Back to Blighty blues

I’m just back in the UK after a fabulous trip to Australia and Singapore.

I don’t normally do this, but while I was away, I re-evaluated things a little. What I should be doing to make myself happier, more comfortable and healthier.

The thing about Australia is that there are so many similarities to home – the food is similar, they drive on the left, they seem to have a similar dry sense of humour – that the differences really stand out. Here are a few things I noticed:

  • Jogging is a big deal – I counted 100 joggers on one stretch of path within a couple of minutes from my Brisbane hotel window one morning, and everywhere we went, I’d see people in lycra shorts, tracksuit tops etc just going about their business.
  • Families and social life are a big deal. Parks, green spaces, football stadiums, museums – they all have little huts with barbecue equipment underneath for anyone to roll up and insert a coin or raised wooden picnic platforms.
  • Friendliness – I was only there for a couple of weeks, but they couldn’t have been more accommodating. Even the supermarket shelf stackers were matey when pointing out the milk aisle.

Arriving back to the 70s monstrosity of Manchester Airport, the racist cab driver and people with a weary chip on their shoulder, accentuated things even more and brought me back to Blighty with a bump.

It might just be my holiday state of mind and the places we stayed, though, because I’m sure that Australians can be as grumpy, un-fit and unhappy as the best (worst?) of us. With the wide-open spaces and the better weather, though, it certainly seemed that the quality of life down under outstripped anything we enjoy.

It also probably helped, that I’d deliberately left my medication at home.

After popping that first injection when I got back, I felt a familiar weariness in my limbs that wasn’t anything to do with jet lag. My clay legs couldn’t bear to climb the stairs any more times than they had to and the energy I’d had exploring the streets of Singapore had been sapped. A day or so later I had my first big argument with a misbehaving daughter. The idea that I might get up early and start a pre-breakfast jogging routine seemed more and more unlikely.

It’s been a few days since I got back, now. I wisely took a few days off work to get over jet lag and this has been achieved more or less. But the idea that a week ago I was walking through a humid Singapore with a backpack creating a sweaty square on my t-shirt and a camera that immediately fogged up as soon as we’d leave anywhere air-conditioned, seems almost unbelievable. Particularly when you consider that I was striding through the streets with the rest of the family lagging behind and begging me for a rest.

So what can I do back home?

The biggest issues for me that I can do something about, MS-wise, are fatigue and the pain due to muscle spasms in my legs and feet. Of course, the pain feeds the fatigue and most certainly, vice versa.

I don’t take any pain medication as everything I’ve tried so far (gabapentin and amitriptyline) has given me unwanted side effects ranging from more fatigue to hallucinations. I met my wonderful MS nurse before I went away and she suggested that I give pregabalin a try, so I may do that. I guess it works on the same centres of the brain that gabapentin does though (?) so that’s something to bear in mind. She also mentioned a muscle relaxant, but that might be a bit full-on at the moment and could be a last resort.

The fatigue could be combatted by changing from beta interferon to the relatively symptom-free copaxone with the added complication of daily injections (which, perversely, might be easier to remember).

More importantly, a major contributing factor to both of these symptoms is the fact that I spend seven and a half hours of the day sitting at a computer. I don’t want to keep taking sick leave, but I easily could, I feel dreadful at the end of each working day and even worse by the end of the week.

It’s taken a long time to consider my options, and I’ve spent more than a year weighing this up as it’ll inevitably lead to a drop in wages, but I’ve requested a reduction in work hours to a four day week spread over five days. This would effectively give me a six hour working day. When you consider that I work flexible work hours anyway, this would be a dream come true, give me some much needed space and improve the quality of my life no end.

It would give me the space I need to move at a less hectic pace, to drop the kids or pick them up at school without worrying about making up the hours at work. I would be a less grumpy dad in the evenings and I’d have more time to take up some gentle exercise. I could even water my tomatoes and weed my allotment plot before heading to work in the morning. When I think of the possibilities, the image I have is suffused in a golden glow… an ideal world.

I have requested this as a necessary adjustment to my working life under the Equalities Act. I work in a large public sector organisation and everything they have done regarding my MS to date has been exemplary. I even have paid time off to attend meetings of our disabled workers group if I want to (I don’t, but that’s another story).

I made my request two months ago to the day and apart from an occupational health appointment before my holiday, I’ve heard nothing so far. No letter from human resources, no email in the inbox.

It’s a bit disappointing, but I don’t work for the DVLA, so I expect I’ll get results when I chase it up. I’ll look forward to it opening a new chapter in my life. I’ll keep you all posted.

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Mild relapse?

I have been on beta interferon (Rebif) for nearly two years now and in that time I haven’t had a relapse.

Or have I?

Beta interferon is supposed to reduce the likelihood of having a relapse and minimise the effects if you do get one. Back in January 2009, when I came off gabapentin, I experienced a temporary worsening of symptoms such as fatigue, pain, heavy legs and one instance of flashy lights in front of my eyes. Was it a minor relapse as the neurologist thought? Was it the side-effects of coming off the gabapentin? Or was it the underfoot rumbles of the MS volcano?

I don’t know. I suspect all three depending on when you ask me.

I have a similar thing going on at the moment. In addition to the usual symptoms, I have had a couple of weeks where I have had a worsening of pain in my arms especially, mild spasticity in my left arm and both feet, hands that feel as if they are gently transporting a cactus as opposed to the usual background tingle, heavy legs again, fatigue, mild vertigo, uncontrolled movements in my calf muscles and last night, definite phosphenes in my right field of vision as I moved my eyes around.

So is it the hot weather?

Is it the MS Monster rolling over in it’s sleep?

Or is it a mild relapse?

I’m not inclined to bother anybody about it until my next yearly meet up with the neuro. My neuro is “running late” this year, apparently. Running late in the sense of he can’t see me in June as would normally happen, but will be able to when his appointments begin again in August, and the 115 people in front of me in the queue have been seen first.

In the meantime, I have restarted taking the amitriptyline.

Sativex to get a licence in the UK

According to the MS Trust, once the wording on the patient information document has been approved, Sativex will be getting NICE approval in the UK as early as this month (April 2010). My neurologist dismissed Sativex at my last yearly meeting, so it will be interesting to see his position in June. I need something extra for my neuropathic pain – Amitryptilline does a fine job but doesn’t always do it for me and I sometimes feel groggy on it (I know, Sativex may have similar side effects, but anything is worth trying, right?).

The MS Trust has a useful document on Sativex

Unlike father unlike son

My Mum used to say that my Dad (a former cross-country runner) would often wake her up in the middle of the night by running in his sleep. His legs and feet going like the clappers. When woken and asked to explain he would mumble something about running across the fields and ditches of his native East Anglia.

I used to think that was quite sweet, and in the same way as my pet cat flying off to chase mice in the sky, I often hope that the afterlife for my Dad might include a few lengthy runs particularly as he isn’t as mobile as he used to be.

I was woken up last night. Even though I have been taking my Amitryptiline pills for neuropathic pain, my legs and feet decided to ignore them and they kept me awake for a long time in the early hours.

It’s hard to describe how neuropathic pain feels, and it’s different for different people. Sometimes they feel as if my legs are made of sponge and they are gradually being wrung out. Sometimes it feels as though they want to curl and shrivel up like a burning match. Sometimes it feels as though a large concrete slab is being placed on them imperceptably slowly by just a micron or two every minute or so.

Last night it felt like they just wanted to detach themselves and run away, running to catch up with my Dad on his ploughed field.

pain

Currently experiencing a lot of neuropathic pain in my feet and legs. It can’t be due to forgetting the tablets too often as I have remembered to take them the last few days.

I am going to continue to take them at the current level for this week and if no better, I’m upping the dose.

Walking about relieves it a little, but the pain always seems to catch up.

Drug experiments

It’s official, I have been told by my GP that I can experiment with drugs.

Well, actually, no. I have been given the go ahead to increase the dosage of the amitriptyline to try and weigh up the pros of pain relief and the cons of the drowsy side-effects.

The side-effects are something I have yet to experience, or if I have, they have become lost in my general background dopeyness.

The pros are that the pain I had been experiencing seems to have abated slightly – occuring later or only if I have had a strenuous day. Not a daily occurence like before. And if I forget to take my tablets for a day or two (like the night before last) I start to get a bit fuzzier round the edges, the shooting pain will start in my fingertips and the squeezing sensation will start in my calves.

Starting last night, I doubled the dosage.

The difficulty is – if it seems to work, is it the drugs doing the work, or is it the crazy unpredictable roller-coaster of MS giving me some time off before it turns on me with a snarl?

It is around this time of year that I have experienced my most debilitating relapses. Hopefully this year, the terrorist cell lurking in my body will notice the beta interferon in my system and decide it isn’t worth the bother. This year, I will also be on the look-out, so I should be able to get some treatment when I need it.

Mr Pharmacist….

….won’t you help me out today, in your usual lovely way

Popped into the chemists today to see if the “NO ALCOHOL” warning on my amitriptyline tablets, really means NO ALCOHOL.

A twinkly-glassed, tank-topped, phar-therly figure appeared from the back room as if by magic and assured me it was OK on the dosage I am on – I might get a bit of a headache in the morning, that was all.

Marvellous. I am not a big drinker by any stretch of the imagination, but I can now resume my tour of Eastern European lagers from the Eastern European beer section of my local supermarket.

“Hey mr pharmacist, I’ll recommend you to my friends, They’ll be happy in the end…”
(with apologies to The Fall)