Tag Archives: epidural blood patch

Learning Patience: Eighteen Months of Spinal CSF Leak Recovery

“What doesn’t destroy me makes me stronger.”

 – Martin Luther King, Jr.

This timeless quote has certainly been my experience over the past four years or so of having – and then recovering from – a long term spinal CSF leak. Although, to be honest, at times it did feel like I was being ‘destroyed’ through the process. My journey has taken me to immensely dark places of wrestling and torment on so many levels.

It often felt like so much of who I was – at the deepest level – was simply being destroyed.

However, as I slowly recover physically, mentally and spiritually from the trauma of the last four years, I can see more and more how even what felt like ‘destruction’ has actually ultimately made me a more rounded, secure, loving and compassionate person. I have found that some things, and attitudes in my life, needed to be ‘destroyed’ or at least ‘shaken’, so that I could become the person I am now.

I am stronger on so many levels – but the strength comes from a more authentic place.

The strength comes from a deeper acceptance and acknowledgement of my human frailty and weakness. I no longer feel the need to have to ‘muster up’ an outward – or even ‘inner’ – show of strength to look like I ‘have it all together’. Instead, I can rest in my weakness and rely on God’s strength to carry me through the ongoing challenges of life in a more REAL way.

And there are ongoing challenges…

Eighteen months since my fourth high volume (40ml) lumbar epidural blood patch sealed my leak, I am still not back to where I was before my accident in January 2015.

My head, spine and nervous system still do not operate as they once did.

And yet…

Month by month I see more of the new ‘old me’ being restored.

Slowly… gently… patiently… Becky Hill is returning to a ‘fuller and deeper strength’.

But did you notice that I said the ‘NEW ‘old me’?

I had to add in that extra ‘new’ …. because the ‘old me’ doesn’t actually exist anymore in many ways!! And in fact I wouldn’t want to return fully to who I was before my accident anyway. Because there is a ‘new me’ that has emerged from the ‘wilderness cocoon’ I was catapulted into for those years. It is the ‘new me’ that will walk into the future and face whatever comes my way.

It is the ‘new me’ that is better in many ways than the ‘old’

However, the reason I am writing this article is to get into the nitty gritty of my experience of spinal CSF leak recovery. I want to continue to tell my story in the hope that it connects with and helps you, or someone you know, on their own seemingly impossible journey. I want to tell you the REAL tale of what it’s like to walk along such a difficult and desolate road, whilst attempting to keep focusing on the beautiful horizon of hope and redemption.

A new horizon that thankfully, for me, is growing ever closer.

So let’s get back to basics.

What is my life currently like day-to-day, eighteen months into recovery from a nearly three-year spinal fluid leak?

Corrie ten Boom said:

‘Worry does not empty tomorrow of sorrow; but it empties today of strength.’

That has had to be my ongoing ‘mantra’ throughout my illness and recovery. At first, fears for the future and fears of relapse consumed and crippled me. Unsurprisingly, of course, because – until this last blood patch – that had been my very real experience. These fears have reduced so much through a combination of learning to stay focused and thankful on the present, whilst accepting what IS today’s reality, and also seeing the progress that I continued to make day by day. I had to ‘throw myself’ into God’s arms of grace to find the strength to keep moving forward and keep trusting that things would keep improving.

As they currently do!

If you try and fight the slow process of recovery to ‘speed things up’, I found it simply makes you worse! Your body can’t handle the stress of the striving to do more than it can do. You instead have to ‘fight’ from an inner place of strength, peace and acceptance of the way things currently are, whilst being gentle with your body and mind as you trust for better days in the future.

The reality is, my head, spine and nervous system still struggles with hypersensitive reactions to changes in ICP (Intracranial (head/ spinal fluid) pressure). I still seem to have some ‘higher pressure’ issues in my head and spine (as I talk comprehensively about in my year of recovery update). The same old movements and actions still bring a clear reaction. My head, neck and spine fills with pressure, my ears pop and crackle, my cognition (mental processing) gets a little more sluggish, everything feels harder, and I often have to just take some ‘quiet time’ alone to still my head.

This might mean being silent for a bit, sitting down quietly or going for a quiet walk.

But I have to say that this becomes more and more manageable and less and less of a major problem. The adjustments needed are not so dramatic anymore. They are still there, but more subtle. And they thankfully keep improving. Over time you realise you are less aware of symptoms – they are still there but less and less prominent. They seem to impact things that little bit less week by week, month by month.

That’s when you feel like you are recovering more of the ‘old healthier’ you.

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Here are some of my personal ongoing symptoms and the way that I approach managing them. They may not be the same for others, but I share this to help educate other sufferers, their family and friends, and any medical professionals that may be reading this blog. This way, we can all show more understanding and compassion to one another and ourselves.

  • My head can still get very overwhelmed with a lot of things happening at once. It’s the ‘layering’ of things, one on top of another, that causes the biggest issue. Noise especially. My family and I are all natural singers so we love to have music on, and their default can be to sing along (singing can still be more of a challenge for my head). But I really struggle with both the music and others singing simultaneously – especially if there are other noises around too. It becomes a ‘mental overload’ for me, as does trying to think, listen, talk and cook at the same time. I often just can’t ‘compute’ it all as well as I used to. But this is also all improving over time.
  • Multi-tasking is slowly getting a little easier but is still a lot harder than it was before the accident. It’s again a ‘layering’ issue.
  • I can’t rush about, which although frustrating has actually taught me to ‘flow’ through life more calmly, and to be even more organised. I have to keep moving around gently without rushing about. My head and spine can’t take the twists and turns that rushing often brings. Also, moving around and talking a lot at the same time is still very hard. I can focus better if I stay still whilst talking.
  • Speaking for a long time can be hard still, especially if my head is already feeling more hypersensitive, or if I’m walking or moving about at the same time. I can talk for noticeably longer than I used to be able to though, which helps me with relationships in general, as well as with the mentoring and pastoral visits and teaching groups I do with church. I do find once I have talked for a while I often need some ‘quiet time’. My family know to let me be quiet, and I often put my headphones in and go for a walk, or focus on being quiet to still my head.
  • I still spend quite a lot of time being quiet at home doing the housework I can do, looking after my family and cooking. We love having people around for food, or to stay, so we are really enjoying re-discovering this joy of ours. I just have to plan everything well in advance to avoid any last minute stresses. I also love to cook for others who are struggling for any number of reasons (as people did for us when I was at my worst) so I often take food with me on visits to suffering people. I have been able to increase my ‘pastoral visits’ and the church admin that I do from home. I also continue to teach and speak in smaller groups and do a lot of ‘one-to-one’ personal development work with people. I am so very thankful to be able to take on what I can, when I can through our church, and this it fits in with our home life and me keeping on top of that.
  • Bending, lifting and turning my spine and neck still makes my head worse. I usually get a burst of pressure into my head that can take a little while of being calm and quiet to clear. Generally, the straighter I keep my spine the better. However, it does mean that I remain very careful with movement and what I carry. We still have a cleaner (who we employed when I was leaking) who comes for a couple of hours every two weeks to do hoovering, mopping and bathrooms, since this would involve at a lot of bending or lifting for me, and I avoid it where possible.
  • I am still very careful to always go on my knees or crouch instead of bending my back to get things from low down. This action is better for my head and also protects my spine (although it’s not as good for my poor knees. However, the garden kneeler I bought does help a bit with that in the kitchen and outside!!). But I’ve found that it’s just not worth pushing my spine and head. It’s too uncomfortable (sends pressure into my head) AND too much risk for me to see how much I can ‘push’ things safely. There are too many unknowns to take the risk, too many memories of multiple relapses. And treatment and recovery takes such a long time, if I was to relapse again. So I keep movement and general rehabilitation gentle and safe. I want to give my spine the best chance of full and lasting healing.
  • I can carry much heavier things than I used to (with clear self-imposed limits) but I avoid lifting them from low down and I always – by default – tend to carry things against my chest with both arms i.e. one ‘heavier’ shopping bag at a time. This seems to put less strain on my spine and so is better for my head and I guess protects my spine more too.
  • Bending my head to look down (i.e. to read, write or use my phone) is still uncomfortable and can send more of a ‘pressure rush’ into my head. But again, this is improving, and I am aware of it less than I used to be.
  • Sitting down for a while in one position can leave my spine and head full and my body very stiff, possibly linked to my spinal nerves and the pressure changes throughout my spine. So I still have to regularly get up and have a walk about.
  • If I sit down I am still better sitting on a harder surface with a very straight spine. Sitting on the sofa is especially bad for my head. If I’m watching a film or something of length, after about 30-45 mins my head can often feel fuller and cause me to yawn. I can feel very sleepy and my ears start to pop. I often have to get up and move around slowly to ease it a little. I can’t relax back on the sofa or lie down on it either – it’s too uncomfortable for my spine and head.
  • Going to the loo can still affect my head, I have to be very careful not to strain in any way. Even normal slight straining (just going for a wee) can still affect my head, especially first thing in the morning or if I’m trying to clear my bladder last thing at night.
  • When the pressure increases in my head, the tension and pressure in my neck, spine (particularly the bottom of the spine) tangibly increases as well. I feel it as a full pressure-like pain which is uncomfortable, but not unbearable.
  • In the mornings (especially but not exclusively) the feeling of pressure increasing in relation to action or movement can still occasionally make me want to cough, sneeze or even gag. It’s a bit like the sensation of having a ‘head cold’. This is especially true if I end up talking too excitedly OR too frustratedly (normally with difficult children :-)). It can also happen when I am getting ready and using more exertion to put on clothes and things like socks (even though I rest my foot on the end of the bed to avoid bending to do it). But it will normally subside reasonably quickly with some quiet and still time. It has also improved a lot recently.
  • The weather being rainy and stormy can make the above a bit worse (probably due to atmospheric pressure changes), as can having my monthly period.
  • I still have some light and noise sensitivity. Particularly to flashing lights, fast moving images (both of which can still feel overwhelming and make me feel nauseous) and listening to heavier music with a lot of drums and beats.
  • The worst times for my head result from increased stress, rushing or a lot, or talking a lot whilst doing things. I had an occasion a couple of weeks ago when I had to get ready for a church group that meets at our house weekly. Matt was away with work and one of my daughters was being persistently ‘difficult’ and talking frustratedly at me a lot. It completely overwhelmed my head, which quickly filled with pressure, and everything just felt so difficult to do until I could hardly think straight, or concentrate on anything, and simply felt tearful. In these situations I just know that I have to be completely silent to get what I need to done, then try and be as still and silent as I can until people arrive. But sometimes convincing my kids that I cannot deal with talking to them any more when they are already frustrated is the challenge. It took a little while of being very quiet but, by the time people arrived, my head could handle a bit more and I could lead the meeting OK. (Thankfully we began by listening to a recorded group Bible meditation for 10 minutes, so I got to be quiet – which helped settle my ‘full’ head too).
  • Sometimes a lot of talking, stress or attempting to rush can build the pressure and leave me feeling a bit sick and nauseous – like the above occasion did at first.
  • My general biological ‘coping mechanisms’ are still not what they once were. My body and head still cannot physically – and subsequently mentally – cope with and manage stress very well. I was always pretty good at coping with stress and pressured environments before my leak, but now I have to very carefully manage stress and anxiety because of the natural impact it has on ICP. (As I talk more about in my year of recovery update post). As with everything else though, this is thankfully improving slowly but surely.
  • The acute headaches I got post-blood patch whilst lying in bed – especially when I woke (that I mentioned in my year update) have improved a lot in the past two to three months. So I can thankfully generally stay in bed, even if I wake in the middle of the night or early morning, rather than having to get up at crazy hours. But I still often feel uncomfortable and have a milder headache, or my head will especially feel strangely ‘full’ (sometimes it’s still a bit worse and I just have to get up). So I don’t really do ‘lie ins’ and I still NEVER lie down in the daytime. My sleep can fluctuate a bit too, although I tend to have really good times followed by more wakeful times. But that is normal for many people anyway.
  • I am now medication free! About 3 months ago I finished weaning myself fully off the last of my Nortriptyline prescribed for neurological pain. I believe taking it somewhat helped some of the higher pressure symptoms from a couple of months after the last blood patch in September 2017, but more recently I wasn’t sure it was doing much, and I was tired of the constant dry mouth. Coming off it slowly didn’t seem make any significant difference to my symptoms, apart from I no longer have to drink as much in the night or early morning, or chew gum constantly to deal with the dry mouth. Interestingly, though, when my head pressure increases, the dryness in my mouth can return too.
  • My heart finally seems to beat pretty normally again these days. This took a long while to settle from the constant mis-beats and irregularities that a previous ECG confirmed (but were considered annoying but not concerning medically) when I was leaking badly during the summer of 2017. My leak definitely seemed to affect my heart, and then the increasingly poor conditioning probably made the issues worse. Even after successful treatment, this took a long time to gradually get better. All the strange beating patterns made lying down and relaxing harder at first, as they were more prominent when lying down. And this all added to the anxious feelings at the time. So life is more restful not having this problem anymore.
  • I have had to learn to live and ‘flow’ from more of a place of ‘inner peace and rest’. I am learning a whole new, more peaceful and less chaotic and busy ‘way of life’. I have embraced the lessons learnt from this over the past years and vow to maintain a more restful balance in my life moving forward. I want to resist falling back into a more ‘busy or chaotic life’ in the future, even when I can cope with those pressures more. Living from a place of ‘spiritual peace and rest’ is the best way to live long term.
  • I still find long, gentle walking helps my body, head and mind – as well as my connection to God. So I still generally take two approx. 20-50mins walks a day, when I can. I appreciate the surrounding countryside so much more since my years of debilitation. My pace has also picked up a lot in the past year, but I still cannot rush.
  • Filling my mind with positive, calming, spiritual thoughts is so important to enable me to live from a place of increasing peace, rest and love.  I am enjoying using this new peaceful Christian meditation app to help with this (mainly whilst walking or quietly doing housework) www.soultime.com. It’s a great resource to bring more peace, rest, calmness, love and spiritual connection into my day. I also love more peaceful contemporary Christian worship music but generally have to avoid louder heavier music.

So that is a summary of some aspects of my day to day life and the ongoing challenges of recovering from such a life-changing injury.

People often ask me these days …

‘Do you think you will ever get back to feeling ‘normal’ like you did before all this?’

I have learnt to answer honestly…

‘I simply don’t know’.

Perhaps only time will tell!

But my hope and faith rests in God alone and in the fact that I do see so many ongoing improvements all the time. Yes, they are slow, often so very gradual, and sometimes frustratingly subtle in the short term. And yet, as we look back we can see the MASSIVE changes in the past year, and even in what I can do and cope with over the past six, or even the past three, months. That is the hope of continual improvement we hold onto.

When you can keep seeing change it does encourage you to never give up believing for better times ahead.

When I was obviously leaking, we would, at times, also see very slow, gradual improvements. But any improvement would ALWAYS seem to plateau in the end. I would always reach a kind of ‘lid’ that I couldn’t break through. And even if things remained a bit better for a while (especially after treatment) in the end they would always regress or I would fully relapse again weeks or months later due to clear or unclear triggers.

So, seemingly having no ‘lid’ to my ongoing improvement brings us so much encouragement for the future. 

So again I want to share my hope with you all.

It’s a clear hope for the future but mixed with realism about the journey. My journey has been made somewhat easier in that my family never relied on me bringing in an income of my own. Thankfully my husband’s salary covers our family’s living expenses. My ‘church work’ is voluntary – which has actually been beautifully freeing because I can balance it all with the general demands and pressures of family life.

Had I had to try and get back to a demanding career, or had we been reliant on me getting back to earning a wage, we know that it would have made my recovery and our family’s lives unbearably chaotic and perhaps impossible. The reality is, even now I know I couldn’t function working full or even part time in a busy and intense job or career. It’s important that people are aware of this as a potential longer term consequence of living with a spinal fluid leak followed by walking the slow and complex road to recovery.

It is not as simple as ‘being fixed’ then quickly ‘getting your life back’!!

Life may now look very different to what it did before – long term.

And yet, we are all different…

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Our stories and experiences will be different. Each of us has to learn to work it all through as best we can with the lives we currently live. Some people may find that they can give more time and energy to re-discovering a job or career, especially if they don’t have so much responsibility around the home and family, and if they have a very understanding employer that is aware of their limitations and their need for a quieter work environment. It’s a balancing act and will take much wisdom to find creative ways to embrace what you can do, whilst being very aware of the limitations and sometimes unknowable risks of what you can’t.

This all takes a certain level of acceptance in finding true peace about your ongoing limitations.

So my deepest prayer for all of us is this…

That we may all receive more of God’s grace and strength to find the way through the unique storms, and sometimes living nightmares, that this broken world throws at us. Your story might have some parallels with mine – or it might be completely different! However, despite the differences, ALL of our stories are powerful. So please consider who your own story might help – today, or tomorrow.

And please don’t suffer in silence!

Speak up, get the help and support you need, and then maybe you can BE help and support for someone else.

Because you never quite know what a difference your seemingly ‘boring’ tale of suffering and pain might have in the life of another desperate, struggling and often lonely soul. You never know what your REAL tale of living in and rising from the ruins of destruction might mean to someone else who currently feels so trapped and destroyed by their seemingly never-ending struggle.

As I was reminded recently in these profound words;

“Your story is the key that can unlock someone else’s prison.”


Please do comment or ask any questions below. Or alternatively you can email me at beckyhillblog@outlook.com

To read more about my story of living with and recovering from a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.

Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.

For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.

Here is a medical journal publication about rebound intracranial hypertension (rebound high pressure) as a short or long term complication following epidural blood patching – as I seemingly experienced at least after my last three blood patches. 

Please see this new May 2018 medical paper about the 10 most common myths and misperceptions about spinal CSF leaks. It is by some of the top world experts in treating this condition. I was told so many of these myths by various neurologists, anaesthetists, radiologists and many other doctors during my lengthy and traumatic nearly 3 year battle with a spinal CSF leak. This kind of misinformation caused many delays, misunderstandings and great distress on my already immensely long winded and very difficult medical journey.

Rising Again: My Year Of Spinal CSF Leak Recovery

“Time is not really spent. Instead, it is invested in a future we cannot see.” – Alicia Britt Chloe

When I read this quote recently in Alicia’s book ‘Anonymous’ it resonated with my perspective on life. Our time on this earth should not simply be ‘spent’ and should certainly not be ‘wasted’. Instead, all of our time is an investment for a future we cannot yet see – whether it’s intentional ‘learning or doing’, time invested in family and relationships, or facing a set of circumstances which force us to use our time in a new or unforeseen way.

If we can see like this, then we can know that nothing needs to be wasted. Everywhere our life takes us – both the good and bad – is an opportunity to learn, grow and invest into who we are becoming. It’s also an investment into who those we parent, lead and influence are becoming.

All life’s circumstances are opportunities to invest in the future – whether it’s ours, or others around us.

That’s how I’ve had to see the last four years of my life. Most of the first three were spent battling a debilitating spinal CSF leak, and the last has been all about investing in my recovery. Which has again required great patience, raw resilience and immense endurance.

The pathway of recovery, after a long term spinal fluid leak, is often a long, arduous and immensely slow process – even after successful treatment.

The wonderful news is that – a year on from my successful 4th blind lumbar (40ml) epidural blood patch (EBP) – I am doing comparatively well. I have been upright all day every day since mid December 2017 (some days recently that is from 4am – 11pm!! If I happen to wake up early and have to get up due to ‘lying down’ headaches).

I can walk for miles, happily drive locally, get a lot done at home and look after my children (now 11 & 13). I can cook & bake for our family and others, spend quality time with people, go on holiday, and invest increasing time in my life-calling of pastoring and helping hurting people, in and through our local church. This is currently mainly through a lot of one-to-one mentoring and personal development time with others, as well as teaching in small group settings. I also do bits of admin for our church. Thankfully this is all flexible and I can do what I can, when I can, without any added pressures.

I have so very much to be abundantly grateful for. Last year I was acutely unwell and utterly debilitated – initially by the spinal fluid leak, then subsequently by severe post-treatment rebound high pressure symptoms. For four months over the summer of 2017 I had to lie down flat nearly all day, every day, and could only manage an exhausting 10-30mins upright at a time. Then after my EBP I just had a pretty much constant debilitating non-positional headache – amidst many other symptoms (as I talk about in this post) – for months. It is hard to explain how extremely unwell you are with both those conditions, and how confusing it is to work out which is which after treatment.

They are both truly awful to endure!

The road to full healing, even after successful treatment, is not an easy one at all. After a while, you can see that you are making some progress – albeit slow – in moving up the mountainside from the darkness of the valley below. But even the mountain climb of recovery is utterly exhausting in so many ways. It continues to take so much endurance, patience and resilience to scale the never ending rocky slopes.

But I am getting there….

In the light of how ill I was for so long – I am doing exceedingly well! I haven’t been this well since my accident in January 2015. In the light of how healthy and busy I was before my accident – and the onset of the leak – I am still not fully well. But I’m increasingly heading in the right direction.

How ‘well’ I am now is all a matter of perspective. I have to keep focusing on the wonder of how far I have come and the fact that I can easily be upright all day, which is a small miracle to me. So I must embrace all I can do – which is comparatively a lot – and not resent or get frustrated with what I can’t!

The slowness of my recovery can certainly feel frustrating at times – to say the least. Who doesn’t want to get back to full health and be able to embrace more of the life they once knew? And yet I’ve begun to learn and see more of the wisdom that can be found in the slowness. It’s not just my body that needs to heal physically – I (and my whole family) have needed to heal holistically, in so many different areas.

Having lived with a chronic debilitating neurological illness for years, and then experiencing the slow process of holistic recovery, I believe in some ways the whole journey through illness, healing and recovery can be viewed in a similar way to grief. It’s a journey, a passage, we walk through. It’s not something we experience one day, then ‘get over’ it the next. It lives with us as we attempt to move forward with our life. We have to wholeheartedly face, embrace, and walk through what we discover on the journey of sickness and healing – whether traumatic, painful or beautiful. We must give it the time and attention needed to move ‘through’ it, as well as we can, and find more lasting healing in every way.

My mind, emotions, memories, and soul need healing just as much as my physical body. They have needed to find increasing restoration, fresh confidence and new freedom.

You can’t ‘rush’ holistic healing!

It’s a process of working through complex and traumatic memories, emotions and thoughts. Unless you’ve walked the spinal CSF leak road, or a similar long term debilitating illness, you may not understand the trauma involved at every stage. Simply the daily holistic trauma of living with the illness itself is enough. When ‘leaking’, simply being ‘upright’ is often utterly traumatic for our bodies, brains and minds. Then add in the trauma of trying to seek medical help and support for a condition that very few doctors really understand (IF you can get diagnosed and ‘believed’ – that is). And add to that the mental and emotional trauma of being so debilitated and unable to function, anything like normally, in the short and long term. With this combination you can see that there is a lot to work through – as I write about in one of my most widely read posts, Living With a Spinal CSF Leak.

Sometimes it’s not until you start getting well that you actually realise how exceedingly unwell you truly were for so long. This is traumatic in its own way. The fear of going back there again can be overwhelmingly crippling – especially in light of how long recovery takes. This isn’t helped when, like in my own case, multiple major relapses have been your very real past experience. Moving on from the fear of relapsing again is so very difficult. True freedom from this fear can only come slowly, as your confidence builds with the longer you go without getting worse again. These fears can also leave us completely confused and unsure of what we should allow our body to do or not do.

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On a purely physical level, I have also discovered that, after years of leaking spinal fluid from your spine, your whole nervous, and intracranial pressure, system seems to be completely messed up!! Over the months and years of leaking I have become hypersensitive to even the smallest pressure changes in my head and spine. These physical ailments added immensely to the struggle to cope with even small amounts of stress and anxiety whilst leaking and during recovery. This is due to stress and anxiety naturally affecting intracranial pressure anyway, meaning that the physical, mental and emotional become even more intrinsically linked. Even more so because any heightened emotion, especially crying and laughing (or raising your voice in excitement, passion or anger), are brutal on our already hypersensitive heads.

I found the only way to try and deal with all this was by learning to stay as calm, peaceful and quiet as possible. (I already experienced this from leaking – as can be read in this article). This means we have to avoid stressful and anxiety inducing situations when we can – whilst ‘leaking’ and especially in the early months of recovery – which is not easy when we are trying to holistically manage and recover from a debilitating illness, still have to deal with medical professionals and hospitals, and have a family and home to look after (at the very least). It would be even harder if I had had to try and go back to any of a massive spectrum of jobs and careers which do not allow an abundance of time for calm and quiet individual activity. I cannot ‘multi-task’ anything like I used to be able to. Such things are still often way too overwhelming for my current cognitive capacity – although still obviously improving. Even now I also still struggle to ‘rush about’, especially in ‘busy’ or ‘bustling’ environments (even more so if I have to talk to and interact with others as well) so I have to try and maintain more order and calm throughout my life than most people.

Initially, even simply doing more ‘normal’ things again – like going to shops or being in an environment with lots of people – can induce anxiety. As it would for anyone recovering from a long term, previously debilitating, medical (especially a neurological condition). However, this then perpetuates itself because we are already so hypersensitive and thus prone to such things. These environments are already ‘taxing’ on our ‘foggy’ heads because of all the overload of mental stimulation. But having to interact with people and talk a lot can also soon leave our heads even more full of pressure and thus struggling to concentrate and cognitively process what is happening and how we need to respond. So we have to be careful about how much we subject our heads to.

This unfortunately meant I often found myself ‘avoiding people’ at times – especially for the first few months of recovery. This was truly heartbreaking for me because I really do love people and like to talk to them about their lives. But talking, for even short periods of time, would simply make my head worse. Although this has very much improved overtime, my head getting worse from simply talking can still regularly be an issue.

The other key problem with our recovery is that to improve our physical conditioning we have to exercise. But exercise involves exertion, which is another trigger for the higher pressure hypersensitivity. So again it’s a vicious cycle. After the first awful couple of months post-treatment when I still couldn’t walk far at all, I subsequently found that gentle, and initially slow, walking often helped my head more than trying to rest lying down or reclined. Since early December ‘17, I decided to keep my body upright all day and quickly increased the amount I walked up to an average of 3-5 miles a day over 2-4 separate walks. The walks started off very slowly – but my pace slowly increased as my head and spine improved. Long walks – alone – also gave me, and still give me, the much needed space to calm and relax my body and mind, as well as improve any anxiety and my general conditioning. Walking is also very liberating after the many months over the past few years I couldn’t really leave the house.

I did discover that walking was much easier on my head if I walked quietly (or normally listening to something uplifting, inspiring and calming on my smartphone) on my own. Due to the increased breath use – walking and talking at the same time are more of a challenge. I can walk much further more easily on my own than with others. Similarly, I can also get more done at home when I am not required to talk at the same time. Moving about a lot and talking (especially more loudly) can be a bad combination for my head. Although this slowly gets better over time.

Rising Again copy

Other ongoing physical symptoms include varying head pressure often felt mostly in the lower forehead and especially around and behind the eyes when worse. (When particularly bad it can feel like your eyes might burst out of your head). But I can also feel pressure in the occipital region (bottom of skull/ top of spine) and down the spine (especially in the lower lumbar spine). But it’s a slightly different sensation to ‘low pressure’ (leaking) occipital/ neck ‘pulling’ headache. Although harder to differentiate in the early days of recovery.

The main difference that slowly becomes clearer (after much initial confusion) with this ‘higher pressure’ type of pain is – rather than increasingly getting worse throughout the day (or even over a short period of time being upright) – like it did when obviously leaking, it tends to instead come and go at various points in the day according to what is setting off the ‘hypersensitivity’ at that time. Even now, it can still get worse until my head feels full, my ears crackle and pop and sometimes it makes me yawn a lot and feel rather sleepy – especially due to the pressure behind and around the eyes. It can also make me feel slightly shaky, rather detached from the real world, my vision can get slightly blurry, my cognitive processing gets a bit more sluggish, I can occasionally feel a bit nauseous (in the early weeks after my EBP it could often make me physically gag) and my heart can beat noticeably faster. Hence adding to an ‘anxious’ feeling. But this normally gets better again if I spend some time staying upright but being quiet, calm, keeping my spine straighter and move about more gently and slowly. If it gets too bad – often a quiet walk or sitting quietly for a bit helps.

The other main difference to ‘low pressure headaches’ is that it doesn’t get better lying down – although lying down may still rest your body somewhat – hence the confusion. I never lie down in the day anymore because it tends to make my head worse. However, all of these kind of reactions mentioned above are slowly getting less acute or intense and much more manageable as recovery improves.

Waking up in the mornings can also still be problematic at times because of the lying down. I still often (most days) have increasing headaches around and behind my eyes and in my lower forehead, and can sometimes feel slightly nauseous soon after I wake up (this is especially prominent if I try and stay in bed too long once awake). Unlike when ‘leaking’ – I subsequently find that I must get up once I have been awake a little while – whatever time it is. I am known to get up anytime from between 3:30am-8:30am depending on the day and when I happen to wake up (unless the 6:30am alarm on school days wakes me first). Once I do get up the main headache goes away quite quickly these days – although my head and spine can remain feeling strangely ‘full’ but without obvious pain. (In the initial weeks after my blood patch, the headache wouldn’t always ease much getting up – at least at first. I think the exertion of getting up and interacting/ talking with my family would complicate it and I could often feel very unwell and often feel sick and gag from trying to ‘do things’. So then I would then try and lie down again to be still and quiet – but would end up still feeling very ill and then simply continue to physically gag from the nausea and increasing pain from lying down (which simply adds to the exertion headache – perpetuating everything). It’s tormentingly confusing and very hard to get relief in any position in the early days of recovery. Medication (initally acatezolomide, then after 2 months a switch to nortriptyline, in my case) can help some of the underlying problem or pain. But not necessarily the hypersensitive reactions to changes in intracranial pressure. Which is why it is so utterly confusing and brutal on your mental health – which adds to the anxiety we are already prone to – as I write about here in my 6 month post patch update).

Bending my neck down to read, whilst walking or to look at things (like my smartphone), or bending my spine to do things – tends to also obviously increase the pressure in my head and make my ears feel full and pop. As does carrying moderately heavy things. So I am still super careful and gentle with movements involving my spine. I just can’t be sure that it’s OK to lift and bend much still, so I still self-impose many post-EBP style restrictions and tend to always kneel first to pick things up off the floor, unload the dishwasher or put washing in, or take it out, of the machine. Over time I have gently allowed my spine to bend and lift a bit more – but only very carefully and cautiously.

During my years of leaking and my experiences of rebound high pressure (post treatment) I always found sitting down would tend to increase the pressure in my head/ spine or increase my leak symptoms when leaking. So I used to stand a lot more when upright. This has improved so much and I can sit for longer and longer, but it is often still harder for me to sit (relaxed) for longer periods of time (the sofa can be the worst place due to the softness of the seat). I actually find I am better sitting with my back very straight and legs bent directly in front, with the soles of my feet touching the floor. Slouching, leaning back too far or putting my feet up is no good, at all, for my head or spine.

I know the sitting issues have also been aggravated too by the general ongoing tension up my spine. I personally hypothesise that much of this is probably down to the higher pressure/ higher volume of spinal fluid pushing against my nerve roots. But it’s obviously also linked to the years of pain and physical tension in my head and spine and also the lack of natural movement. It’s hard to know how to combat this much whilst still restricting movement. It improves little by little and lots of walking and the general rehabilitation of doing things around the house and going shopping (limiting how much is carried) etc helps it a lot, thankfully. But I have found that this can’t really be overcome by trying to ‘force it better’. Gentle movement and gentle lifting, whilst remaining very patient with regards to ongoing ‘pressure issues’ is so important. I just have to listen to my body and head. Trying to ‘push myself’ and rush this process of less pain and tension in my head and down my spine can just lead to relapse and in hindsight has probably contributed to my own before.

(In hindsight, I now think that I experienced rebound high pressure symptoms at least after my second (11 months post leak onset) and third blood patches (15 months in – when I was also treated with acetazolomide) but I always got worse again many weeks to months later. I do not know if I was also still leaking a bit too after any of my patches (apart from a bit after the first perhaps) or what exactly brought on the consistent obvious major relapses. (Apart from when I fell over again badly in May 2017). I always got much better after blind lumbar high volume EBP and could spend much more time upright – often all day – over the following weeks and months – but was never symptom free. But it’s all FAR too confusing to say for sure and the confusion only gets harder the longer you have been leaking. Medical professionals in the UK normally do not understand these medical conditions enough to support you well eitherWhich makes living through it immensely hard and another challenging battle to fight, whilst you are utterly exhausted and acutely hypersensitive to stress and anxiety anyway. This all contributed to a major crisis in my own mental health (see Breaking Through the Darkness), including acute suicidal ideation, 2 months after my second EBP. This almost reoccurred again 2 months after the 4th patch that sealed me, as I try to describe in my 6 month post patch update). 

Rising Again quote copy

However, regardless of all the immense and overwhelming challenges of living with a ‘leak’ for so long and now enduring the slow recovery process…

There is still so much from the past few years to treasure!

So it’s that which I want to focus on to finish…

Beauty can become even more beautiful once you have tasted of deep pain and debilitation – a theme that I wrote about in ‘Suffering into a Deeper Spiritual Awakening’. I have certainly learnt more about what truly matters in life. I see and notice beauty even more clearly around me – throughout creation and in other people. My heart is so much more tender and compassionate. I truly FEEL others pain much more deeply than I used to. My understanding of other people’s struggles is so much more profound.

If I could go back and had the choice to have or not have the leak – of course in so many ways I wish we had never had to walk through such an awfully traumatic and exhausting season in life.

And yet…

I would never want give up the beautiful lessons learnt or the wonderful people met. I could not deny the privilege of experiencing the depth of the valley of darkness – whilst actually being able to rise and recover again, as I hopefully increasingly move up towards more heights of better health. It has changed and increased the capacity of my heart in ways that I cannot even begin to fully explain. It has stretched my limited perspective and expanded my horizons. It has changed how I see and relate to others and deepened my love – for God and all people.

So with hindsight would I choose to personally go through such a desolate season of pain and suffering – because of what can be learnt and gained?

If I could have known, in advance, what the never-ending, deeply dark, valley entailed, I could not have chosen that road for myself or my family. Nor would I choose for anyone else to go through it either. Which is why I continue to raise awareness about the realities of living with the condition. In the hope that others will not have to suffer as deeply and as long as I have.

But… I would choose the new heights of beauty discovered in and from the depths of pain. Because they have transformed me for the better. They have brought holistic growth and resilience in ways I could never have achieved without going through such a raw deep struggle. I have also been able to connect and help others going through the same hell that I had to.

I have honestly been utterly shattered and broken by the past few years – in so many different ways.

And yet…

To be ‘broken and shattered’ is not always a bad thing long term. It strips you back, shows you what is truly important and gives you a new perspective on life and love. We can then hopefully one day, perhaps one day, become even more stable, loving, humble, understanding and holistically healthy people in the end. Until we can truly see that the years of pain become an investment for a better future – all round – that we previously could not see.

So for all those still suffering immensely with these awful conditions. I honestly feel the depths of your never-ending pain with you – but please take heart! And do not give up hope! Last year I wasn’t sure I could or would ever be well. I wasn’t sure that I had the strength left to make it through another day of fighting on so many different levels. I had again reached the absolute end of myself. But my journey shows that we really do not know what tomorrow might bring. That is why I have wanted to tell you my own story. In the hope that we will keep holding on and hoping for a better future – we cannot yet see – together.

“Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.” – Richard M. Nixon

IMG_1644
Our family on a beautiful and very blessed holiday (fully upright!!!) in Weymouth, UK, July 2018! (Which we had to cancel in 2017 due to a complete relapse of my chronic spinal CSF Leak). Our children Aimee and Beth were 7 & 10 when this nightmare began and our lives completely changed, they are now 11 & 13.


Please do comment or ask any questions below. Or alternatively you can email me at beckyhillblog@outlook.com

To read more about my story of living with and recovering from a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.

Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.

For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.

Here is a medical journal publication about rebound intracranial hypertension (rebound high pressure) as a complication of epidural blood patching. 

Please see this new May 2018 medical paper about the 10 most common myths and misperceptions about spinal CSF leaks. It is by some of the top world experts in treating this condition. I was told so many of these myths by various neurologists, anaesthetists, radiologists and many other doctors during my lengthy and traumatic nearly 3 year battle with a spinal CSF leak. This kind of misinformation caused many delays, misunderstandings and great distress on my already immensely long winded and difficult medical journey.

Finding A Way Through: My Spinal CSF Leak Recovery 

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.– Confucius

It’s been a while since I have written here. The last six months have been a season of deep trial and anguish, whilst simultaneously becoming a season of great joy. My ongoing health battles have been truly exhausting and yet…

I am currently seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

And today, I have rediscovered my voice to share my story. 

Following just about holding on through the immense challenges of the the last three years – since I fell off that ladder in January 2015 – I can now pretty confidently say that it seems that I am currently in recovery from my CSF leak. We are hoping that this timefollowing epidural blood patch number four last September – that I can make a full recovery.

At the moment it looks like we are heading that way. And yet my three year journey has been full of a cycle of injury, treatment, recovery and relapse. So it has been intensely difficult to definitely say to the world – “this is IT!”

Although that is of course the hope and dream.

Following my long summer of 2017 spent almost totally flat in bed (or on my beautiful garden bed outside) I had a CT Myelogram scan mid September to try and locate my spinal CSF leak. Traumatically, the scan caused me to have an epileptic seizure and yet failed to evidence my leak. Such is the challenge of looking for these elusive leaks – 50% of which are never actually found. I was subsequently then left even worse off than I had been – hardly able to walk or be upright for more than a few minutes at a time. So I stayed in hospital and a week later I had a 40ml lumbar epidural blood patch (after the first one was aborted due to the needle going too far). Two days later it appeared that my headaches had shifted from low to intense rebound high-pressure headaches and I was finally discharged with the diuretic acetazolomide to help these new headaches.

High pressure headaches point to the fact the blood patch has probably worked – however the journey of trying to discern what is high or low pressure is not for the faint of heart.

In fact – over the next few weeks – it again almost completely floored me.

branches de petales

Over the following couple of months I was extremely unwell, even though I could be upright much more. This took its toll on my mental health as I struggled to work out what on earth was going on in my crazy body. One day I was sure it was rebound high pressure symptoms and the blood patch had worked – the next I was convinced it was still low pressure and that the treatment hadn’t worked. Day by day, week by week, the confusion and debilitation of severe neurological symptoms and pain – both upright and lying flat – and an inability to rest and sleep properly – took its toll on my mental health. Until I realised – if nothing changed quickly – that I was heading towards a second complete mental breakdown.  (Like the one I had had a couple of months after my second epidural blood patch in November 2015).

When suicidal thoughts began to again abound – as I again convinced myself that I was probably still leaking and would maybe never get well – I knew I had to take radical steps to calm my terrifyingly restless and anxious thoughts and again find a way through the anxiety and confusion.

“A person who worries still thinks in some way that he can solve his own problem. Worry is the mind racing around trying to find a solution to its situation” – Joyce Meyer

The darkness of hopelessness and despair began to wash over me like a flood – mixed with the sheer exhaustion of three years of fighting and partially recovering and then relapsing again and againand I was slowly beginning to feel like I was drowning again mentally and emotionally.

My legs were madly trying to tread water to keep my head above the waters – but some moments of some days I felt far too worn out to keep battling to stay afloat.

But what choice did I really have – right?!

There is no choicebecause the only other choice is the unthinkable… and yet in the darkness you DO think the unthinkable. In the silence of pain and debilitation – your mind can end up in a scary place.

You just need it all to go away…you just need the pain and struggle to end…

You even sometimes naively wish what you had was terminal – because at least then there would be an end.

There needs to be an end.
There has to be an end.

How do you keep going, when you don’t know how long you have to endure? It’s the not knowing that feeds the anxiety, it’s the fears of getting worse that drain your depleted energy… and yet there is no escape.

You just need an escape…

But then you become consumed with guilt and shame for being so selfish to not only think – but at times dwell on such horrible things. Because if I love my family then I have to endure – because love never gives up! Right!? Unconditional love endures till the end.

…And yet how do you keep on going when you are utterly exhausted and at the end of yourself.

It’s a vicious cycle.

I even shouted at God on a few occasions to make it all stop because I couldn’t take any more of it. I told Him I wasn’t strong enough to keep on fighting. I was utterly worn out in every way – I pleaded with Him for no more pain, no more medical battles, no more clear scans, no more chaos in our life, no more crazy debilitating symptoms!

Shame was pulling me back down into its dark clutches. In my mind shame taunted me with the fact I was too weak, the fact I couldn’t cope, the fact I was chronically ill and couldn’t get well, the fact I had seizured after the CT Myelogram – so thought no one would do any more scans like that now to try and find the leak. The fact that I thought soon enough Doctors would give up on my difficult case.

I heard a voice within me screaming; ‘You can’t do this! You might as well give up! You will never get well – your worthless life will be full of this kind of pain for good. It won’t get better. It will only again get worse. Relapse is inevitable – and you will only go and muck up any healing again anyway!!

I HAD to still those relentless voices.
I HAD to rediscover the voice of hope.
I HAD to somehow find a way to discipline my restless mind.
I HAD to trust God for the strength to somehow make it through.

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh

I had to find the voice of faith, unconditional love and abundant grace.

That still small voice that is always whispering to my heart telling me: You CAN do this and I AM is here helping you through.

I couldn’t do it alone. I needed Him to walk me through. I needed Him to talk me through.

I needed His voice.
I needed to draw closer to His heart to hear His whispers.
His words became my breath of life.
His truths lit up the path ahead.

Moment by moment
Day by day
I somehow made it through…

Even when it seemed impossible.

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord GOD is the eternal Rock.” -‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭26:3-4‬ ‬. The Bible.

Things began to settle down a bit a couple of months or so after my fourth blood patch and I began to discover that I could be upright more and walk further – little by little, week by week.

But I knew I had to protect any progress.
I needed to focus my mind and fix it on more hopeful things.
I knew I must use my thoughts to meditate on more calming concepts.

I had to shut down the multitude of voices that surrounded me and work on listening to the one I most needed. The voice that whispered, ‘be still’ in the midst of the raging storm. The only voice that had the power to break through the deep darkness that enveloped me, with the light of true abundant life. The voice singing songs of love over me – as He navigated my broken vessel through the raging seas.

And,
…step by step…
…hour by hour…
….day by day…
…week by week…

I am finding my way into more and more peaceful waters.

Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – calmer times have come.

branches de petales

I am not yet ‘back to normal’back to where I was before I fell that day in January 2015. And yet, I can be upright ALL day long without needing to lie down. Week by week I am growing in confidence in what I can do. Month by month my strength is building and my body is in less pain and is more fully relaxing.

I still have issues in my head. My Neurology Consultant and I agree that it seems to be a ‘hypersensitivity to higher pressure’ – so I still need a lot of calm and quiet in my days. I cannot rush about like I used to. Stress, raising my voice, singing, talking too much, bending, lifting, going to the looand similar things – all increase the pressure in my head.

But it is improving … slowly … and it is gradually heading in the right direction.

So that I can hope, believe and dream again – that one day I will be fully free from this horrendously debilitating condition. Free from the monster that has plagued the last three years of my life and attempted to rob far too much from our family. I still have to fight the fears of relapse – because that has been my very real experience so very many times.

But I HAVE learnt so much on this crazy recovery story – and those around me have learnt so much too.

Doctors are learning how better to treat this condition – because I chose to open up my life and to keep them informed. Patients are learning how to find a way through – because I chose to speak up, challenge misguided opinions about the condition and reach out amidst my pain. Christians are finding a way to endure seasons of great suffering – because by His grace I have somehow managed to wrestle through.

And one day – one fine and beautiful day to come I hope that I can fully enjoy and embrace the wonder of hindsight. That in a time hopefully coming soon – I can stand on the mountain top and tell the world that I managed to just about endure and somehow made it through the pain. I have always known that that will be a glorious season – where I will shout, sing and share the tales of complete restoration and stunning redemption from the intense struggle. Where I can testify to how God brought our family all the way through.

But in the meantime…

….whilst things are still a little hazy and complete recovery is a dream not yet fully attained… I want to tell you of my gratitude. For life, love and breath in my lungs. For my amazing husband, my enduring children, my loving family, dear friends and wonderfully supportive church. I want to tell you about all the wonderful doctors and nurses that have helped me through – even when their understanding was so limited. I want to speak of my gratitude that I can currently be upright ALL day, that I can walk for miles whilst listening to music or inspiring words. That I can drive locally, go to the shops, visit friends, eat in a cafe and sit up in church.

I need to tell you that when you have tasted of utter debilitation, that being able to DO things again is a wonder to behold.

However, most of all I need to tell you about the fundamental thing that has brought me through.

He is known as Jehovahthe stunning three in one God – who so very many people don’t yet know. He is my light in the darkness. He is unconditional love in the midst of trial and sorrow. He is my undeserved grace when I completely fall apart and shout at Him in anger and despair. He is my comforter when I am distressed. He is the still small voice that sustains me. He is peace to my anxious thoughts. My fountain of life. My inner calm.

He is the way, the truth and the life.

branches de petales

But most of all I need to tell you that in and through His stunning grace – He carried me – on the days I never thought I would make it through. Sometimes through my husband, children, family and friends. Sometimes through a song or inspiring words that someone chose to share. Sometimes through the prayer offered up by someone who saw our pain. Sometimes through a whisper on the wind picked up when my heart and mind were finally still.

So I will ALWAYS hold fast to Him and listen to His songs of love – until that day comes when this beautiful scripture becomes my physical – as well as – my spiritual reality.

“My beloved spoke and said to me, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come…”  – Song of Songs 2:10-12. The Bible.

My dream is that one day I will sing again – with all the breath in my lungs – without it hurting my head.

And on that day I will sing a new song of never ending love from my soul, to the ONE who carries us through our deepest, darkest pain.

2017-10-28 19.35.47


To read more about my story of living with a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.

Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.

For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.

Here is a medical journal publication about rebound intracranial hypertension (rebound high pressure) as a complication of epidural blood patching. 

Please see this new May 2018 medical paper about the 10 most common myths and misperceptions about spinal CSF leaks. It is by some of the top world experts in treating this condition. I was told so many of these myths by various neurologists, anaesthetists, radiologists and many other doctors during my lengthy and traumatic nearly 3 year battle with a spinal CSF leak. This kind of misinformation caused many delays, misunderstanding and great distress on my already immensely long winded and difficult medical journey.

Living With a Spinal CSF Leak.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” – Maya Angelou

I started this blog at the start of January 2015. For a while I had wanted to write. But in all honesty I was scared.

“What if I write and nobody wants to read it?”

I soon learnt that writing isn’t just dependent on others reading it. It’s a great form of self expression in its own right. It’s the attempt the find the right words to tell our own stories about our lives.

One of the first momentous, yet deeply personal stories that I shared was the first anniversary of my Mums death in a post called ‘A Journey Through Grief and What I Have Learnt.’ I had felt that in telling my own unique story, people might just connect and maybe they could relate as they struggled through their own story of grief.

Little did I know that the same week I started this blog and wrote the above piece, would be another life altering week for me.

That was the week that I sustained a brain/ spinal injury I am still battling now –

21 months later.

That day I was painting and needed to reach high up near the ceiling. So I used a relatively small step ladder to stand on, but it was resting in a place that wasn’t completely stable. I had already used it that way for hours and felt confident it was ‘stable enough.’

But my confidence was misplaced.

I took a seemingly small risk, the type that we all take everyday. But on this particular day my risk taking didn’t pay off. It was that day I had an accident. It was that moment where it felt like so much went wrong.

I have been living with the consequences of that decision ever since.

In one horrible moment the whole ladder had toppled over and took my feet from under me with it. I fell onto my back and hit the back of my head….

But,
It’s OK!
I am fine!
A bit dazed!
A bit bruised!
No real damage done!

Or so I thought!!

So I finished that painting. Exhausted & aching all over, but obviously to be expected after painting all day and having a few bruises from the fall. But within 48 hours it became obvious,

I WAS DEFINITELY NOT OK!!!

Two days later I was diagnosed with a concussion.

“You should be better by next week.” they told me.  But I wasn’t….It got WORSE!!
So we went down to A&E.

“I am sorry Mrs Hill you have Post Concussion Syndrome. You are looking at about an 8 week recovery time.” they said.

No surely, not me.
Give it four weeks.
It can’t be that bad.
That is such a long time!!! (I confidently, yet naively thought!)
I’m sure I can bounce back like any other time I have been ill for a few days.

Eight weeks later of being pretty much bed bound, in a dark and quiet room, and things still getting worse.

We head down to A&E for the third time since my fall.

I was finally admitted that time because I was so unwell, in severe pain and vomiting after being given morphine which didn’t touch the pain, only made me feel even more ill. I was finally seen by a Neurologist the next day and she moved me to their ward to look for evidence to support their initial diagnosis of low pressure headaches caused by a spinal CSF leak.

I am not going to list all my symptoms because I have done that all before. But what I will say here is that I am so very, very grateful to a handful of people who in the midst of their own pain and struggles decided to help others like me.

I have to tell you about the wonderful team at www.csfleak.info who helped me to understand more about my injury and helped me to realise that the fact I ONLY ever felt remotely well LYING FLAT IN BED for those two months, was not due to post-concussion syndrome after all,

It was probably due to a  SPINAL CSF (Cerebrospinal Fluid) LEAK!

This meant that somehow the accident had caused a small tear in the membrane in the centre of my spine (the dura) that holds in your spinal fluid. This means that my spinal fluid leaks out and is absorbed my body.

So when I am upright sitting or standing, due to gravity, my brain drops in my skull, because it lacks enough fluid to hold it in place.

Twenty One months after my fall.

I am still not better!

I have had some ups and downs along the way. Bad months in 2015 of being almost fully bed-bound. And other months after epidural blood patches (I have had 3) of being mostly upright.

But since that fall I have never had one single day of being…

Fully
Symptom
Free.

Such is the journey to full healing with this unusual and often under-diagnosed condition. Many people do get diagnosed, receive treatment, get well quickly, and never look back.

But many others face constant battles, discouragements, set backs and difficulties throughout their journey of being diagnosed and treated. Often a lack of knowledge by the medical profession makes getting fully better hard for many.

stone wallRecently, I have become so acutely aware how little many doctors, and the general public, know about spinal CSF leaks. I have heard so many stories of people struggling to get a diagnosis and, even when they do, facing many barriers to treatment.

There are many hospitals that really don’t know what to do with ‘these rare patients’ and this often makes delays in treatment an unfortunate reality for many.

I am so grateful for an amazingly supportive and well informed group of CSF leak sufferers who form an online community through the ingenious invention of Facebook groups. Many of us cannot imagine how we would have faced this journey without one another and I honestly think that some people in those UK and US based groups would not be alive today without that wonderful resource. Despair and suicidal thoughts are very prevalent within this group of patients.

Having someone tell you “I get it” whilst you both spend yet another day staring at the ceiling, flat in bed, can mean everything to someone really struggling. Even when that other person is half way across the country or even the world.

We face the daily struggles together!

It can be a lonely and difficult road battling a chronic illness. That road sometimes feels impossible when you slowly begin to realise how little knowledge a lot of doctors have about your condition.

I recently watched a very moving video, that is on the wonderful US spinal CSF leaks charity website. www.spinalcsfleak.org/resources/patient-stories/ About a lady who got a spinal fluid leak from a very badly placed epidural for the birth of her second child. She got two dural tears from the needle which caused spinal fluid to leak from her spine.

It took her 2 1/2 years to recover (she had a new born and 4 year old at that time) and she had to have 11 epidural blood patches (where they inject your own blood into the epidural space in your spine) and two surgeries to get better.

But what struck me the most was that even though everyone knew the area of her spine the leak would have been in (which is half the battle with traumatic (or spontaneous) leaks like mine) time and time again doctors refused to listen and often implied that there is no way she could be leaking CSF, and perhaps it was instead, ‘all in her head’ or something she would ‘just have to live with’.

I cried so much watching it because myself and many other leakers have faced similar battles to hers.

I find it heart breaking when people are suffering and needing help and support. And yet due to a lack of knowledge and understanding by the medical profession AND the general public, people are often told things like;

‘We have got nothing left to offer you,’
‘Try your best to get on with your life’
‘Perhaps you should try and get out more.’

Which is just a slap in the face when you are literally stuck lying flat in bed!

And yet, it doesn’t need to be that way!

There has been so much research done about spinal CSF leaks already. There IS knowledge out there. There are specialists who are leading the way, publishing medical papers and providing hope that many people CAN fully recover and perhaps don’t have to just learn to live with it after all.

Peoples minds need to be opened.

Medical professionals need to know that there is more information out there than they might realise. That there are a whole range of diverse symptoms. That people can still be leaking and debilitated, yet still function (well sort of) upright most of day. That there are many different kinds of treatments available and things that can be done to help.

  • Recently I have been thinking; how I can spread awareness?
  • How can I do my bit to help make the way clearer for those patients coming after me?
  • What skills can I offer the cause that might make a difference for both me and others?

One thing I have chosen to do is write. I can use my words to draw attention to this condition. I can tell my story in the hope it eventually reaches the people who need to hear it.

“Well, everybody’s got a story to tell and everybody’s got a wound to be healed.” Plumb

So today that’s what I want to do. I want to welcome you in to my world. I want to share with you a snap shot of what it is like living with a chronic CSF leak. So that you might have some more understanding yourself.

These days I am so very thankful that I get more hours upright than I used to. It really does make it that much easier to deal with. It helps me to feel more a part of the world around me and connect better with my kids. But it is still very very hard and debilitating to live like this.

stone wallHere is a typical start to my day….

I got up about 7:30am this morning. Lying in bed in the mornings I can actually feel pretty normal. But that feeling never lasts for long!

I get up, shower, get dressed and have breakfast, including a cup of tea and 2 pro plus caffeine tablets (because I can’t stand coffee!!)  – which can help to give me a bit more up time (although I often find it can be an artificial type boost feeling). During this time I already feel the neck stiffness and occipital (bottom back of the head) pain beginning to build up, but it’s manageable and relatively mild.

I drive part way and then walk my youngest to school. Chat to the other parents/ carers, go back to the car. Then this morning I decided I would pop to the shops.

My head is getting worse bit by bit, the pressure is building, the pain in my neck/ occipital region is increasing and my head is beginning to feel more full and a little cloudy.

I go into the supermarket – only to get a few things so it’s not too heavy. I don’t use trolleys, I don’t use a basket. I don’t take a handbag – only my purse – so that I can get as many things as possible and carry them without making my symptoms much worse.

So depending on what I have that might be 4-8 lightish items that I can hold in my hands/ arms without dropping them. If I do drop one of them (like the other day), I have to leave it or ask a shop keeper to pick it up for me. (Because bending down might make my leak, and will certainly make my symptoms, worse. At home I use a grabbing stick like the one below).

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The nausea is setting in.

I pay for them on the self service check-out which is at an awkward angle so you have to bend a little to put them on the counter once scanned.

This increases my symptoms.

I bag them up and pay and by this point – just carrying the weight of those few things is making the nausea worse, so I start gagging in the lift to the car park, feeling like I want to vomit (although I don’t think I am ever fully sick).

Thankfully there is no one else in the lift with me!

I drive the short distance home – put the things away. Talk to my husband while he’s making a cup of tea (he is working from home today). During our conversation my head and neck is getting worse (I feel like someone has whacked me round the back of my head with a baseball bat!!) and I start gagging again uncontrollably – but thankfully I don’t actually vomit.

So my husband says, “you’d better go and lie down.”

I walk up the stairs and can feel my legs beginning to get very weak, I have to think about the steps I am taking, willing my legs to keep moving. The cloud in my head thickens. That feeling of not being able to cope with the intensity in my head floods over me! 

It’s 9:30am – I have been up two hours and can no longer function upright!!

I am now lying down flat in bed – feeling a lot better and writing this. I will stay here for probably an hour or two before getting up again to do some more jobs at home for maybe half an hour to an hour before the same thing happens and I have to lie down flat again.

That’s how it goes throughout the day every day although later on in the day the up times are often less and the down times can get longer.

If you saw me at the school at 8:30am, even though I had symptoms, you would think I looked fine, chatting to people (which is great because some days I don’t get to see many people).

So this is me on a good day – last year during my worst times the above would all happen with my symptoms within about 10mins of being upright.

I couldn’t even have a shower.

I would have a shallow bath once a week which I would have to lie completely flat in. As soon as I got out I would have lie on the bed with a towel round me, with my wet hair on a towel. It would take at least 1/2 hour to 1 hour before I might manage to be upright enough to put some clothes on and dry my hair a bit with the hairdryer. Or often my husband would help try and dry it whilst I lay flat.

When I was in hospital, a year ago, waiting and battling for more treatment (a second epidural blood patch) – I was in a bad way. I would spend all day lying in a head tilted down bed to alleviate symptoms and keep my brain in the place it should be. I could only manage about 5-10 mins upright at a time which makes things very hard.

We were facing lots of barriers and delays at that time (which I write about here), because the anaesthetists didn’t want to blood patch me a second time (after 5 much better months following the first) they instead wanted me to try an occipital nerve block done by the pain management team. (I did have the nerve block, it didn’t work at all, but it did leave my head, neck and hair covered in the sterile cleaning stuff.) Following that it took me two whole days to find the strength to get my husband to take me into the shower in the hospital bathroom so that he could help me wash all the chemicals from my hair and neck and help me get changed. He then dried it with a hair dryer whilst I lay flat again. (That would pretty much do me in for the whole day!!)

It’s an utterly debilitating condition. It’s not good for anyone’s physical and mental health to have to lie flat in bed all day. And yet some people are left that way, long term, because doctors don’t know what to do with them. They don’t understand how to treat them.

They do not seem to realise how impossible it is to live like that!

People are just not aware that many spinal CSF leak patients end up feeling suicidal (as I did at Christmas and write about here) because of the physical and psychological toll of the condition. Which is often exacerbated by the battles to find doctors who understand the condition, show compassion and actually do their best to help you.

There can still be an ‘old school’ mentality at large in the medical profession, even following correct diagnosis, of trying one epidural blood patch (and sometimes not even one) but if it fails to fully get you well, then they recommend that they should just try to help you manage the pain.

‘Manage the pain?’

I don’t have a sore leg, or a mild headache that goes away with some pills or a even a worse headache and stiff neck that is solved through a nerve block.

My brain drops in my skull when I am upright, wreaking all sorts of havoc in my head and body until I literally can’t physically or mentally cope. You can’t just ‘manage’ that kind of pain. And actually I wouldn’t always describe it as ‘pain’ it doesn’t do it justice. It is an intensity that can actually only be described as a sensation that is ‘beyond pain.’

(And just to add here that no painkiller I have had (Including IV morphine) has ever touched it)!

IT’S REAL!
IT’S HORRIBLE!
IT’S DEBILITATING!
BUT – IT IS TREATABLE!

Things ARE changing, patients are speaking out and coming together as a force to challenge conventional thinking about CSF leaks. And thankfully, little by little there are more wonderful doctors who are meeting enough well informed leak patients to see how great their suffering is and are slowly beginning to offer them new opportunities for diagnosis and treatment.

When someone with a leak meets a doctor who understands, or at least tries to understand, it’s truly a beautiful thing. It honestly means so very much to us.

Those doctors will never be forgotten.

We don’t expect miracle workers. We know we may not be easily fixable. But to meet someone with a willingness to try, an ear to listen, a humility to learn and a compassionate heart can make all the difference to someone on such a difficult road.

stone wall

In February this year (2016) a video was posted on You Tube that is doing so much to help change people’s minds and hearts about spinal CSF leaks. In the video Professor Ian Carroll from Stanford University Hospital in the U.S. gives a passionate lecture in which he is trying to enlist the help of doctors and medical professionals to help find and treat those suffering from spinal CSF leaks.

Through this video Dr Carroll has become our spokesperson, bravely, boldly & passionately challenging conventional thinking in the medical profession at large. And joining others in the quest to change current practice and stop people suffering unnecessarily from a mainly treatable condition.

I know for me, and many other longer term suffers, Dr Carroll’s video on YouTube is a breath of fresh air that reminds us that we are not going completely mad. So many patients have taken great hope through the impact it, and other recent information, is slowly having on awareness, diagnosis & treatment of spinal CSF leaks.

I am so very grateful for this wonderful resource from a doctor who is wanting to reach both doctors AND patients. I have gratefully been able to share this resource with some of the many doctors who have cared for me over the last 21 months. Some who have gone to great lengths to understand the condition more and do their best to support and treat me.

It is always a special moment when you meet a doctor who does watch the video or reads though the websites. People’s hearts and minds CAN be changed and it is wonderful when you see that happening.

Change does not often happen instantly. We are not all going to wake up tomorrow in a world where every person with a spinal fluid leak is going to get properly diagnosed, treated and fully recover. These conditions are complex and it takes time for understanding, research and practice to filter through.

But we can all play our part!

So today I want to ask sufferers and their families to think about;

  • How could you speak up and tell your story?
  • How can you be part of raising awareness too?

We might not all be able to write blogs, create websites, volunteer for the charities, fund raise or spread the word on the street. But perhaps we could post on social media, share a link, wear a t-shirt, or tell something of our own story.

Or perhaps you could respectfully share with a medical professional a medical paper on leaks, tell them about the UK and US CSF leak charity websites, or send them a link to Dr Carroll’s video.

You never know, they might just take a look especially if you approach it well.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”  – Mother Teresa

Change will only come;
little by little,
step by step,
patient by patient,
doctor by doctor,
hospital by hospital.

By individuals and groups choosing to raise awareness and helping to challenge and transform conventional perspectives and opinions.

Perhaps we can all work together to enable patient and doctor to compassionately help one another to understand this debilitating yet treatable condition. So that even if we have had a tough and difficult journey ourselves, we can seek to build bridges with others that can open lines of communication. That might just change people’s hearts and minds for the future.

That way, we are building a legacy for the future. We are making the road that bit clearer for those following behind.

Mindful of the fact that they may never fully know the difficulty, struggles, sacrifices and battles of those who went before.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson


For more posts about my story of living with a spinal CSF Leak please look at the subject heading on the menu bar above.

Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.

For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.

Please see this new May 2018 medical paper about the 10 most common myths and misperceptions about spinal CSF leaks. It is by some of the top world experts in treating this condition. I was told so many of these myths by various neurologists, anaesthetists, radiologists and many other doctors during my lengthy and traumatic nearly 3 year battle with a spinal CSF leak. This kind of misinformation caused many delays, misunderstanding and great distress on my already immensely long winded and difficult medical journey.

Here is the link again to Dr Carroll’s video.

Click here to read more about my spinal CSF leak recovery following my 4th blind lumbar 40ml epidural blood patch in September 2017 and subsequent ‘rebound into higher CSF pressure/ hypersensitivity to higher pressure’ following that treatment.