Hellish Headaches vs. Knowing Neurologist

Most of my friends and family know I have been dealing with several health problems, especially tension, headaches, dizziness, and TMJ issues.

I am a firm believer in chiropractic care. When we moved to the Quad Cities for my husband’s vicarage assignment, I made the mistake of not finding a chiropractor right away. My issues with dizziness increased until it got to the point I would get so dizzy from making the bed, I would have to lie down. I would do a chore, lie down. Do another chore, lie down. I saw a family doctor who said I had severe vertigo and needed a CT Scan. She said she would refer me. I never received a referral, but I decided I wanted a second opinion before spending that kind of money.

Then the headaches kicked in. Each day starts with terrible tension in my neck, which creeps up the back of my head and into my jaw, and then after several hours, the pain goes from dull to severe. I normally feel yucky by 3 or 4pm and completely miserable and useless by 7pm. For the headache to go away, I have to take 4 Advil Liquigels and 5mg of Flexeril (a prescription muscle relaxer).

Every few weeks, I get one of these unbearable headaches where I feel like my eyes will explode, like my teeth have been shoved through my head, and my face is fracturing into tiny pieces. I gag from the pain and dizziness. Last September, nothing helped, and I ended up in the hospital on Toradol, Morphine, Benadryl, Zofran, and Phenergan. This almost happened again last weekend, but the drugs finally started to dull the pain two hours after I took them.

Desperate, I started an intense Google search for chiropractors. Luckily, I am in the Quad Cities, which is where Palmer College is located; there is no shortage of chiropractors here. One search had interesting results, and I decided to check him out for these reasons:
– He is both a chiropractor and a neurologist
– He is a professor of neurology
– He has received several awards
– There were several patient testimonies
– His clinic offers a free consultation
– He has an insurance specialist figure out all your payment needs for you
– He treats conditions such as migraines, vertigo, and is able to manipulate extremities in addition to spinal adjustments
– He gives referrals to specialists for patients who have conditions he is unable to treat

My husband came with me to the free consultation. The insurance specialist called our insurance company with us present, and asked all these questions I would have never thought to ask. Once we knew what my insurance would cover, we talked to the doctor. He listened to my symptoms and confirmed that I have a condition he is equipped to treat. He even started the process of the first examination that day. I was there for over two hours, and I was being worked with the entire time; there was no waiting around.

Some of the tests seemed silly. He pointed his finger at me and brought it closer to my nose to make me cross-eyed. I got so dizzy I had to step back, and I nearly threw up. He had me walk across the room while reciting every other letter of the alphabet. I could not do it. I had to stop walking because I couldn’t remember what letter I had just spoken. He did several other tests where I had to look at one object a certain distance away, then look at another object that was closer or farther away, or I had to watch a moving object. He checked my eyes. He used a tuning fork to test which hand is more sensitive. He noted that my hands and feet have a huge temperature difference than my body.

One test, I had to wear a mask that completely blacked out my vision. I sat in an office chair, and he spun me to the right, then stopped, then spun me to the left. He did this a few times, then took off the mask. My husband said, “Wow! That was so cool!”
“What?” I asked.
“That mask was an infrared camera, and we could see your eyes the whole time! When you spun to the right, your eyes reacted and moved back and forth. When you spun to the left, you just stared straight ahead.”

The doctor took the weekend to review the results and go over the notes I had written up for him. When I went back in on Monday, he explained to me what was going on.

To put it very, very simply: My brain is forcing me to be in a perpetual “Fight or Flight” mode.

To explain with a little more detail: My neurons are misfiring. Part of my brain stem is overstimulated, while other parts of my brain are shutting down to compensate for the work the brain stem is doing. During all the vision-movement tests, my eyes could not follow movement correctly. They are also over-dilated and don’t dilate and contract together at the same time.

Because I am in fight or flight mode, my body acts like there is a threat, and it gets ready to flee or to defend. My blood vessels constrict, which is what causes my hands and feet to feel icy because I’m not getting the correct circulation. The constriction of blood vessels is also what is creating the intense headaches. This is also why my eyes are dilated. I become hyper-aware of sensations, especially light and sound.

The doctor then named some digestive issues, and I had to admit that I struggle with them but have never sought help due to finances and always focusing my medical care on the headaches. During fight or flight, the body slows down digestion because it isn’t going to waste energy digesting. Since I am always in this mode, I digest very slowly. I’m not getting the nutrients I need even though I’m eating all the right things. This is why I feel exhausted all the time.

He asked if my heart ever feels erratic. I told him that my heart often flutters or feels like it skips beats. Again, this is my body prepping to fight or run. Since I don’t need to fight or run and remain still, my heart starts freaking out.

Then came the big question. He asked if I struggle with anxiety and depression. He was interested to know that I have struggled with depression ever since I can remember (the earliest being age 4). I’ve been on medication, which helps, and have even been through a placebo test to prove that it is the medication that helps rather than the thought of taking medication. There is definitely an imbalance of chemicals in my brain, without a doubt. He said that he expects to greatly decrease my depression and anxiety – to the point that I might be able to lower my dose of my medication.

But what astounds me the most are the little things he was able to guess correctly about me:
– I can’t handle the sound volume in theaters. (I have to wear ear plugs.)
– I can’t handle an alarm in the morning because it startles me to the point I feel like throwing up.
– I often need to dim the lights.
– I am picky about how soft and comfortable my clothing is.
– New situations are terrifying because I take in all sensations at once (like the sound of the air moving through the vents).
– Talking on the phone is terrible because I feel the voice vibrating in my ear more than I can hear the words.

He started naming all these things that often bother “normal” people but drive me insane until I feel so overwhelmed. I suddenly felt like a doctor understood me for the first time. Finally, someone understands that just going through a normal day makes me want to run and hide for a week, and there is a reason for this, and it’s because part of my brain is working too hard while other parts of the brain can no longer function. And I didn’t have to tell him any of this about myself. He guessed, and he guessed correctly every time.

While in counseling once, my counselor had me read “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron Ph.D. This book explained that people who are emotionally sensitive are often more sensitive to physical stimuli as well. I have always been told that I am too emotional, too sensitive – that I need to grow a thicker skin and stop wearing my heart on my sleeve. This book in combination with the findings of my neurologist help me understand that I am literally wired to be sensitive in every way.

The treatment? Right now, I have to rest and not do too much in a day. I need to limit stimuli – lights, sounds, etc. I have to come into his office for three sessions of treatments. (So far, I have had two.) The treatments consist of doing light exercises to stimulate my left brain, especially the frontal lobe. Basically, I lie on the table, and he moves my right arm, my right leg, massages my right shoulder, and moves my fingers while I stay limp. Then he has me sit and do some vision exercises. I have to do things like watch his finger, which starts right in front of my face, and then keep my eyes on it until he gets to the wall. Then I keep my eyes on the wall, and as soon as he gets back to me and the tip of his finger is back in my view, I have to change from looking at the wall (far away) to his finger (close up). These make me dizzy sometimes, but they’re getting easier.

After two treatments, I was able to go 60 hours without both prescription and over-the-counter pain medication because I only had a dull, barely-there headache. That hasn’t happened in over two months.

After my third treatment, Frank and I will meet with him and discuss what the long-term treatment will be and go over finances and insurance again.

For the first time in a long time, I have hope.

Oh, and my neurologist said I don’t need a CT scan.

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