Over numerous points in this journey, I had my blood drawn to check for anything that might be of concern. One specific time I was asked to sit in a chair with a custom armrest specifically built for the purpose of taking blood. Impressive, I thought. I had seen the heavier set fellow in his official lab coat with his back to me when I was brought over to sit in the blood giving chair right around the corner from him. Knowing the medical field a little, I bet they shorten blood giving chair to BGC. “Send over this patient to the BGC and prepare them for a BSN (blood sucking needle).” Anyway, back to the fat guy. He had one other nurse in there with him as well. Since they hadn’t seen me led to the BGC, they didn’t know I could hear their conversation. He was asking her if she wanted to try the BSN on me. Albeit affirmative, I heard hesitancy in her answer. As he came around the corner and saw me in the chair, he started into some super convincing campaign about having me give permission to his nurse-in-training to draw my blood. Before he could go any further, I interrupted him and said, “what you’re saying is, you want me to give permission to this young nurse, who doesn’t exemplify any confidence or experience, to stick a needle in me and poke around until she finds a good vein? Nah, I think I’ll pass.” He laughed a short breath and replied, “I understand” and asked the nurse to watch him do it once more. I could tell by her deep interest in his procedure that sticking needles in people wasn’t her A-game. As he wrapped the rubber band around my arm, I slapped the inside of my elbow and made a fist once or twice. “No, no, no, Mr. Looman, we don’t need you to do that.” It was something I have seen in movies that invoked my actions, but I guess it wasn’t necessary. He sucked a couple needle’s worth out of me, put that cheap piece of cotton into my elbow crease and folded my arm to keep it there. “You can do the next one”, he said as he looked over at the nurse next to me. “Yeah, if they only knew what was coming from Nurse Pokerama”, I thought to myself.
Through a facebook page for people struggling with TBI, I met Carolyn. She found and read my first TBI article and was kind enough to reach out and encourage me. She also offered some insight on what had and hadn’t worked for the TBI recovery of her 13 year old son, Spencer. Spencer had been experiencing similar symptoms, headaches and frustrations. Struggling with the lack of help and knowledge the doctors were giving her, she had stumbled on Biofeedback. Biofeedback is a process whereby electronic monitoring of a normally automatic bodily function is used to train someone to acquire voluntary control of that function. In my case, this therapy was used to treat conditions, including migraines, tension, and chronic pain. Once approved and into the first therapy visit, it was apparent the muscles in my head, neck, and back needed to be trained to relax again. My therapist, a skinny Dutch guy with an accent and pleated dockers pants, helped me regain control of my brain and the connection to the muscles that were tightening without me even realizing it. With wires hooked up by small suction cups all over my back, we could monitor what muscles were firing involuntarily and address it with breathing, mindful relaxation, and exercises I could do at home between therapy visits. With time, the combination of biofeedback, massage/acupuncture, and breathing/stretching began to work and in turn the number of migraines I was having decreased.
Next up was a headache specialist that I had waited month’s to see. She began with various neurological tests; tapping my elbows and knees, rubbing her fingers together next to my ears, having me follow her moving finger with my eyes, etc. After passing most tests, she proposed an injection into the back of my head to try and localize where the headaches and pressure were coming from. If I experienced a change in the pain level, there was hope that treatment would be minor. The injection felt like a wasp was pissed at me. Unfortunately the painkiller she injected didn’t change the pain level, so she knew I needed to be sent on to a Physiatrist. “He gives the deep injections into the nerves along the back of your head.” “Great”, I thought. Just what I want is someone giving me an injection needing the guidance of an MRI machine to help steer the needle. If it meant relief of some sort, it didn’t matter. I was ready for anything. We waited for insurance to approve and I was scheduled to have an Occipital Nerve Injection.
The consult visit with the physiatrist, his protégé and a nurse was interesting. They probed the back of my head with their fingers to localize the pain. “This procedure has a pretty high success rate for your symptoms”, the doc said so fast I could hardly understand or respond. I then responded by asking why this wasn’t considered before now. The nurse dropped her chin a little and responded truthfully. “Look, I’m sorry you’ve had to jump through a lot of hoops. You’re not the only one. Insurance and western-medicine both require that you try a number of other things before you’re considered for this procedure. It’s sad really.” She understood my frustration and had obviously seen it in others that came through their office. After explaining the details of the procedure, she asked if I had any other questions. “Yeah, can I have a friend or one of your team photo document the procedure?”, I asked, not sure if I should grin or not. She grinned and hesitated. “I’ll have to ask and get back to you on that one.” I already knew the answer was no, but thought it would make a nice addition to this article. A week later, the procedure was approved by insurance and I was scheduled within days. Funny, nothing seems to happen within days unless they’re getting paid big bucks by you or the insurance company.
The day of the procedure I was calm. The nurse walked me back to a waiting room where there were three chairs for patients set against a wall. Ron, a stout and weathered looking man in his 50’s was getting an IV. The room had that sterilized smell. Even though I had declined the sedation, I was given an IV by the nurse “in case there were complications with the procedure”. I adorned that really cool hospital top, answered fifty medical questions and signed my name a few times. It became clear they were doing a series of injections one after another, starting with Ron, the guy sitting next to me. Turns out Ron has had back surgeries and horrible pain ever since. He was to receive an injection in his lower spine. About the time he and I began exchanging small talk, Harriet was wheeled into the room to join us. Harriet’s gray hair gave away her age. She spoke loud and had some sarcasm to her game. When handed the hospital top, she responded quickly to the nurse, “now you don’t want to see me without a bra, I’m telling you that much!” Ron and I shared a quiet laugh trying not to add a visual with the commentary. Harriet went through all the same questions they asked Ron and I, including the list of meds she was currently taking. As she began listing all of them off a phone started ringing with the most annoying ringtone and at an audible level that seemed someone had paid extra for. “Oh, is that mine?”, Harriet questioned, only seven rings into the call. Again Ron and I chuckled. The nurse leaned into me, smiled, and said, “this, is what you have to look forward to”. It was Ron’s turn and they walked him back to be sedated and begin the procedure. It seemed like only a couple minutes later and it was my turn. I went facedown on the table with my head nestled into the padded opening so I could breathe. Just like the masseuse, I thought. If only this was going to feel as good. The doc walked in and tried to make small talk by commenting on my tattoo. I could hear him stretching on some new rubber gloves. “Alright, so you’ve opted out of having the sedation, huh Daniel?” “That’s right. Anything to keep from having more meds pumped into me and feeling like shit for days”, I responded. The injection was deep and it did hurt, but I’ve experienced worse pain. The steroid they were injecting took a couple minutes. I could feel him moving around the needle and as he did, one of the nurses stroked my arm attempting to distract me. It worked. When the needle was removed, I could feel a large spill off the side of my neck, which was quickly toweled up by one of the nurses. They wheeled me into the next room where Ron was having his vitals checked. I couldn’t feel a difference in pain in the back of my head, but half of my head was numb. Weird. A fair-skinned, freckled nurse named Shannon checked my vitals and we somehow got on the topic of traveling. I think it was a good distraction on her part to get my mind off from what just happened. It makes sense. Anyway, Shannon’s family is from Ireland, but she doesn’t like Guinness. “Wait, what?” I excused her. She quickly interjected “But, I do like Harp beer”. “Alright, I’ll let it slide then” I responded with a smile. She offered me some graham crackers and cranberry juice, which sounded like steak and wine after not having eaten all day. She checked my vitals and released me within thirty minutes. It’s been a few weeks now since the procedure and I have noticed some improvement. I still experience pain, throbbing and some migraines, but not near as intense or as many. It’s as if the pain has been “muted”.
I’ve been back to the Physiatrist for a check up and was made aware that I can receive more Occipital nerve injections every three months if needed. For now, I continue with all the things that have helped me recover thus far and am slowly reintroducing the physical activities I enjoy so much, albeit with some pain.
I am grateful and indebted to friends that have prayed, brought over meals and books, and insisted on helping. If I am honest, I can say you learn quickly who your real friends are and the ones who disappear when you need them most.
I encourage everyone to fight, believe for good, and be vulnerable with those around you. A lot of times, it’s more about the journey than getting right to the destination. It’s in the journey that we sometimes experience pain and suffering, but they can develop into much more beautiful things if we let them. There’s a quote in a really good book I like that says “We should be stoked in our trials and suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because we know God loves us”. Am I thankful that I have to go through all this? No. But, I am grateful for the ways I am changed; physically, mentally, emotionally, physiologically and my faith that has been strengthened as a result. My injury pails in comparison to what others deal with on a daily basis and my respect, appreciation and compassion are increased to encourage, love and pray more for those same people.