After that nasty little episode with the doctor and the kitten, things got progressively worse and I had to take nearly two weeks off work which seemed odd given that tripping over the kitten was a relatively minor incident. I went to my local doctor and was prescribed anti-inflammatories. These gave me horrendous stomach cramps and I started to go numb around my midriff which affected my ability to empty my bladder and bowel. I wasn’t incontinent, but I was unable to flex my pelvic floor muscles and had little or no sensation of when I needed to use the toilet. I returned to the doctor who prescribed laxatives for constipation. I knew this wasn’t constipation. In fact, by this time I was pretty sure I knew exactly what it was, but I just didn’t know how to get it diagnosed.
My daughter had been away on holiday in Europe and the day after she arrived home, my legs gave way completely. She called an ambulance and I was admitted to Christchurch Public Hospital. I made certain that anyone examining me was aware of the difficulty I was having emptying my bladder and bowel. This, according to Doctor Google, was one of the key indicators I needed to meet the criteria for a comprehensive MRI. That or suspected damage to the optic nerves causing blurred or double vision, something which I didn’t have. I must have met the criteria because in the evening I was given a comprehensive MRI, not just of my lower lumber spine like the one’s I’d had previously. This time they scanned my entire spine and brain.
The following day I was visited by a neurologist. She pulled the curtains around my hospital bed then pulled up a chair next to my bed and calmly told me that I have primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis. I experienced a mixture of emotions on hearing this news, yet surprisingly fear and shock weren’t amongst them. If she had told me I had cancer, no matter what stage it was at or what the prognosis might be, fear would have spearheaded a completely different set of emotions. Apart from being scared out of my wits, I would have blamed myself for having been a smoker and regretted not having followed a perfectly healthy lifestyle. But most of all I would have been furious that it had taken over four years to diagnose.
Instead, my predominant reaction was relief that the mysterious symptoms that I’d been vainly attempting to describe to so many different medical professionals over the past four years had finally been attributed to a valid condition. And there was comfort in the knowledge that I was finally talking to people who actually understood what I was experiencing rather than continually being told to ‘get a little bit of physio’ or to ‘take a few Panadol’. A lumbar puncture confirmed the diagnosis, which proved problematic due to the amount of hardware in my back after the spinal surgery which with the benefit of hindsight, I now fervently wish I hadn’t had.
I had no preconceived ideas about multiple sclerosis because up until very recently, I knew virtually nothing about it. As far as I knew, no-one in my family had suffered from it and nobody I knew had it. In a sense I was grateful for this and other than reading through the literature that the neurologist left with me, I made no real effort to search it on the internet. Occasionally I will search the odd symptom when I’m not sure if it’s attributable to MS or whether it’s unrelated, but I try to keep this to a minimum. I learned my lesson the last time that I run the risk of feeling considerably worse and scaring myself into an early grave by going down that path.
A week later I was discharged from Christchurch Public Hospital and transferred to Burwood Hospital. I could not have timed my diagnosis better. The hospital had been officially re-opened just two weeks prior to my admission after having had close to a billion dollars spent on redevelopment after the earthquakes. Not only were the facilities in the Brian Injury Rehabilitation unit state-of-the-art, the doctors, nurses, occupational therapists and physiotherapy team were absolutely amazing, and I feel very fortunate to live in a country where services like this are available when you really need it.
When I was admitted I was wheelchair bound and had felt very helpless. By the time I was discharged four weeks later, although I was still not independently mobile, some of the symptoms had eased a little and I was feeling a lot more confident. My little flat became littered with mobility aids, hand rails and enormous toilet seats (for some reason they sent me two of these even though I only had one toilet). I was home and I considered myself extremely fortunate, not only to have my daughter living with me but to be surrounded by a caring community and to now have understanding employers who were happy to allow me to return to a work situation that accommodated my condition.
I am at the beginning of a new journey now and I have no idea what is in store but I know this much … it’s going to be very different.