July 28, 2015
Joe and Carolyn,
How can I ever thank you both. I’m convinced you saved my life.
On July 1, 2011 while doing a very deep back bend I heard and felt bones, in the back of my neck, click and grate. I remember thinking at the time, “that’s going to be a problem,” but even I was unprepared for what followed and am still surprised at how something that seemed relatively small, turned out to be the worst injury I’ve ever sustained.
By July 3rd the headache started, a constant and dull ache. The neck pain began on the 4th two days later I could hardly lift my head off the pillow. Each attempt to pick up my head resulted in blinding pain as I felt the weight of my brain sink onto my brain stem and press onto my spinal column – where waves of pressure and heat radiated down my neck, upper back and through my shoulder blades. If I turned to lay on my right side I could feel the muscles of my left eye pull and if I turned over, the other eye tugged. Lying flat on my back it was impossible to move my eyes to the right or left without pain, all the while the headache growing worse. If I moved my head too quickly I could feel my brain lag behind a second, accompanied by that worrying sensation of your brain banging around inside your skull, which you usually only experience when you knock your head pretty hard. Why was my brain no longer snug inside my head? Was this a migraine? I had a million questions but by July 6th I knew I was in serious trouble and went to the doctor.
I consider myself lucky that my doctor didn’t start pumping me with pain killers, initially assuming migraine. But rather was immediately suspicious and concerned by the abatement of the pain while lying horizontal as well as the fact that I was ill the week previous with a sore throat and ear ache (what I assumed was mild infection/cold since it cleared up after just two days). He insisted I see a neurologist that day. After a brief exam by the neurologist, a history of the above and him witnessing my obvious pain and debilitating condition, he admitted me into hospital that evening. He took CAT scans, MRI’s, and performed a lumbar puncture to test for meningitis, which was his great concern on hearing about the stiff neck and previous sore throat. When meningitis was ruled out his conclusion was that I had a tear in my Dura. The Dura is the membrane that surrounds the brain, brain stem and the central nervous system inside the spinal column. This slow leak (possibly microscopic) results in reduced pressure of the spinal-cerebral fluid and the brain-drag pain that results is know as Low Pressure Headache Syndrome. This was his best guess after various blood tests and scans; ruling out the more sinister possibilities like cancerous brain tumors, etc.
The ‘cure’ for Low Pressure Headache Syndrome is rest and fluids. This neurologist was very conservative and explained that the body will heal the tear on its own (if it’s not too large – as is usually the case with spontaneous tears or those not caused by outside Intrusion into the membrane). Strict bed rest for up to one month was prescribed, along with a suggestion to take lots of caffeine. I was kept in the hospital for a week getting IV fluids and was sent home with instructions to come back in 20 days. If my condition was not greatly improved, which he expected it to be given the minor nature of the cause of the supposed tear, he would perform a blood patch. This entails taking my own blood, injecting it into my spine in the hope that it would travel around and clot into the tear. Sometimes this procedure has to be performed more than once, and if no joy is had by then, more serious measure would commence…injecting dye into the system to find the site of the leak and potentially, surgery. I believed every word, as I could feel the symptoms for myself. It seemed reasonable and since the initial course of suggested treatment wasn’t radical, why would I doubt the opinion of the neurologist? My husband Stephen, who has a considerable skepticism of the medical profession, insisted on an opinion from Dr. Joe.
By the time Joe was able to get to London, I’d been home from the hospital a further 5 days, my condition worsening each day. I couldn’t get up and was in pain constantly. I could feel all my muscles wasting and couldn’t imagine spending another 15 days lying there with nothing but the specter of permanent disability looming. Joe arrived on July 18th. By then I’d been incapacitated for two weeks, was facing another two+ weeks in the same state – hoping to heal sometime over the next three weeks, but preparing myself for the possibility that this was just the beginning. The mental strain was horrible.
After Joe’s examination, he looked me in the eye, and brimming with that infectious confidence says, “They’re Wrong! You don’t have a tear in your Dura, you have jammed your top vertebrae (C1) and the Atlas/Occipital bones are crushing the nerves that would control and regulate the flow of cerebral spinal fluid. That’s why the pressure is low!” “You won’t need surgery, or a blood patch test – and how ridiculous is the idea of making more holes in your Dura to find a suspected one!” “AND here’s the best part, you won’t need to be in agony for another three weeks, till they start poking around in earnest.” He adjusted me for the first time late Monday night July 18th, and I felt immediately different. I was still in a lot of pain and went to bed. The next morning I knew something was changed, I felt different, better, slightly less pain in the eyes, headache abating. What are the odds that the supposed tear, healed and closed over at the exact moment of Joe’s adjustment? Over the next two days Joe adjusted me pretty regularly and by Wednesday July 20th, I was up and went with him on a mile long walk. Admittedly my head did ache that night but by the weekend I was upright with little pain and confident that I would be 100%. If it hadn’t been for Joe where would I be? What state could any recovery possibly reach so long as those nerves were compressed? Could permanent nerve damage result if no one ever thought to check the alignment of my upper cervicals? What damage could result from radioactive dye or surgery just at my brain stem!
I feel so lucky to have access to the opinions and health care expertise of Joe and Carolyn Clauss. And while Joe was the one that came over for this emergency, it could just as easily have been Carolyn. Indeed I owe her a greater share of thanks- for holding down the fort at their incredibly busy practice, juggling the care of her amazing family and all the while advising me on nutrition, supplements and sending me her positive, healing love – which if you know Carolyn at all, is considerable. A similar miracle was performed 4 years ago with my husband Stephen, which is how we came to know the Clausses. Suffice it to say, I will always remain,
Your ever grateful friend, Lorraine Bell