For the next 3 months my cervical and thoracic vertebrae need to be stabilized in order for my bones to heal properly. That means I will be wearing some kind of brace until about the first of the year. Right now I am in a CTO which stands for cervical thoracic orthosis. It is a rigid brace which supports my neck and upper back.
I wear this brace throughout the day and I cannot take it off unless I am switching into my other brace which is a hard cervical collar called a Miami J. The Miami J only supports my cervical spine, so I can only wear it when I am laying down flat on my back, or up to 30 degrees elevated. The transition of CTO into the Miami J at night, and also the transition of Miami J into the CTO when I wake up is a process that requires two people. One must stabilize my head as the braces are changed and I am rolled onto my side. The other person aligns, and secures the brace. I have been extremely lucky and fortunate to have friends who are willing to come to my house first thing in the morning, and late in the evening to change my braces. I really don’t know what I would do without such kind and generous people.
My accident was on September 10th and I have been in one of these two braces ever since. The CTO brace is quite restrictive and cumbersome, but I can still do a lot in it. Bathing in the CTO is difficult, but I have managed a technique of a bottom half shower sitting in a shower chair and a handheld sprayer, and a top half sponge bath. I even managed to shave my legs today with an electric razor that my friend bought for me. It worked great! And it feels good to be able to do some of these things on my own. Fixing my hair is not easy, but I can manage to pull it up into a ponytail on my own. I have a friend who comes over 2-3 times per week to wash my hair also because I don’t think that will be something I can manage on my own. I can eat pretty well, but I need to use small sized bites, as the brace restricts my jaw from opening quite a bit. Also a lot of chewing in the brace becomes uncomfortable after a while. My jaw is starting to feel a little stiff, and I wonder what it will feel like once I am out of the braces. Also, when I sit down in certain positions, the brace sort of jams up into my chin and jaw which is not comfortable. Changing clothes, specifically shirts is also challenging, and due to that I don’t change every day. Shirt choice is important because it has to be small enough to fit under the brace, and stretch enough to fit over the cervical collar and to stretch onto my arms. Short sleeve, tighter fitting, stretchy, cotton t-shirts have worked the best so far. I am starting to get used to wearing the brace, and I do believe it is giving me very good support. I have very little pain throughout the day, and when I do have pain it is usually because I have been more active. We have become more efficient and more accurate at putting the brace on. Drawing marks on the velcro straps help to know what angle and how tight to make the brace. The cervical collar at night is much more comfortable, and less restrictive. I am getting more used to laying on my back to sleep considering I was 100%a stomach sleeper before the accident. Placing pillows under my knees has helped, however I still am experiencing muscle spasms in the morning in my mid and low back. I do believe it is a combination of the upper spine being immobilized, and compensation and overuse of the mid to low back muscles, and also being in the same position for 8+ hours at night. The spasms have definitely improved since my first week out of the hospital, and they do resolve after about 45 min to an hour after I get up. Whether that is due to being able to move, or the fact that I take a dose of Flexeril or Neurontin as soon as I wake up, I’m not sure.