There are several halo brace blogs and manuals out there. Seriously, just Google “halo brace” and you can spend hours pining over all this information. Now that you’ve somehow stumbled upon my blog, chances are that you are a current halo wearer looking for guidance. There’s no reason to feel uninformed, helpless, and alone in this day and age, let alone in a HALO.
Or maybe you’re a previous halo wearer just wanting to reminisce about all those good times in your halo. Ha.
Here are some of the halo brace blogs and manuals I’ve read:
- Hello Hello Halo, my favourite
- Hello Hello Halo’s links to other blogs and Facebook groups, most of which I’ve read myself
- Timeless Beauty
- Mark vs. Halo
- Sunnybrook Hospital
- Capital Health
- University of Michigan
- Northwestern Memorial Hospital
- GTA Teaching Hospitals: Developing a Standard of Care for Halo Vest and Pin Site Care Including Patient and Family Education, one of the authors is a nurse at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto and my cousin (who is also a nurse) told me that she is known as “the” halo nurse. The first sentence of the abstract reads:
Caring for an individual with a halo vest can be a frustrating and anxiety-provoking experience for healthcare professionals, the patient, and their families.
YES. There is nothing truer than this statement.
There is also this telling video of one person’s experience in a halo. I highly recommend it! I wish I thought of strapping my GoPro on my halo.
Here is my account of how I lived with a halo brace.
- No falling whatsoever. I needed to have someone with me every time I walked outside (I also wore a gait belt) and went up and down stairs.
- No wool lining of the vest cannot get wet.
- No pulling of the bars.
- When I noticed any clicking or loosening of the pins, I went to my neurosurgeon to get them tightened. The pins had to be screwed into my skull at a specific torque.
- No lifting of more than five pounds.
Pin site care
Twice a day we had to clean each of the four pin sites (two on my forehead and two beside my ears) with a cotton swab dipped in a 50/50 mix of saline and hydrogen peroxide. A new swab was used for each pin site; used swabs were not dipped in the cleaning solution more than once (we used more than 600 in total). This was done to ensure that the pin sites do not get infected. We encountered quite a bit of blood and dead skin around three out of the four pins, but my neurosurgeon just said to keep cleaning it. Pin site infection could be very serious if not noticed.
Skin care and bathing
Ugh, this was such a chore. But it was important that I continued to keep myself clean.
Because the wool vest could not get wet, I could only shower waist-down with a removable shower head. Either my cousin, aunt, or sister would attend to me while I showered in case I fell or needed to put the shower head back up (arm reach was limited in the halo).
As for my arms, neck, and skin underneath the vest, we wiped these areas with baby wipes while I was lying down. Someone would loosen one side of the vest so that their hand could get in there to help wipe me. Sometimes we’d pass a dry towel through if my skin still felt wet or damp. DO NOT DO THIS STANDING as it may be too stressful on your neck, although we did it like this several times LOL.
We usually did the showering before bed and wiping after breakfast or lunch. To do them one after the other was just too much for me and whoever helped me out.
I washed my face and brushed my teeth normally but placed a towel inside my vest like a bib to avoid it from getting wet.
Hair washing and maintenance
I already talked about this one at length here. Not being able to keep my hair very clean was one of the biggest annoyances of wearing the halo.
My hair was too long and thick to maintain that we had to cut it a bit shorter. My hair was usually in a braid, tied back, or held up by a large clip. Someone needed to comb my hair because I just couldn’t do it.
I wrote about what kind of diet I followed here. I didn’t consume any alcohol. Despite looking so juvenile, I had to wear a bib every time I ate so that no pieces of food would get inside my vest.
I also made sure I cut my food small enough that I wouldn’t have a hard time swallowing or that I wouldn’t choke. I had a WRENCH taped on my vest in case the entire halo had to be taken off if someone needed to do CPR on me.
By Month 1.5, I didn’t have any more prescription narcotics and reverted to taking just regular Tylenol. I only took it when I actually felt pain or soreness around my neck and shoulders during the day or before going to bed.
I couldn’t wear shirts or dresses over my head, so they had to be worn from the bottom. My aunt had to buy me new clothes that were all either large or extra large in size. I wore shorts and pants normally. For the most part I was able to dress up by myself.
For walks, I wore my regular Nike cross-trainers. For short trips outside or some physiotherapy appointments, I wore flats. At first it was hard to put on socks and shoes just with one hand because my other was still in a splint!
I slept mainly on my back with a pillow behind my head. It felt like sleeping in a box.
I also rolled up a towel every night and placed it behind my neck for added support.
I could turn on my sides but was only able to sleep like that twice. I lay on my side when I was reading or watching something on my iPad (thank you for giving me one at the hospital, Tatay!). I could turn on my stomach though I couldn’t really breathe as my face was right on the pillow.
I wrote about getting in and out of bed here.
This deserves its own section. Well, sneezing SUCKED. It hurt my neck every time I sneezed for the first month and a half. The front pin sites hurt even more. It was as if my skin was being pulled away from the pin site. For this reason I tried to catch my sneezes by holding my nose when I felt one coming.
This too deserves its own section. Laughing normally was fine, but laughing boisterously or uncontrollably hurt the sides of my head (where the rear pin sites were).
Talking on the phone
I used a speaker phone 95% of the time. It was just easier.
Housework (cleaning/cooking/doing dishes)
One of the perks of being in the halo is that no one wants you to do anything but just be. It was both good and bad. I never had to do any chores because everyone insisted that they do the dishes or clean up after me. In addition, my grandmother cooked for me or my cousins bought me food. On the other hand, I felt down about losing any semblance of independence.
Aside from the fact that I couldn’t fly back home to Canada, I couldn’t go back to the mine site and resume my duties as a geologist there. It was just unthinkable. I was on short-term disability for the time being.
Only walking was permitted. I wrote about this at length here.
No sports of any kind. Once I became so frustrated about not being able to jump for two months that I actually attempted it. Well, half-attempted. I stopped myself mid-jump because I thought I was being so stupid.
Pretty impossible… unless you want to get poked in the eye by the one of the pins.
I obviously couldn’t drive with the halo brace because I couldn’t turn my head. I rode in the front as a passenger all the time. To get in, I would start sitting with my butt first (back facing driver) and slid back until my halo cleared the ceiling. I would then turn sideways. I had a pillow behind my head too.
Being outside in public
Sad as it was, I stayed indoors most of the time. The halo did not only look like a jail with its metal bars, it also felt like one.
I was to avoid crowds. I didn’t go to Sunday mass while the rest of my family did. I didn’t go to the movies with them. I only went out to go for my daily walk or doctor’s appointments, really. I ate out only once in the halo brace, I think? My husband, cousin and I ate at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, of all places. LOL.
Most people ignored me or pretended there wasn’t anything extraordinary about this thing on my head (I didn’t scare too many kids either). I honestly just avoided eye contact because I couldn’t take it. Rarely did I get comments from sympathetic folks like, “What happened?” or “You are so brave, honey.”
Completely possible. I read mostly lying down because it was too tiring to hold my Kindle up at eye level. We bought a sheet music stand so I could read and write at eye level as well. I read so much, including these books and the gigantic, 700-page Pillars of the Earth.
Using a computer
I had no limitations here, except that I had to keep my laptop elevated at eye level. I had to get up once every 20 to 30 minutes to walk around for better circulation (I seriously set up timers). My shoulders also tired easily from sitting down for long periods of time.
The last sentence above ties in with this section. Whenever my shoulders felt tired from carrying the brace (sitting or standing), I had to lay down in bed. I did this once or twice during the day. I sometimes rolled myself on my stomach to relax my shoulders. Though nearly all the halo manuals said “Rest when you feel tired,” my backpacking experience definitely proved useful in getting used to a heavy weight on my body!
I can’t stress how important having a good support system was to me during my recovery. My husband, family, and friends continually encouraged and inspired me to make the most out of my time in the halo.
To all halo brace wearers out there, I hope you are as lucky as I was during that time in my life.