Living With Chiari Malformation: Part IV
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Health and Wellness

Living With Chiari Malformation: Part IV

"I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me."

Living With Chiari Malformation: Part IV
Britni Smith

This time, getting rid of the scar tissue and shocking my cerebral tonsils back into my skull was necessary. 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.

This second surgery, though more intensive than the first, went by without any serious complications. I missed seven weeks of school recovering from this operation. Total, I missed 67 days during my freshman year of high school. But I worked, and I worked hard. My parents brought a week's worth of assignments home each Monday after they left their jobs. I sat at Granny Bobbie's every weekday, and it was like clockwork. Breakfast, homework, The Price is Right, homework, lunch, homework, "Days of Our Lives," homework. For the first few weeks I could hardly walk, so I sat or laid on the couch all day. I'll never be able to thank my grandma enough for taking care of me. Her love, strength, and heavenly home-cookin' kept me going. The last two weeks, I was able to attend half of my classes each day. By the last week of school, I had finished all of my course material, and I ended the year with a 4.0 GPA.

My second surgery resulted in six months of no physical activity. That meant basketball too. In September of my sophomore year, the doctor released me to begin dribbling and riding a stationary bike. A few weeks later I could (officially) start shooting the ball again. I may or may not have been shooting before then. We had a brand new coach. He had never seen me play, and I had a long way to go in order to prove myself. I gradually worked my way up to playing with contact. Finally, in December of 2011, I played my first game of the season.

The summer of 2012 is when I decided to step my game up. For three years I had been stuck at 98 pounds. I took part in an intensive workout program for the three months that I was out of school. I also took part in the Tennessee Lady Volunteer basketball camp where I landed All-Star honors. That summer I gained an arsenal of new skills along with 22 pounds of solid muscle. I went into my junior year weighing 120 pounds and looking healthier than ever. That, of course, did not mean that I felt healthier than ever.

As the school year progressed, my symptoms returned one by one. First, the headaches; then the vertigo and difficulty swallowing; next, the numb limbs; and finally the dreaded incontinence. That last of these by far the most embarrassing, but just like the other symptoms, I got used to it. Through all of the pain and frustration, I still managed to end the school year with a 4.0 GPA.

The summer before my senior year, my family took me to a different doctor, via my surgeon's request, to get a second opinion. The headaches and other symptoms were worse than ever. Neither surgery had seemed to help. This new doctor, also in Little Rock, Arkansas, made me cry all the way home. His words cut deep: "Your surgeon doesn't want to be the bad guy. I have to be the bad guy. You're not doing better. There is nothing more that we can do. I know you play sports. Your don't need to play sports anymore." That meant basketball. Not just senior year of basketball. His words made me numb. Not like the terrifying numbness that I first felt three years before. More like the numbness that comes from a deep, overwhelming sadness. I had worked so hard. I loved the game so much. I had to play. Just one more year.

We called my surgeon to find out what his opinion was. He said the new doctor was right...but whether I played or not was ultimately our decision. My parents knew me well enough to know that not playing would hurt me more than anything. So I played. I hurt, but I played. I didn't tell my coaches what the doctor had said. I just played. I still got headaches, but most of the time I was able to play through them. One day before practice my coach told me that if I couldn't make it though practice, I couldn't play in the games. So I played, and I didn't stop. And I am so glad I did. Through an ovarian cyst rupture and surgery in December, a few hard hits to the head, and the pain of Chiari, I made it to the Elite Eight with the most driven and supportive team that you could imagine.

The following summer is when the nerve pain began. Riding in the car, my phone in hand, I sneezed, yelped, dropped my phone, and literally thought my arm had been struck by lightning. My headaches began to escalate. The pain was more severe and more frequent. In August, two months later, I started my freshman year at the University of Arkansas. In three weeks, the campus ambulance was called four times. My surgeon refused to see me. While researching ways to help me, my mother found The Chiari Institute in Great Neck, New York. She sent my MRIs to the facility, and we received a call the very next day: "Mrs. Smith, I don't want to alarm you, but Britni's condition is critical. It is important that we schedule an appointment and get her up here as soon as possible."

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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