Dropping Connie

Earlier this month, the spinal CSF leak neighborhood misplaced a shiny mild when Connie Rim handed away. Her Fb web page, known as My CSF Leak Story, was the place she detailed her lengthy struggle attempting to get sealed and healed. A couple of days after she handed, her husband posted phrases from Connie about her loss of life, sharing it with the world.

Connie sustained her leak 5 years in the past throughout spinal surgical procedure, and tirelessly rallied her physique and thoughts in her makes an attempt to get care and discover her method again to a spot of much less ache. Like me, she discovered solace in sharing this journey publicly. In her case, by way of movies that she posted to Fb and TikTok, detailing her many debilitating signs, explaining the procedures and checks she bought, and patiently answering questions.

When somebody is chronically sick and takes a break from therapies, there’s inevitably a swell of individuals asking why. “Why aren’t you doing extra?”, as if it’s as much as you to not be higher. As if there’s full management of the lengthy tightrope that you must stroll on if you’re coping with a number of complicated circumstances. Regardless of her openness and uncooked, unflinching movies, individuals nonetheless requested Connie this query.

Maybe in response to this, or for different causes (I don’t know), in Might 2023 Connie posted an extended listing of procedures and checks and medical doctors she’s seen proper earlier than she headed out to Mayo for extra leak diagnostics and procedures: “This can’t be my life. This isn’t a life. I’ve been preventing to get higher and advocating for myself as a lot as potential however in reality, I’m drained now. Nothing is as straightforward because it as soon as was,” she wrote then.

By this level, she had been to leak specialists and nonetheless her leak(s) weren’t sealed. She was in fixed ache. She reposted that listing, up to date, a number of days earlier than her loss of life.

She did get therapy after that Might 2023 publish, one which introduced her ache down a little bit bit. We might all really feel her pleasure and hope when it did. However that therapy failed, and when it failed it introduced a brand new, horrible set of signs. Since late January 2024, she skilled extreme stabbing ache from three to over twenty instances every day, at what she categorized as a degree 10 ache. To be in ache all day, after which layer upon {that a} new and chronic, paralyzing ache… I can’t think about.

By mid-Might, she was gone.

Studying between the traces of the message her husband posted, she hit a wall the place the excruciating ache she skilled second to second couldn’t be managed.

Some days, I’ve been given 10-Quarter-hour of my valuable baseline ache, and for that. I’m grateful. However throughout the remaining 23 hours and 45 minutes, I used to be all the time crying, preventing, and, at instances, in a lot ache that I might do something however curl in a fetal place in darkness,” she wrote.

Her household and husband have been loving and sort, she had a whole lot of assist, and he or she had a neighborhood who rallied round her. I perceive that these wonderful issues is probably not sufficient if you end up trapped in a physique that tortures you.

Research present that in a persistent state, ache can disrupt the communications between mind cells, resulting in a discount within the skill to course of feelings — particularly damaging feelings. Ache modifications your mind. I skilled a model of this myself not lengthy after my leak started: already in persistent ache for years  however not but conscious of mast cell illnesses, I ate a very excessive histamine meal of spaghetti and shared a glass of wine with my household. It was this meal throughout these preliminary leak days, earlier than I went to Duke for therapy, that tipped my physique its new, unruly state. After that meal, I had full-body burning and nerve ache 24/7. And it didn’t go away. It felt like I used to be being dipped in acid, with no respite from the torture.

It was a fellow affected person who urged me to consider MCAS, given my signs. I hadn’t heard of mast cell activation syndrome earlier than. With no medical doctors to assist me, I scrambled to get my mast cells below management and attempt to make it cease. Throughout these weeks of absolute hell, till I discovered over-the-counter medicines that labored for me, I begged a detailed good friend to assist me discover a method out perpetually. (They declined, have been compassionate all through, and as an alternative tried to search out me a grief therapist domestically. What helped on this case wasn’t remedy, it was discovering respite from the fire-burn throughout my physique due to antihistamines and a low-histamine food plan.)

And that was how I felt with only some weeks of torture.

Connie lived with that ache that for a few years. As she mentioned in her writing, “The ache determines my feelings, NOT the opposite method round (as some individuals imagine).”

Her passing hit the leak world very exhausting. Even those that didn’t know Connie personally usually watched her movies on TikTok or Fb, or interacted together with her on the teams. In my case, I used to be digital buddies together with her for years and we exchanged audio messages about methods, informed jokes, tried to maintain ourselves sane on this Groundhog Day world we lived in when staying sealed felt like a pipe dream.

And but, regardless of the ache and the exhaustion and the procedures, Connie remained joyful the place she might, she appreciated what love she had in her life, particularly her deep and exquisite love for her husband, and noticed humour the place she was in a position. She had tons of assist. The ache decided her feelings, as she mentioned. She was a prisoner of her fixed agony.

I really feel indignant for her and her household, and for all of us. In taking a look at that lengthy procedures listing, it appears like she was failed so many instances alongside the way in which. At the same time as lately as this yr, she offered to the ER and later shared a video explaining that the on name physician mentioned her signs have been psychosomatic. How are you going to have a look at that blisteringly lengthy listing of therapies and suppose it’s psychosomatic?! The continued nerve harm and tissue harm, and scar tissue that may entrap her nerves, all of it is smart trying on the lengthy listing of what her physique had been by means of.

However no, she was informed it was all in her head.

That’s a part of what leaves me rattled, for anybody with this situation or different invisible circumstances the place metrics for prognosis and therapy are usually not minimize and dry. I’m engaged on the slides with the US and different spinal CSF leak foundations for the annual consciousness week for this situation, known as leakweek (which begins June third). In it, we share the several types of diagnostics and observe that regular imaging doesn’t rule out a spinal CSF leak. Regular opening strain doesn’t rule out a spinal CSF leak. Regular something doesn’t rule it out; we’re trapped on this countless loop of being unable to ‘show’ quantitatively what we’ve got aside from signs, but usually we’re informed we aren’t dependable narrators when sharing our signs.

And so we attempt, we attempt so exhausting.

We current ourselves firmly however with out panic, however not TOO jokingly else we appear ‘not sick sufficient.’ We hold spreadsheets, we share information, we come armed with supporting research however not TOO many, else it looks as if we predict we all know an excessive amount of. Outdoors the few leak specialists on the market, who’re fortunately coaching medical doctors usually, this dance continues. It’s exhausting to stay in ache and to lose your mobility and a lot extra, however add the suspicion and disbelief to the combo and it drags your soul all the way down to the bottom.

As a result of regardless of the advocacy, regardless of the training, the myths persist.

Outdoors the leak specialists, sufferers report that medical doctors nonetheless suppose a lumbar puncture leak is “self-limiting” (i.e., that it goes away by itself — I want!). Many nonetheless doubt the existence of spontaneous intracranial hypotension (SIH), the place a leak can happen immediately; this may be because of a bone spur or calcified disc gnawing into the dura til it tears, or a coughing match, or lifting heavy weights, or one thing else being the final straw for a weak point within the dura mater the affected person wasn’t conscious of. And a extra recently-discovered kind of leak, a CSF-venous fistula, will be elusive on current imaging sorts, although a more moderen photon counting CT machine is recognizing them extra continuously. Canada doesn’t have one, and the US solely has a number of.

The brutality of this situation is tough to precisely put into phrases. Not solely the ache itself however the uncertainty and uphill battle in getting care. It’s generally misdiagnosed and under-diagnosed. The psychological well being burden can be vital: a high quality of life research in spinal CSF leak sufferers from 2023 discovered that over half of the respondents (64.2%) endorsed suicidality, and 22.4% had demonstrated suicidal behaviour. A 2024 research about high quality of life in persistent publish puncture sufferers (like me) discovered substantial psychological well being challenges with despair, nervousness and stress skilled by 83%, 98%, and 88% of the respondents, respectively.

It’s like a giant cosmic joke, “hey, there’s a situation that always doesn’t present on imaging, the place specialised imaging additionally entails making a brand new gap within the dura mater to search for the unique leak, the place the overwhelming majority of medical college students don’t be taught specifics of SIH or long-term puncture leaks in in present med faculty curricula, and the place we are able to’t but determine why persistent sufferers have a very exhausting time getting sealed and generally find yourself with new leaks after therapy.”


August 2024 marks 7 years of leaking for me.

In these very troublesome intervening years, I’ve discovered a whole lot of issues about myself, and about my physique. Concerning the illusions of security I used to have. About how life simply isn’t truthful.

The half that hits hardest has all the time been that stability appears like an phantasm. It’s so tenuous. Moments the place I get respite from the ache are so few and much between, however with frequent anaphylaxis and extreme MCAS within the combine, it appears like the sting of that knife is so skinny. I usually joke that I’m in mattress now, however we’ll all be in mattress finally as we age. I simply bought there first. Beneath the humour is the information that Connie’s story is unfortunately not the exception. That there are different sufferers barely hanging on as they watch for science to evolve and have the ability to convey them lasting reduction.

On daily basis, my inbox is filled with sufferers who can’t get therapy for his or her spinal CSF leaks. Medical doctors who snigger at them for asking for atraumatic needles for a lumbar puncture, regardless of research displaying it makes a big distinction in decreasing the chance of a post-puncture spinal CSF leak. Households who say that their children or siblings or spouses are faking it, that they’re “simply lazy”, that they only “don’t need to be higher”.

Present me a chronically sick individual, in fixed ache, who doesn’t need to get higher?! In the event that they’re on the market, they’re a rarity. Each affected person I do know, and I do know many because of my public platforms, is like Connie: advocating fiercely, organizing effectively, retaining hope as finest they will, and desperately eager to get nicely.

I haven’t gone again for therapy as a result of repairs don’t maintain for me. I’ve complicating components like MCAS and adhesive arachnoiditis that make outcomes extra dangerous and fewer healing than the common affected person. However that that doesn’t imply I’ve given up. I’ve mentioned it earlier than: acceptance doesn’t imply you’ve given up. Like Connie, I’ve a lot to be thankful for. However even acceptance, even discovering pleasure once more, isn’t sufficient to eclipse unrelenting ache. Fortunately, I’m not within the form of ache Connie was in, and by sharing all of this I’m not attempting to make her loss of life about me. It’s extra that her passing feels prefer it might have been any of us on this tight knit neighborhood. I respect her alternative, and I’m additionally heartbroken that she was backed right into a nook by her ache and felt like she needed to make it.

This publish isn’t my normal, I do know. I’m indignant. I’m devastated. And it’s lit a hearth below me to proceed my advocacy work as a lot as my physique permits. Individuals generally ask why I’m so concerned with the Spinal CSF Leak Basis within the US, because it’s unpaid and I’ve my very own enterprise to run. (I’m now the Vice-President of the Board). Advocacy is why. Connie is why. Connie, and different sufferers like her. Different sufferers like me. For these of us who’re persistent, the place repairs don’t maintain, who’re additionally ready and hoping. For the sufferers who can’t get to care as a result of they don’t have medical doctors who know leaks of their areas. For individuals who want assets to assist their households to grasp.

In supporting the Basis, and dealing with sister nonprofit organizations in Canada and the UK, I can hopefully result in extra change than I can do as one author with a leak.

I’ve been that means to share all of those ideas since I discovered of Connie’s passing earlier this month, but it surely truthfully messed me up an excessive amount of to place phrases to paper. Right this moment marks the start of duradash®, although, and I’m fundraising for spinal CSF leak analysis. So I believed it was a great day to share, and to try to mud myself off and hold persisting. What else can I do however try to transmute my rage and my grief about Connie’s loss of life and the unfairness of all of it into one thing that may transfer the needle on all of this mess?

In August 2017, I knew nothing about spinal CSF, nothing about leaks aside from those in water pipes, and nothing about needle sorts or gauge. I had by no means heard of the dura mater. Years later, there’s quite a bit I want I knew then, however all I can do is hold writing and sharing, elevating funds for the trigger, and hopefully assist another person get care ahead of I might.

I’ll all the time be grateful to Connie for her fierce willpower and want to teach others it doesn’t matter what she was going by means of.

Since I sustained my leak 7 years in the past, there was a whole lot of progress and analysis and advances within the area.

Dropping Connie exhibits us how we’ve got a lot farther to go. 💔

Jodi ettenbergJodi ettenberg

If you happen to’d wish to assist me in elevating funds for spinal CSF leak analysis, please see my duradash® marketing campaign web page right here. I set a purpose of $1000 however have already eclipsed it due to my Instagram neighborhood; I will probably be upping the purpose to $2000 later this week. The two-week fundraiser will finish June eighth, 2024.

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