblighted joy when, right before the jump where my life would change forever, that 16.2 hand, handsome Paint gelding had cantered up to a 3 and a half foot fence and sailed over it in a leap high enough to clear a jump twice the height!

It WAS indeed a Good Friday! I survived. Today, I can walk and I can talk. The results usually seen by most families whose loved one has suffered the same injuries as I did that day did NOT happen to me. Over the years, I have heard many neurosurgeons, some were the best in the country, say that they do not know much about how to treat a Jefferson Fracture (one that is combined with Atlanto Occipital Dislocation) because most folks who have this end up in the morgue, not the ER.

Good? Oh yes, indeed!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Howdy folks! Remember me? I'm the one who was keeping this blog going for 6 years...only during the last year, I've been doing a very poor job of keeping this blog! It's been so long since I've posted that it took me a half hour to figure out how to sign back into it so I could post! Almost a year with no posts! I never thought I'd let it go that long. It would be perfectly understandable if the followers of this blog, upon seeing no posts from me for this long, have wondered if my Feb. 17, 2012 surgery at OHSU in Portland had completely healed me and I stopped blogging because I was too busy training horses, sky diving, mountain climbing and taking Lance Armstrong's place in the Tour de France! Alas, that is not the report I am able to give here today. My pain seems to have gone right back up to all-time high levels for me, and the weakness I have has gotten much worse. I have trouble keeping up with housework; I am unable to fly back to see my 88 yr old mother when she is sick or in need of me; I look at our yard (it being close to the first day of Spring, 2013 and the crocuses are all up and the daffies are started to unfurl) and know I simply cannot handle it this year, without intervention from the Lord. The fusion surgery with the long transarticular screws going up through my C2 up into my C1 with a cadaver-bone patch (or chinking, so think about log cabins) stuffed between the back of my C1 and the skull base (subocciput region)with opes that it would cause bone to appear and knit together has all been a wonderful success! I had ZERO complications with the fusion. I have not worn an Aspen neck collar or a CTO brace since I left the hospital a tad over a year ago. Dr. Ragel said I didn't need it, and so I threw it into the back seat of our Dodge pickup as we left the "Rose City" and motored our way home. I found tho that I am very uncomfortable driving. I don't necessarily feel like a lot of range of motion was taken from me, but I just cannot turn my head over either shoulder and check for clearance as I begin to back up a vehicle. This scares me out of my wits! I don't want to back out into traffic and get hit; I don't want to run over a child on a bicycle coming up behind me; I want to be safe, and driving feels much less safe to me now. I can nod or shake my head as I talk with people, something I had learned by rote "not to do." If I did do that pre-surgery, I would suffer big flares of pain for days. It seems like these days, I am able to do that, (such a small thing, isn't it?) but other things bring on those pain flare-ups quite easily. Bending over and doing anything with my arms, like emptying a dishwasher, making the bed, painting, steam-cleaning a rug, etc. I am a true example now of a person with an invisible disease! I don't look sick, but I am definitely not "okay!" People tell me I look great, people who haven't seen me in awhile. I have gained a lot of weight and of course, I'm not liking that, but it is the least of my difficulties. I found an article finally that perfectly describes the condition that plagues me. It is from webmd, published by The Cleveland Clinic. I've known for years that the all-over, chronic, constant, gnawing pain I have is called "Central Pain Syndrome." I am sure I must have posted about this condition at least once in previous blog posts. Just to catch up any new readers (or readers like me, who forget anything that occurred "short term!") our bodies have two nerve systems. One is called the Peripheral Nerve, a good example of PNS (ie Peripheral Nerve System) is stubbing your toe; stabbing a rose thorn into a sensitive finger; cutting your hand with a kitchen knife by accident, etc. These things ALL hurt like the dickins. Then, the human body has the Central Nervous System. This is the term for the nerves within the brain and spinal cord. This is a different kind of pain. It occurs, often, after a stroke; in people with MS (Multiple Sclerosis); or after brain injury. Years ago, perhaps 3 months after my broken neck injury, a wise neurologist finally ordered a brain MRI, and on the report of that imaging was this finding: I had several lesions on the brain that could point to a demyleniating disease (like MS), a stroke, or brain trauma. Since it was only 3 months post injury and I was healthier than a healthy horse before the injury, it was easy to place the blame on those brain lesions onto "trauma." And that still holds true. Here is an excerpt from that short article from about "Central Pain Syndrome:" Central pain syndrome is a neurological condition caused by a dysfunction that specifically affects the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain, brainstem, and spinal cord. The disorder occurs in people who have -- or who have experienced -- strokes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, brain tumors, limb amputations, brain injuries, or spinal cord injuries. It may develop months or years after injury or damage to the CNS. The brief article next states the symptoms of CNS, and does a poor job of that! I could add so much more to this statement of symptoms. I would add "almost constant itching above the point of spinal cord injury." My scalp and my face itch "almost always." I try to take a couple Benadryl to help cover it but that really hardly ever works. At night or during the day when trying to nap, I feel a stab of painful itching on an eyebrow; next, up in my nostrils; next, behind one of my eyeballs or under the lower lip or just in front of my ear or.....It often interrupts my sleep and I hate it. Years ago, while perusing the great "central pain" website (ie ), I again noticed that itching above the level of spinal cord injury and asked the webmaster if itching was a common symptom of CNS, since that is something that plagues me and he responded a firm YES! The webmd article offers little hope for treatment of CPS: Central pain syndrome is characterized by a mixture of pain sensations, the most prominent being a constant burning. The steady burning sensation is sometimes increased by light touch. Pain also increases in the presence of temperature changes, most often cold temperatures. A loss of sensation can occur in affected areas, most prominently on distant parts of the body, such as the hands and feet. There may be brief, intolerable bursts of sharp pain on occasion Finally, there was a statement on this website that really caught my eye. It was a comment upon the fact that stress and high emotions can cause particularly bad flares in pain levels for the sufferer of CNS: Pain medications often provide little or no relief for those affected by central pain syndrome. However, some antidepressants and anticonvulsants can be useful in treating central pain syndrome. Doctors recommend people with the condition be sedated and the nervous system kept quiet and as free from stress as possible. So, there it is in black and white. A life sentence of constant pain. CPS also causes any small injury (banging my elbow or getting a paper cut or cracks in my skin on the ends of my fingers, etc) to morph into pain of a much higher level than when experienced before my broken neck, before CPS took over my life. The statement that stood out the most for me in the webmd article was this one, the last sentence in the piece: Doctors recommend people with the condition be sedated and the nervous system kept quiet and as free from stress as possible. "Doctors recommend people with this condition be sedated..." "sedated"....and "the nervous system kept quiet and as free from stress as possible." Let me tell you, NO ONE else in my circle of friends and family can really grasp this condition. I don't blame them! They deserve an award for being as understanding as they are. Yet, I do try to explain it to them, which ends up with me feeling like a hypochondriac or someone seeking attention. I (perhaps unfoundedly) envision them thinking, "Virginia needs to let this thing go and move on with her life!" And, oh, how I wish I could. But, I find myself trying to explain why I hurt, how I hurt, where I hurt (all over!), not to get their sympathy or attention, but to try to get some feedback from them that they understand.