Living With Chiari Malformation: Part 3
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Health and Wellness

Living With Chiari Malformation: Part 3

These are some of the side-effects you have after treatment.

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Living With Chiari Malformation: Part 3
Britni Smith

"Britni. Breathe." My eyes opened yet again. Chilled air crept into my lungs. Blurred objects were all around. The beeping subsided for mere seconds. Then blackness. Nothing but blackness. Repetitive beeps. The pulsating pressure of a hand on my forearm. And the strong, yet noticeably distraught voice of my mother begging me to breathe.


The Intensive Care Unit was my home for more than 24 hours. During the operation, the surgical team performed the routine posterior fossa decompression surgery for Chiari I: A portion of tendon in my neck was removed. A section of the base of my skull shaved, as well as the bony arch of my C1 vertebra. This resulted in a wider opening at the base of my skull, which meant that spinal fluid could reach my brain properly. The procedure lasted an hour and a half. All was well until it was time for me to wake up.

A severe allergic reaction to morphine was the culprit. The drug took over my entire body. An intense fatigue overwhelmed me, and opening my eyes became the most difficult task imaginable. Generally, a patient straight out of surgery has the luxury of resting afterwards... I did not. When my eyes closed, I shifted into comatose. In that comatose state, my breathing ceased completely. My relentless mother kept me awake for 18 hours straight. "Britni, breathe," she said. Britni. Britni." I can still hear her words echoing through my head.

After those long, tiresome hours, the morphine finally wore off. All I wanted to do was sleep, but the post-operative pain made it impossible. The nurses moved me from ICU to a private room to give me some peace and quiet. They then tried to control my pain with Tylenol-3. Harmless, right? Ha! You guessed it. My blood pressure bottomed out in a matter of minutes, which is the equivalent of blacking out. This reaction came from the codeine-laced Tylenol. The monitors went crazy, and so did my agitated mother. My physician was at a loss. He requested that I be monitored every five minutes until my vitals were stable. This resulted in another four hours of no sleep. By this time, I had been without sleep and in unbearable pain for 22 hours following my brain and neck surgery.

My doctor met with my parents to discuss the next option for pain control. They agreed on Ibuprofen and regular Tylenol. When my body finally calmed down, I took the ibuprofen and a much-needed nap. A few hours later I ate the wet dog food that was on my tray. By the next day I was able to walk, and they sent me home.

Flash forward six months later. I stepped on the court for my first, and last, ninth-grade basketball game. For anyone who really knows me, basketball has always been a part of my life. I dedicated my entire youth to it. As soon as the doctor released me to start practicing again (maybe even before), I did. Every day. For hours and hours. Being able to play in this last game meant the world to me. But something wasn't right. That same, intense, agonizing ache held my head for ransom. The adrenaline overpowered the pain, and I played on. Timeouts were a different story though. The adrenaline escaped, and the hurt took over. Most of the time I laid on the bench, one hand on my forehead, the other clutching the base of my skull. I tried so hard to focus while Coach gave us the plays. By the end of each break my headaches faded, and the adrenaline kicked in once again.

A week after that game I had a follow-up MRI and appointment with my surgeon. The news was devastating. A web of scar tissue formed over the opening to the base of my skull and was restricting the flow of spinal fluid just like before. My cerebral tonsils had dropped down through my skull 13 millimeters. In other words, part of my brain was literally sitting in my neck. Not only that, but now a syrinx (pocket of fluid) existed in my spinal cord. We were told that the syrinx wouldn't do damage unless it grew, so they weren't going to do anything about it. If I wanted my pain to go away, the only hope that I had was to undergo a second brain and neck surgery, this one more intricate than the first.

This time, getting rid of the scar tissue and shocking my cerebral tonsils back into my skull was part of the necessary procedure. On top of that, a cow bladder needed to be placed over the opening where the scar tissue initially formed. This would seal the opening while allowing spinal fluid into my brain. The cow jokes are endless, but I won't go there. Two weeks later, I was back on the operating table for the second time in seven months. My spirits were high, but nothing could prepare me for the rough times ahead.

To Be Continued...

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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