After reading personal concussion recovery accounts online, I also decided to finally see a NUCCA—upper cervical spine—chiropractor. I had a hunch that something in my neck might be tweaked but with no neck pain, my doctors didn’t really think that was the case. The NUCCA appointment was definitely an eye opening experience. Even before he’d examined me, the doctor could already explain to me about why I was having vertigo issues in way more detail than any other doctor I’d seen so far. The thermal imaging and other tests showed that I favored the left side of my body by 838% and my right leg was shorter than my left—something that told him I was definitely out of wack. We took x-rays and it turned out my atlas vertebrae—the one at the top of the spine—had been knocked all the way to the right from the impact and twisted a few degrees. In addition, my spine had also been twisted, though the extent of which some of this had existed before the impact was hard to say. He did the correction by barely touching behind my right ear while I laid on my side, and I left his office with a sheet of instructions for healing and for the first time in a long time, hope that this could be the answer to my lingering symptoms. About 5 days after the appointment, I didn’t really feel much different, though because my vertebrae had been suppressing my brain stem, it wouldn’t reverse itself right away.
I returned to the chiropractor the following week and learned I had held some of the adjustment, but not all of it, so he readjusted my neck for a second time. Based on my condition and history, he recommended a 28 week (!) care plan to get my body to accept the new alignment and to continue in the healing process. Basically, that meant a weekly visit to Charlottesville (a 2 hour drive each way) until I began to show some stability and then we could set the visits a little further apart. (As of today, July 3rd, I still have to go every 3 weeks). I still wasn’t feeling much improvement, but at least there was visual confirmation of a problem that could be fixed with a clear treatment plan, so I remained excited at the prospect.
The next day, I had to drive back down to Winston-Salem for my second visit with my neurologist. I updated her on my symptoms and she prescribed a new medication, Depakote, to help with some of my lingering symptoms and said if this helped get me back to work, she would wean me off of the nortriptilyne. Depakote is an anti-seizure medication that also helps control migraine headaches and although head pain has never given me significant trouble, its hard to tell how many of my symptoms might be rooted in this problem, particularly all of the tension and pain around the eyes and eyebrows. At first, the drug made me pretty dizzy, a feeling that, when combined with my vertigo, took me back to the earlier days of the concussion when everything moved around rapidly—not a good feeling. But I have seen an increase in the amount of stress my body can handle on the drug, so I wanted to continue with it for the next few weeks to see if I notice any real improvement. It’s pretty powerful stuff though—it causes all sort of birth defects—so I only wanted to stay on it if it actually is benefiting me in a real way.
The neurologist also recommended that I participate in a study that took place at a nearby medical facility involving biofeedback and brain waves. She said that many of her patients had experienced great results from the treatment; she had actually sent me information about the study back in the fall, but I decided I didn’t want to pursue it as it would mean driving four hours every day. I still am not sure I really want to participate as it involves sitting a room for four hours every day listening to sounds, but at this point in my recovery, I’m not sure I really have a choice; I just need to get better and move on with my life.
One of my more recent symptoms is the fact that my face turns bright red whenever I try to concentrate on something for a period of time. I’ve always blushed easily, but this is different and takes a long time to dissipate and only seems to focus around my checks and chin, not on my forehead. Still, if this wants to stick around for awhile while my other symptoms go away, I’ll take it.
The month of January 2015 definitely brought about the most significant changes in my recovery process. While I am still experiencing most of my major symptoms, the overall intensity seemed to be decreasing dramatically—hallelujah! The facial pain I experienced is basically non-existent and the face flushing I was experiencing seems to be going away as well. My vertigo and dizziness are as present as ever and still mostly exacerbated by computer work. I have now seen the chiropractor four or five times and although its not been the amazing solution I was secretly hoping for after my first visit, I do think that it has been helping. My spine is still very unstable, so I’ve been continuing weekly visits to Charlottesville for treatment. But, since I love the area and its access to Whole Foods and Trader Joes, I’m not too upset about it.
For the last two weeks, I’ve been in Winston-Salem to participate in the aforementioned study. The process has been both exactly what I’d thought it would be and at the same time completely different. At my first visit, I was hooked up to brain sensors while the technicians took the amplitude of my brain waves at various locations on my head, along with keeping my eyes open, closed, and partially open. Then, for four hours every day, I listen to my brain waves projected back through musical notes. Since music is such a large part of my life, it’s been hard not to analyze the notes—my brain is actually pretty musical!—and not just relax and let thoughts dissipate as I am supposed to. When my eyes are open, I get to read a little bit which is nice. Most recently, I met with the study director to discuss some of the progress they were seeing. I found out that I have a pretty unstable autonomic nervous system characteristic of people who embarrass easily, have stomach issues, and migraines—all of which I have. More importantly, it could be the reason why my brain is taking such a long time to recover since it is so sensitive to normal environmental fluctuations anyway. I also got to see a comparison of the before and after graphs, and although I probably can’t do the technical explanations justice, I was able to see how much more balanced and relaxed my brain was in certain areas compared to before. Still, I haven’t really noticed any significant changes in the way I feel, though I’m hoping I experience more of those benefits when I try to return to work or push my edge, to use Barre3 terminology.
At this time, I also increased my walking exercise to include one mile of running each day. I’m not convinced this is benefiting me as I sometimes get headaches after I run, but I love the feeling of accomplishment and totally losing myself to the rhythm as I once used to. I’m going to keep the mileage low for now and only increase past the mile mark when I feel my body is ready. But man, it feels good to really exercise!