Miracle Neck Brace

Exactly one year ago today, I woke up and it felt hard to talk. No one could figure out what was causing my speech problems (the neurologists at UCH actually told me that maybe I was just too tired to talk) and over the last year I slowly lost my speech. For the last month or so I’ve been relying on my iPad to talk, and I feared my speech might be gone for good. 

Two weeks ago I saw my neurologist and mentioned the increasing pain in my neck. She prescribed a rigid neck brace to try to relieve some of the pain. While I was at the orthotist getting fit for the brace, he put one on and left the room. I decided to try talking just to see, and was shocked that my voice was back!! I started talking with the orthotist when he came back in, and mentioned that I couldn’t talk without the brace on. He almost didn’t believe me until he took it off, and I could no longer talk again.

This means a few things. First off I’m almost certainly going to need a surgery to fuse some of the bones in my neck together to permanently stabilize things at some point in the future. Until then, I will be wearing a rigid neck brace to stabilize my neck (and allow me to talk). I need to have a special MRI where I am sitting up to show which areas are unstable, because that’s when the problems occur. If I am laying completely flat and take the weight off my neck I can actually talk again, which is why MRIs with me laying down have looked normal. I never knew about being able to talk while laying flat until recently, because when I lay flat my reflux starts choking me.

It also means we’re 99.9% sure I have a genetic connective tissue disease, called Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS). EDS affects collagen, which is the most common connective tissue in the body and holds most organs and all joints together. It’s also in pretty much everything in the body, which is why I have problems all over. I heard it compared to toilet paper. Most people’s tissues are strong and not too flexible, like a 4-ply toilet paper. When you have EDS your tissue is the single-ply, bargain basement brand. It kind of works for a while, but in the end things fall apart and you’re left with sh*# 😜That’s why my neck is having problems, the ligaments have gotten so loose that it’s collapsing and can’t hold the weight of my head. There’s a chance some of my other symptoms could improve from treating the neck, but well have to watch and see. Ultimately though the EDS will still be there, and can cause the neuropathy, fatigue, and stomach issues I have, so I will still be severely disabled. Unfortunately, I have to wait until March 2018 to see the genetics doctor and confirm. Diagnosis is mostly based on clinical findings and I meet the criteria for the condition, which is how we’re so sure that’s it.

What a crazy year it’s been. I’ve been hospitalized 4 times, gotten feeding tubes, lost the ability to eat, ended up on IV nutrition with a port, started and stopped palliative care, got a c-pap, joined two nonprofit boards, completely lost my voice and then almost miraculously got it back, finally figured out what’s causing all this malarkey, ended up in a neck brace, met tons of amazing people with health issues similar to mine, and – also news!! – finished the first draft of my book about it all! Despite being a cripple, my life is still never boring.

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