RIP Allan Robb

I see the media are reporting that the BBC Radio journalist Allan Robb has died.

Allan had MS. I don’t know what type of MS it was and I don’t know how he died.

I am assuming that the MS was a contributory factor in his death as the media are implying that his death was actually caused by MS, which I have always been told is impossible. “You will die with MS, not of MS” is the mantra bandied around by MS nurses and the like.

Take a look:

  • The Guardian – “…has died aged 49, after suffering from multiple sclerosis.”
  • BBC website – “…has died at the age of 49. He had been suffering from multiple sclerosis.” 
  • All media Scotland – “…has died aged 49. He had been battling multiple sclerosis.”
  • New Statesman – “…dies of multiple sclerosis”

Nice use of the words “suffering” and “battling,” as well, I’m sure you will agree.

This sort of lazy journalism does nothing for the image of people like me (and probably you) with MS.

Either that, or all the health professionals I have met in the last couple of years have been telling me lies.  I’d like to think that an MS specialist has more knowledge of the disease than a journalist, anyway.

Anyway, further to this, I like to test out the UK’s MS charities’ use of social networking. After Allan’s death had been reported, I sent two tweets each on the subject to the MS Trust, the MS Society (UK) and the MS Resource Centre to see if any respond. That was three days ago, so far no replies – watch this space.

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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

Getting fit with Mr Uhthoff

This isn’t a new year’s resolution, but I have decided to get fit.

This incorporates a couple of in-built problems, the most obvious being the MS, of course, but the second being the fact that I don’t do personal trainers (I have to admit to being quite rude to the only one I have ever had) and I don’t do gyms.

Therefore I have been taking to the roads for the occasional run in the hours of darkness.

Regular readers will know that I had a spate of evening runs last year up on the nearby moors, but this time it’s serious.

Why? Because it’s winter and I can push myself a bit further each time without overheating and I’m slightly less ill than I was last year, so the repercussions of Uhthoff’s phenomenon aren’t as great. Also, because it’s dark I can run incognito (it takes a while before I get over my self-consciousness).

I have been out three times in just over a week and I have lost two pounds in weight. I want to lose about a stone overall. Plus, as you can see in my post “Giving in” I need to build up my stamina.

I am trying to build up to five mile runs with a few hills thrown in, so far I have progressed as far as a two and a half miler on the flat with a sprint for the last 100 metres or so.

I am comparing this year’s training to the last time I did some serious regular running three years ago. The 2007 fitness regime took place a year and a bit before I was officially diagnosed, so I have only realised in retrospect that the experiences I had then were due to MS.

Back in 2007 I experienced a numb leg and a rubbery burning smell afterwards which I whimsically attributed to having burnt-out some electrics in my head as I was running (not realising how close to the mark I was). I would also get oscillopsia on my longer runs.

The last fitness regime tailed off when my youngest was born. So far, as far as Uhthoff is concerned, I have been a little wobbly legged after each run, but this has diminished each time I have been out. I have also had ‘slow eyes’ for a while after I finish (so I am expecting some oscillopsia when the longer runs kick in). I still have the peculiar burning smell too.

I have been doing some reading up and now know the burning smell is phantosmia – an olfactory hallucination – and is quite common for people with epilepsy as part of the pre-fit aura or with people who have brain injuries in the part of the brain that interprets smell. I guess I must have demyelination here.

My ideal, is that one day (this year or next) I may (NB: may) do a 10k run in aid of one of the UK MS charities.

My current thinking is that I will be supporting the MS Trust for the support they showed me in terms of the excellent free information they sent to me when I was diagnosed.

With this in mind, I have been consulting the MS Trust’s superb online training information. It is well worth checking out even if you don’t have MS as they include clearly written information and training schedules for beginners as well as more experienced runners.

I’ll keep you posted on how I get on.

Experience of fatigue

Up to eighty-seven per cent of people with MS, including myself, experience fatigue at some point. It is important to us that people don’t think fatigue is the same as tiredness. It is the most draining experience imaginable and it can happen for no apparent reason.

I went to a talk by an occupational therapist the other night on fatigue and it’s management. As part of his presentation, he included quotes from some of the people with MS he has consulted with over the years.

I thought it would be useful to re-quote them here as I am sure these statements will resonate with the fatigued among us and go some way to help explain what it is like for others:

“Fatigue can literally reduce me to tears, for no reason, I just find I’m crying – it’s like the plug has been pulled out and my energy, almost my life feels like it is going down the drain…”

“I feel like I’m in a jail cell as I’m so tired all the time…”

“It feels as though my legs are full of lead, it’s literally like wading through treacle trying to do things…”

“It hits me like a wall and then I can’t do anything… There’s no real warning to it happening. Sometimes I’m not even sure if I’m awake.” (Oh boy, yes!)

“It’s hard to describe to someone that you’re feeling fatigued and tired when you’ve not actually done anything. I used to be so active.”

Prior to my diagnosis, when I was going through the darkest hours of a relapse, I had a number of afternoons at work where I had what can be best described as a waking sleep at my desk. It was deeply worrying to say the least and I remember the thought “What’s happening to me?” playing on a loop in my head.

Perhaps the hardest thing about fatigue is that it is invisible to everyone else. I’m not being lazy or unhelpful and I can still do everything I could do before, it is just that sometimes I can find everyday tasks exhausting.

Further information

MS Explained

Just a note to say that the MS Trust (UK) have updated their marvellous booklet MS Explained.

This is a little bit more involved than some of the literature out there. While not for everyone, it explains the neurology and immunology aspects of MS very well in layman’s terms. I would heartily recommend this publication to the newly diagnosed. In the last year and a bit, I have read up on MS from various sources, gorging on the information within. I am pleased to report that the MS Trust publication had a lot to teach me. I know which parts of the brain have been affected causing my diplopia and nystagmus, for instance.

If it’s a more general leaflet for friends and colleagues you’re after I would recommend the MS Society’s “What is MS?

If you live in the UK, the MS Trust can send you a copy of MS Explained for nothing. You can also download it for free wherever you are (along with numerous other publications), just click on the link below.

Health talk online

Even with all the support in the world, diagnosis of a chronic illness can be a dreadfully lonely experience. While the MS Society and the MS Trust and the nurse assigned to me were all utterly wonderful when I was diagnosed, I think what I needed (need) more than anything was to connect with other people who have MS and share experience.

Ultimately, health professionals specialising in MS can give you the lowdown on the disease and tell you everything you need to know and more, but it is extremely unlikely they have the disease themselves. It is like a NASA engineer telling an astronaut what it will be like flying in space.

So it is only natural to turn to the web for advice. But it’s also widely acknowledged that the web can be a wildly misleading and biased source of information (I did Health Informatics as part of my Masters degree, so trust me).

For the most part, I have connected with others so far, through YouTube, various Facebook discussion boards and blogs such as this one.

When I heard about www.healthtalkonline.org on the BBC1 Breakfast show this morning my ears pricked up. This is a new resource primarily for people diagnosed with chronic illness.

The idea behind it is that you can access interviews from other people with the same condition as you or your loved one and hear their experiences of diagnosis and living with the conditions. The patients interviewed are a representative sample from across the UK and the site is managed by experts from Oxford University.

“Sounds interesting,” I thought “must remember to check it out later.”

The BBC feature has obviously increased traffic to the site crashing it’s servers as it was unavailable for much of this morning, but I have just accessed the site and I can report that there is NO information on MS. Clicking on “nerves and brain” brings up dementia, epilepsy, motor neurone disease, parkinson’s disease and stroke, yet there is no information on the UK’s most common neurological condition. Even clicking on “living with disability” only brings up
information on autism.

The only relevant info is on chronic pain where apparently one of the interviewees has MS.

I know, I know… early days… give it time…

…but it’s very disappointing.

MS Trust open door

open door is the quarterly newsletter from the MS Trust. It largely reports on research results and the like, but despite this, is very readable. The current issue (just arrived) deals with posture, depression, misleading stem cell treatments and the impact of progressive MS on family life amongst other things.

Items that caught my eye:

Prevalence of MS in the UK may be as great as 100,000 people, not 85,000 as previously thought. The figure was arrived at after studying codes indicating an

MS diagnosis from GP records. Considering the fact that I consulted my GPs with vertigo and optic neuritis symptoms in the four years leading up to diagnosis, without mention of MS, this rings true.

Oral treatments for relapsing/remitting MS take a step closer with the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) announcing that fingolimod and cladribine will be included in their next round of appraisals. Both of these drugs have shown positive results in trials so far, but some safety issues need further research. I don’t think I need to say that I would welcome disease modifying therapy in tablet form, do I? The thrice weekly ritual of warming up syringes and choosing injection sites is a real bind. I don’t know what side-effects are associated with these drugs.

MS patients sweat markedly less than people without MS. I would guess that this isn’t the case with all people with MS, just as not everyone has the same line-up of symptoms. Heat aggravates MS symptoms, so I also guess that a sweating impairment could begin a vicious circle of overheating.

If you are living in the UK, you can sign up to receive open door on the MS Trust website: www.mstrust.org.uk