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In anticipating my next neck brace after the halo, I found scant information about the Lerman Minerva jacket. There was literally ONE that had information on how to live and deal with it. Otherwise, there were only medical articles comparing it to other neck braces or detailing its effectiveness in cervical spine immobilization, as well as meagre personal accounts from spinal forums. I didn’t find anyone’s blog on it, so mine would be the first!

Here is a video though for a complete, 360º view:

I hope this blog becomes useful to those who are slated to use this brace after a more rigid neck brace like the halo, or who are currently wearing it as part of their initial treatment.

According to Trulife, manufacturer of the Lerman Minerva jacket, this cervical-thoracic orthotic device is used to support and stabilize the cervical and upper thoracic spine (C2 to T3 levels) after injury or surgery.

Pretty much everything was the same as when I lived with the halo for 14 weeks (including no lifting or falling), with some exceptions. I was finally glad to be rid of:

  • Pins in my SKULL
  • Cleaning the crusty/bloody pin sites
  • Not getting the wool lining wet
  • Caring for my hair and skin in three separate stages

Main changes from the halo:

Head/neck movement

While the Minerva jacket is designed to control extension, flexion, lateral, and rotary movements of the cervical spine, it does not completely immobilize it like the halo. Though I tried to avoid it, I was able to move my head/neck up and down (extend and flex) by a substantial 10º to 15º. Otherwise, my head/neck remained relatively still.

Application and fit

After removing the halo, my neurosurgeon and his nurse just put the jacket against me and fastened the velcro straps while I was sitting (wah, I was supposed to be lying down!). The straps were too long so I had to cut them later. I didn’t get fitted for this jacket (I literally just bought it from the orthotist) so I guess there is only one size available aside from small and kids sizes?

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Even though it would have been easy to do so with the velcro straps, I never took this brace off. (With the halo it was not possible to remove it because the pins are drilled into your head.) The only thing I adjusted was the chin/head area when I felt my head/neck moved up and down too much. With my sister’s help, she adjusted the only the chin straps while I was lying down using these instructions. I got up and adjusted the head straps for a better fit. You should be looking straight ahead with little head movement. Sometimes my head would be tilted up a bit too much and we would have to adjust the brace again.

Cost

Though my insurance reimbursed me later, I had to pay for the Minerva jacket first. The price tag: $1,500 USD.

Skin and hair care

FULL SHOWERS WERE POSSIBLE NOW!!!! 🎉😂🎉

Let me tell you, that first shower I took after the halo was PHENOMENAL. I spent maybe an hour in there. I washed my hair three times over and my body (especially inside the brace) twice. Yes, I had to wear the brace EVEN while showering. I often took the head strap off to wash my hair but I needed to keep my head/neck still. I probably shouldn’t have done that, but meh.

Though showering was fantastic, drying myself was horrible. On my first shower, I didn’t remove the pads so they were obviously soaked and I had to dry them with no more than a hair dryer and electric fan. (That’s what my neurosurgeon told me to do despite these instructions!) It took more than an hour – and I was still unbearably damp.

After that dreadful experience, I removed the pads (they are only attached by velcro) in future showers, but the white padding around the waist and shoulders (see picture above) was always wet. (My sister and I covered these with Saran wrap and tape a few times but water still leaked inside. It was not worth it as it took a while to wrap the padding and I needed to dry them all the same.) I squeezed the water out of them with my hands as well as a towel. Then I proceeded to drying myself with a hair dryer for about an hour. Fun. I usually gave up after an hour, just attached the new pads while standing, and put some clothes on even if I was slightly damp. (I had a replacement set and washed the old ones in the washing machine then left them to air dry.) So much effort did this entail that I showered fully only every two to three days.

To wash my face and brush my teeth, I replaced the chin pad with a small face towel to absorb any water coming down my face.

I developed a prickly rash on a small area underneath my jaw (on the left side only) from the chin pad being in contact with my skin all the time, not allowing it to breathe. It sucks and I still have it, as my current Aspen collar is no different. I plan to address it when I get my collar off, since any cream I put on there will only be absorbed by the brace.

My sister had to comb my hair at first because my shoulders were so sore from the halo. Then I could do it myself.

I had to cut my hair because it would otherwise take forever to dry with the white shoulder padding after showering. It was a completely DIY endeavour involving my mom as the hairdresser and some plastic bags. And some random strands of longer hair I found the day after. (The brace supports the head so some hair gets held up there.)

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Eating

Instead of placing a bib, I removed the chin pad and replace it with a paper towel so the chin pad wouldn’t get dirty. I didn’t do this when I ate out though. LOL.

I called the Eat Right Ontario Hotline (1-877-510-5102) after a friend suggested their services to me. You can speak with a Registered Dietician and ask any questions you have for free. I wasn’t sure if I had actually been eating properly for my injuries all this time, as my bones didn’t grow as much as anticipated. Diet is only one part of it, of course, but I just wanted to make sure! However, I didn’t really receive any eye-opening information during this call. I resolved to carry on with my healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and dairy – but I allowed myself one or two sweet treats a week to save myself from feeling future pressure and disappointment as I did when I wore the halo brace.

Though I am a firm believer in getting all your vitamins and nutrients through food alone, I began taking multi-vitamins anyway. It wasn’t going to be a game-changer, but maybe it could help. (I honestly skipped it when I ate a lot of vegetables for the day.)

Pain management

I took Tylenol when necessary. The pain was no longer in my neck but around my shoulders because of the inactivity while in the halo brace.

Sleeping

In general, sleeping in the Minerva jacket was uncomfortable, to say the least. I still slept mainly on my back with a pillow behind my head. I didn’t have to roll up a towel anymore because my neck was supported. Sometimes I slept on my side. I got in and out of bed like this.

Because the chin support kept my mouth shut tightly as I slept, I soon had issues with my teeth clenching. My teeth hurt so much that I sometimes didn’t enjoy eating anymore. I went to the dentist as soon as possible and confirmed that it was really due to the chin support and not any cavities. I began to wear a night guard to help with this. This is the one I use specifically and I highly recommend it! I messed up moulding it the first time and I received a replacement one for free.

Sneezing and laughing

No longer sucked!

Housework (cooking/doing dishes/cleaning)

Now that I was home in my family’s kitchen and was more mobile in the Minerva jacket, I cooked as much I as I wanted. (Posting about this soon!) I was able to do the dishes too. And cleaning… well, let’s just say that it’s not one of my favourite activities anyway. Hehe.

Hugs

Possible now! But only gentle ones!

Transportation

To this day, I’m obviously not allowed to drive because I can’t turn my head. I entered cars normally without my special maneuver here. I didn’t need a pillow on the headrest to support my head anymore. Though I used to take public transit frequently (bus/streetcar/subway/train), I stopped doing so for fear of any sudden movements while in transit.

Massages

I started to get a massage once a week to ease the pain and discomfort in my upper back.

I got in touch with my former co-worker Deb, who now works as a Registered Massage Therapist. I’ve had a few RMT’s before and she is undoubtedly one of the best out there! I wasn’t sure if I could go on the massage table so we used a massage chair. She wasn’t afraid to put any pressure on my tight shoulder and upper back muscles and it felt good to get them mobilized. Call her!!! She’s at Prelude Salon and Spa (3075 Ridgeway Drive, Unit 47, Mississauga, ON L5L 5M6, (905) 607-4826). They also have a wicked cappuccino machine for customers!

Similar to the halo:

Dressing up

I still couldn’t wear shirts or dresses over my head, so I continued to wear oversized ones from the bottom.

Exercise

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Again only walking was permitted. No sports or yoga. I could have used a recumbent stationary bike with my doctor’s approval but I didn’t have one of my own and it wasn’t worth getting a gym membership just for that.

I continued to walk for an hour daily, if it was possible. As you can see below, in the one month I wore the Minerva jacket, I missed only seven days! One was my when my halo was removed, and the other day was when I had my second neck surgery… so I was duly excused from exercising 😛 On weekends I completed longer walks averaging 6.8 km (around two hours) now that I was lighter and more mobile without the halo.

I walked with my 14-year old brother to help me cross the street (since I have to turn my entire body to look sideways) and to help me in case I fell down. I went for physical therapy twice a week and walking there and back became my walk for the day.

DAILY WALKING WORKOUTS IN THE MINERVA JACKET. Each step of mine is about 0.000565 km. I walked at least 3.5 km (6,250 steps) per day when I did go out.
DAILY WALKING WORKOUTS IN THE MINERVA JACKET. Each step of mine measures about 0.000565 km. I walked at least 3.5 km (6,250 steps) per day when I did go out. Data collected using my Fitbit Zip.

Because of the unexpected turn of events, I couldn’t realize my goal of hiking Mont Albert in the Chic-Choc Mountains by October. Boo. But one day I will!

Reading/using the computer

Still the same. I continued to keep them at eye level.

Rest

My shoulders and upper back easily became fatigued and still needed to lay down on bed twice a day. I couldn’t be up for more than four hours without resting in bed.

Support system

Undoubtedly still essential and invaluable! It was great to be finally home with all my family and friends.

During my time in the Minerva jacket, I received an unexpected, sizeable donation from a staggering number of 135 of my co-workers at the mine. I was completely taken aback by their thoughtfulness and generosity. If anyone from Musselwhite is reading this – thank you so much!!! I hope to see you all in March 2016!

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