My Broken Cervical Spine Is a Real Pain in the Neck!

Last year, at about this time, I was recovering from umbilical hernia repair surgery. The year before that, I was recovering from my second C-section. This summer, though, I’m recovering from a broken cervical spine.

The Incident

I was playing baseball with my kids. Our backyard is a bit hilly, and I had erroneously put our home plate on the concrete slab, right next to the back door. As I was going from third to home, which was down a rather steep hill, I lost my balance. My momentum carried me across the concrete slab (mostly) and head first into our wooden back step and the metal wrap on our door frame.

When I first hit, I noticed blood dripping from my head. Then, I noticed that I wasn’t able to talk. For a moment, my tongue felt like it swelled to fill my mouth. I started to moan.

It wasn’t a normal moan. Right after my mom had her stroke, she would moan this guttural, disturbing groan when she was in pain. The noise was unlike any I’d ever heard a human make. When she would groan, it sent a pain through to my bones.

So, when I heard that groan come out of me, I knew we would be going to the hospital. Immediately, I shut my mouth. With my mouth shut, I found out that I could swallow. This was great news because it meant that my tongue wasn’t actually swollen. And there wan’t the metallic taste of blood, so that was good, too.

I remember watching blood drip off of me, hearing my kids keep asking if I was okay. When I went to say, “No,” it came out of my mouth like the guttural moan. I knew I would have to do better next time if the kids were going to stay calm.

The Call

I swallowed, took a deep breath , and in an impressively calm voice, asked the oldest to get my phone. It was a tough decision– 911 or husband? I tried to think through everything as best as I could, and figured that my working husband should be the first call. When my son came out, I dialed my husband. “Tell your dad to come home.”

My son walked off with the phone and talked to his dad. Before long, he came back and said that my husband was on his way.

Next, I sent him inside to get a paper towel. I wanted to figure out how badly my head was hurt without moving. While he was gone, I gently used my fingers to feel around to different parts of my head. Luckily, it seemed like most of my head was fine. There was a very obvious, drippy gash above my right eye and a little bit of ooze coming down from where my part in my hair would be.

By the time he came back with the paper towel, I felt confident that we wouldn’t need an ambulance. Then, the thought hit me that it might take my husband a while to get home. I wasn’t sure exactly how long I should sit on our slab before getting to the hospital became a necessity. Luckily, I didn’t have to get too far down that thought train before my husband showed up, loaded us, and took us to the hospital.

The whole ride to the hospital, I held my neck, rubbing it. Nothing felt especially wrong, but I had discomfort at the base of my skull. This was pretty normal for head-butting your house, I thought.

The ER

We were so lucky! Right away, I was admitted and taken to a room. It’s important for you to understand that I just looked banged up. I had sensation and strength in my hands and feet, and I was easily turning my head to talk to people when they spoke to me.

In our room in the ER, the TV was on my right. I had my oldest snuggled up next to me, and we were watching one of the Shrek movies on TV.

Before too long, they sent the widest wheelchair I’ve ever seen to take me to my CT-scan. I got up on the table and adjusted myself accordingly. Really, I was just concerned about swelling or bleeding in my brain.

After the test, they took me back to my room and the X-ray folks showed up to X-ray my knee. They wanted to make sure that my patellar tendon was still attached. Easily, I bent my knee and moved my leg how they wanted. I figured all we had to do was wait for an all-clear on the CT-scan, and we’d get to go home.

That’s what my doctor thought, too. He had already talked to me about how the bumps and bruises would come out of the woodwork over the next couple of days. He even guessed that I’d need to go to the chiropractor.

At one point, the oldest and I decided we needed to go to the bathroom. I asked the nurse if we could go, and she gave me directions to the bathroom. We went to the bathroom and, when we came back, the doctor and nurse both rushed into the room.

The Diagnosis

Apparently, when my son and I were in the bathroom, the CT-scan results came back. They showed that I had a fracture at the facet joint of my C6 up to my C5. (When you feel the back of your neck with your hand, the bony parts that you feel are the facet joints.) Fortunately, the fracture stayed perfectly aligned so the doctor believed that I wouldn’t require surgery.

Immediately, the ER doctor and nurse placed a cervical collar on me and began my admittance process, including cleaning my cuts and gluing my eyebrow shut. I would need to stay the night for observation. Honestly, I didn’t mind. After finding out my neck was broken, I wasn’t sure what kind of pain I should expect.

Up to that point, my pain was very quickly and easily controlled with Tylenol. Yep. A regular dose of over the counter Tylenol. It took my level 5 pain rank down to a level 1 in about 15 minutes.

So, when I found out my neck was broken, I really didn’t know what to expect. Maybe the adrenaline of the accident was still pumping through me, preventing me from feeling the extent of the damage that had been done. I didn’t know. Moreover, I really didn’t want to find out.

My Room

The ER nurse, my husband, and the kids transferred me to my hospital room for the night. It was 12:30 a.m. and my kids were hanging in there. What troopers!

After I got settled, everyone headed out and the shift nurse came in to ask more questions. It only took about 20 more minutes, but, by the time we finished, I was totally exhausted.

She adjusted me in bed, and we decided that she would come back at 1:45 to give me my next dose of Tylenol. I was really concerned that my pain would increase. Better to stay in front of the pain than behind it, I thought.

Day Shift

Through the night, I slept in patches. Periodically, nurses would pop in to check on me. It was always very comforting to me that: 1. I woke up each time they came in, 2. I still knew my name and birthday, and 3. My pain level was very tolerable.

I got the good news that the doctor and neurosurgeon liked to make their rounds early and that I would probably be one of the first visits they made. My neurosurgeon was the first one to visit. He checked my strength and the sensations in my hands and feet and concluded that I needed to wear the brace at all times, except when in the shower. I couldn’t believe that I would potentially have a break from wearing the cervical collar. This news excited and frightened simultaneously.

The on-call doctor came through and, I kid you not, by 10:30 a.m., I was ready to go home.

My husband and kids, however, were still working on eating breakfast and getting dressed. I ordered a breakfast of my own and started watching some TV. Sometimes, I turned off the TV and rested.

By the time we got to leave, I was exhausted. My crew took me home, I got into bed, and I slept! I did not even wake myself up to take Tylenol.

This is a picture of me at home, right after I came home from the hospital.

me and my broken neck

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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