Hindsight

My first big relapse was in 2004 with a numb face, a headache that wouldn’t shift, optic neuritis and vertigo.

It’s strange to think of it now, but the medical profession couldn’t explain the cause at the time. Probably because I presented the symptoms individually, rather than all in one go.

I then experienced a few more symptoms in the following few years that tied in with the diagnosis of my MS in 2008. This was when I had the mother of all relapses that left me with the doublevision I have today.

Because of the missed diagnosis, I’ve often wondered when the start of my MS really was. Until recently I believed it was 2004.

Now I’m not so sure I can put a date on it.

In the late eighties, for instance, I had some very dodgy visual symptoms that tie in with optic neuritis and Uhthoff’s phenomena as they followed midsummer cross country runs.

Then I remember there’s a bit of a gap between 1987 and 2004. Seventeen years with no symptoms at all…

…but last night I found some evidence to the contrary.

If you ask my wife, she’ll verify that I’m a bit of a hoarder (I prefer the term self-archivist). I was sorting through some old papers in my loft last night. Among them were some old pay slips, timesheets and sickness forms from when I lived in London. It was in the sickness forms that I discovered a referral to my then occupational health department in 1998.

The reason? Doublevision!

This, of course, is the very symptom that returned ten years later to make me seek serious medical advice.

Not just doublevision though, eye pain too, which sounds like a dash of optic neuritis thrown in to me.

I only have vague memories of all this, as this happened fifteen years ago. I seem to remember a workplace assessment giving the reason as eye strain, which explains why I didn’t pursue the 2004 wierdness when that’s how it was explained to me again.

It does lend some creedence to the idea that my MS is a lot older than I, or my doctors realise. It effectively expands the timeline by six years.

My mission, now, is to find further evidence. To see if I can fill in the gaps between 1987 and 1998. I kept a diary on and off in the late eighties and early nineties, and I have a box of old letters, so I’ll be interested to see if that brings anything to light.

I have a few unexplained medical issues that are still a bit vague in my memory from that time, so I suspect it might provide a few enlightnening memories.

It won’t change anything, of course. It won’t change my current situation and it won’t inform my treatment. One thing it will do though, is satisfy my curiosity.

It will have contributed largely to the person I am today.

Relapse

Just thought I’d let y’all know that I had a relapse in the last couple of months.

It mainly involved vertigo and dizziness, so I spent a good couple of weeks crashing into things, nearly falling over, feeling nauseous and actually vomiting a few times. It also involved some fatigue, L’Hermitte’s and a not unpleasant hot sensation near my right ankle.

GP reckoned it was labyrinthitis to start with, so he gave me some drugs for that, to see if they worked even though my MS history has been peppered by vertigo. They didn’t, of course, so instead of going back to him, I went to my neurologist. One Dix-Hallpike manouevre later to eliminate BPPV and my first relapse for three years was confirmed.

I was prescribed steroids, but I didn’t take them in the end as I felt I was getting better and I didn’t fancy a week of the side effects.

Thinking about my GP, I asked my neuro about the possibility of an ear infection…

“Can you hear that?” rubbing his finger tips together next to my right ear.

“Yes.”

“And that?” next to my left ear, this time.

“Yes.”

“Do your ears hurt?”

“No.”

“Then it’s not an ear infection.”

So there you go. It was inflammation of the balance centres in the brain stem apparently. I’m very much better than I was, though I did have a funny turn yesterday so I reckon it’s there in the background somewhere.

New weirdness

Starting at 1pm or thereabouts yesterday afternoon, my right leg went cold. The sort of cold you experience when you suck on a strong peppermint and then breath in really fast. My right leg went peppermint cold. Oh and it felt dripping wet as well.

Needless to say, in reality, it was warm and dry. No incontinence to worry about, thankfully.

I have had no let-up in feeling as far as I can tell, and no L’Hermitte’s sign indicating the unlikelihood of new lesions in the cervical spine. So what is it, then? And why so sudden and so strong?

I don’t think it is the start of a relapse as my right leg sometimes has a few issues with sensations anyway. Also, apart from a mild dizzy spell, I have had no other symptoms flaring up unexpectedly.

It hasn’t been constant, either. The sensation has just returned after two to three hours hiatus.

So just one of those weird things, I guess.

One year on …

Today is the first anniversary of my diagnosis (see MS History – part two).

Health professional bodycount so far.

Starting with the first GP visit last year, the bodycount is as follows

  • GPs 4
  • Practice Nurses 2
  • MS nurse 1
  • Ward nurse 1
  • Occupational Health nurse 1
  • Phlebotomists 6 (estimate)
  • Physiotherapists 1
  • Neurologists 5
  • Neuro-psychologists 2
  • Radiologists 4

If you consider the medication as well, I have probably cost the NHS more money over the last year than some of it’s employees.

Symptom recap:

Current symptoms:

  • mild optic neuritis (since Jan ’09)
  • doublevision / nystagmus / intra-nuclear opthalmoplegia / oscillopsia
  • fatigue
  • tingling / pins and needles
  • neuropathic pain in legs

Symtoms that have cleared up for now:

  • L’Hermitte’s sign
  • vertigo
  • muscle weakness
  • involuntary muscle movement

Of the current symptoms, the fatigue and optic neuritis aren’t quite as acute as they were at first onset, so I feel much better, relatively, than I did last year. I think it is important to stress that I still have bad days, though (I nearly fell asleep in a meeting yesterday). Things are also helped by friendlier medication.

Life with MS – Part One – Symptoms

I don’t want to come over all “woe is me” because there are plenty of people out there on the internet trying to out-do each other with their bad symptoms and there are many others with MS who have it much worse than I do (my old neighbour who also has MS, doesn’t recognise me now when I see her).

I thought for the purposes of this blog that it might be useful to document some of the symptoms I have experienced both now and in the past to give readers some idea of what it is like to have MS. Please note: this list does not include the marvellous array of drug side-effects. More on those later.

Symptoms happening now:

Doublevision (since March 2008)
when I look left I see two of everything side by side. Simple as that. The more I look left, the bigger the displacement between images. Makes crossing the road and recognising people in the street difficult. Constantly closing one eye takes it’s toll too, in terms of fatigue and people thinking you are crazy.

Nystagmus (since summer 2008)
When I look right, I get nystagmus. My eyes flicker and won’t keep still. It gets worse if I’m tired or have done some exercise and I can sometimes get jumpy eyes looking straight ahead. It makes reading and watching telly very tiring and I don’t read as much these days.

Intranuclear Opthalmoplegia (since March 2008)
Looking left to right or right to left my eyes travel at slightly different speeds so it takes time for the two images to match up when looking right. Things can look a bit trippy when glancing round all over the place.

Oscillopsia (since 2007 or earlier)
my vision jumps around all over the place if I am running or walking strenuously – a bit like running with a video camera.

Pins and needles (intermittent until March 2008 and constant since then)
I get tingling sensations in my fingertips constantly. Sometimes it subsides to a faint tingle. Once or twice I have had a window of half an hour or so when they have disappeared completely (the drugs working). Mostly I get the electric tingling sensation in my fingers only, but it can spread to my hands and even my forearms. I also get these sensations in my feet, particularly my right foot. My right leg feels fuzzy for most of the time and walking can be troublesome on a bad day. I have numb patches on my right foot. This all gets worse if hot or tired. Also according to a 2004 diary entry – I had a week where half my head had pins and needles.

Bladder problems (not sure since when)
I sometimes find it hard to go. I don’t always fully empty my bladder – I simply can’t – and I can need to go to the loo several times during the night giving me a disturbed night’s sleep.

Cognitive Problems (not sure since when)
I have difficulty with concentration and short term memory – a particular problem with routine tasks, such as making payments to the child-minder, credit cards etc. My mind can wander in the middle of conversations as well and I lose the thread of…. erm… …anyway I have an old pre-diagnosis diary entry where I thought my memory and concentration had improved since taking Omega 3 tablets, but I was probably documenting a remission period.

Pain (not sure since when)
Apart from the pins and needles, I get sharp shooting pains from my finger tips occasionally. The worst pain I get is a weird cramping sensation in my legs which feels like insects (ants in my imagination) moving around under the skin. This is unbelievably uncomfortable and when it happens I can’t keep still and I can’t relax. This happens almost daily and can start as early as mid-day.

Fatigue (since March 2008, but also during hot days in 2007)
Like someone has taken my battery out. I had this at work once and found my mind blank as if I was sleeping with my eyes open. It happens intermittently and when it does I might as well be made of concrete. I will just want to sleeeep.

Other symptoms:

Stiffness / Muscle spasm
(Spring 2008)
I had a problem with this in the spring of 2008. I was an old man for three days – stiff as a board. I found it very difficult to move. It coincided with having hives – I think I had an allergy to some washing powder which brought this on. I also had involuntary movement of my calf muscles in March 2008 – in a relaxed state they were moving and twitching all over the place.

Optic neuritis (March/April 2004)
Flickering lights in my vision. Some pain in my eyes when looking round. Flashes of milky white light in my vision when looking round in the dark.

Headaches (July 2004)
I reported in my diary of the time that I had a headache that had lasted for four weeks. Of course, I could have had any number of MS induced headaches, but when one lasts for four weeks, it’s a dead cert.

L’hermitte’s sign (March 2008 to Autumn 2008)
Placing my chin on my chest created an electric shock sensation travelling down my back and into my thighs, or, on a good day, like someone pulling a tickly, twiggy branch up my back. I think drug therapy may have cleared this one up for now.

Vertigo (2004 to 2008)
An intermittent symptom – it comes and goes. I felt a mild wave of giddiness the other day when I was bending down for something, but at it’s worst vertigo can make the whole world spin and induce a feeling of seasickness. Even turning over in bed can make me lose my balance completely and I have to sit up to regain my bearings. In 2004 and 2007, this was one of the major symptoms I had to deal with and I spent a night of hell intermittently spinning and vomiting in 2007. I also used to walk into the walls along the long corridors at work. It’s very unpleasant – I would rather have doublevision over this any day.

Ultra-sensitivity (pre-2007 to 2008)
I have patches of skin that can be ultra-sensitive and uncomfortably ticklish.

So there you go. Quite a wide range of stuff, sensory and visual mainly.

I guess since diagnosis I am more aware of everything that is going on, so I may have missed out a whole heap of weirdness that has come and gone over the last few years. Now I am on beta interferon, the length of time between relapses should lengthen, but I should be able to recognise when one starts when new symptoms start appearing or old ones start re-appearing and I will document it here.

My MS History – Part One

Once somebody tells you, you have MS, you start to put a jigsaw together. You wonder whether that strange tingling sensation you had in your right arm last year had something to do with it, or in my case the vertigo diagnosis from the previous year and the little numb patch between my big toe on my right foot and the others.

It all happened at roughly the same time, but seemingly by stealth as I can’t put an exact time or even a date on it. My old office at work used to look out onto the rolling Derbyshire scenery. In the distance there was a radio mast on top of one of the hills. I remember looking up at that radio mast and hilltop one morning to see two radio masts and hilltops, but weirdly, only when I looked left. Also, when I hammered away at my computer keyboard, I noticed that my fingers felt a bit tingly. ‘RSI?’ I wondered.

I had recently had delivery of a new computer and I had shifted my workspace around and moved my desk from one side of the office to the other. When this sort of thing happens, my employer automatically sends a health and safety person round to assess how you are sitting, whether the new screen you have is causing any eye problems (“Yeah, well I do have this problem with doublevision”), or whether your seat is suitable (“Funny you should say that, but I get this strange electrical tingling sensation down my back and into my thighs when I put my chin to my chest”). The doublevision I put down to eye strain as I had other unexplained problems with my eyes a few years before (this particular jigsaw piece hadn’t dropped into it’s slot at this point).

The health and safety guy, barely into his twenties, was non-plussed. “Maybe ask your GP,” was his suggestion.

“Yeah… maybe I will”

I recounted my recent problems to my brother shortly afterwards at the football. “If you were a TV, I’d take you back to the shop” was his comment. I could see his logic, and I needed to see my GP about something minor anyway – I needed a wart removing from my lip – I could always mention this weird stuff at the end as an aside.

I saw a locum GP. It turned out that the wart was the least of his concerns. He did various tests. I had my reflexes tested, I watched his finger move left to right, I stood on one leg, I touched my nose then his moving finger then my nose and so on. He booked me in for an emergency CT scan at the hospital in the city. I should get an appointment within the fortnight, he said.

He thought everything I was experiencing was connected somehow, but wouldn’t be drawn on what it might be apart from that it could be something pressing on my spinal cord.

“Basically, where my expertise ends, someone else’s begins…” were his words, “take it easy… don’t do anything strenuous… no heavy lifting… look after yourself… be selfish… let others take the strain for a while.”

A GP has never said anything like this to me before. My previous visits had always been met with a “don’t worry about it, it’ll go away” air about them.

I thought of the heavy suitcase that I had to load and lift into the car, ready for our family holiday in a couple of day’s time. “I’m going on holiday at the weekend.” I explained.

“Where are you going?”

“Cornwall.”

“That’s good. They have hospitals down there.”

“You’ve got me worried now,” I laughed . . . no flicker of a smile on his face.

As I left the surgery, I felt the weirdest sensation. Something other-worldly, like I had been given a serious secret assignment.

I had a door with what could be a monster lurking behind it. All I had to do was find the key.