It was a cold, dark February morning and once again, my eye and facial pain were back.
The antibiotics my GP gave me the week before did not work at all, and he seemed clueless about what could be wrong with me. I had been on several rounds of antibiotics, I had seen a dentist, went to the Eye & Ear Clinic and I had seen a homoeopath, yet nobody was able to give me a clear answer.
The only person somewhat clear on what was wrong with me said that I needed to have my immune and central nervous system checked out. Fast. She was an intuitive healer and turned out to be 100% correct.
On my way to work that morning, sitting next to a cold window on the bus kickstarted piercing facial pain again on the side next to the window. Just before driving past our local hospital, I decided I had to do something about the continuous pain that had been troubling me for the last four or five months. If my GP was not going to be proactive, at least I would, so I got off the bus and walked towards the hospital, wondering if I was either going stir crazy or if I was doing the right thing.
In the back of my mind, I knew what was happening to me was unlike anything I had ever felt before on a physical level. If people would’ve asked me if pain in an eye is even remotely possible, I would’ve said, “Erm, best ask a doctor because it’s not something I have ever heard of.”
Until it happened to me.
That made me scared about my future because things at work were hectic and I wanted to climb the ladder within the company, hoping to become a team leader. I was having the time of my life – in between bouts of frightening pain of course. Eight years later and in hindsight, getting off that bus that Monday morning and checking into hospital was probably the best decision I ever made up till then.
I refused to give in to the pain, but I knew I needed looking after and the only place to do that was in an emergency department.
I felt guilty though.
Four months after having surgery to remove endometriosis from my abdomen, I started having inexplicable symptoms.
Walking from my bed to my bathroom or from the couch to the kitchen felt as if I just ran a marathon twice in one day. It was like climbing a mountain backwards. Upon arrival, I just did not have any energy left to return to where I came from. I showered sitting down because my legs could not support my body anymore. Aches and pains in my left side, especially my face and eye, was 100 times worse than having my wisdom teeth pulled and stabbing pain interrupted my daily life because I yelped each time it happened.
Now I was on my way to the hospital again.
Pain is relative and hindsight a beautiful thing because it teaches you to be strong… the severe tiredness and other symptoms to the left side of my body were much worse than my endometriosis ever was. Now that I felt what trigeminal pain was like, endometriosis was lowered to a 6/10 when the facial and eye pain was a definite 10/10. I would even go as far as 11/10.
After checking into A&E that Monday morning, things went fairly quickly. X-rays were taken of my skull, just in case the facial pain was related to bone fractures. When they came back clear, I was sent for a CAT scan. That came back unclear so I was told I would need to be checked in for a few days so other tests could be done. Vascular tests and another round of X-rays and an MRI scan were added to the list.
Four days later one of the consultants came to see me, carrying my increasingly bigger medical file. He said, “I have to apologise to you because I thought you were just-another-Monday-morning-I-don’t-want-to-go-to-work person.” Hearing this told me that something was wrong. He said it was not good news, and that I would have to stay strong because “The MRI scan told him there was a high probability of MS.”
Shortly after he returned with five medical students and he asked them to look at my face. One of them said “the left side” and I had no idea what he meant. I was also asked to stick out my tongue to see which way my tongue pointed. After they left, I rushed to the bathroom and checked my face.
I felt like faining there and then. The left side of my face was not as thick as the right side. When I put my hands on my cheeks, I felt the difference in volume, and that difference is still there today. There was a loss of muscle texture and I started crying, but at last, I knew that the pains were real and not imagined.
At least I was in the right place, at the right time.
Pain being relative, if I thought that the facial pain could not be more severe – it would be lowered to a 9/10 because I needed a lumbar puncture to have a definitive diagnosis. The first attempt was unsuccessful because my consultant had never performed one on a live patient before so I had to stay in hospital before they could attempt a second one.
During the successful harvesting of spinal fluid the second time, I began singing along to my phone’s ringtone of ‘Beautiful Day’ by U2 when my phone rang. I thought about staying positive and keeping my spirits up. I needed to stay strong, not just for myself but also for my family and friends. My consultant said he never heard anyone sing during a lumbar puncture before but the singing was short-lived. Already weakened by MS, a spinal tap can cause severe and maddening headaches (lumbar puncture syndrome) and it was pure hell for days.
Friends came to see me in hospital but they could not do anything to help or soothe me.
The environmental hospital noise drove me stir crazy and I begged the nurses for a room all to myself so I could sleep. They found one quickly enough but sadly, the headache would not go away, and sleep seemed something from the past. I begged the nurses to let me go home to my own bed. They allowed me to leave hospital on my own account and so I did 3 days later, overjoyed to be going back to my own big bed and quiet bedroom and house.
I knew I was taking a risk leaving before the headache had settled down, but I was on the verge of total anarchy and in so much pain, I was becoming a liability to myself.
By then it turned out that my employer urgently needed my sick notes but I could not go to my GP with pain like this, as walking made the headaches worse. I went over anyway and begged one of my colleagues to please come to my house so I could give my sick notes to him. On the way home I needed to sit down every so many minutes to let the pain settle about 10%.
When my colleague came to my house that evening, I asked him why I deserved this kind of pain, that I never hurt anyone so why me? I felt like dying. So let me assure you, trigeminal pain may be called the ‘suicide disease’, but lumbar puncture syndrome pains are even worse. I would strongly advise people not to have one unless they absolutely have to.
And then, there it was.
“People die of MS, right? I will be in a wheelchair by the time I turn 33, won’t I? I will be severely disabled for sure…”
Thoughts like these kept flying through my mind.
Back at home, and finally clear of headaches after pure torment for 13 days of lumbar puncture syndrome, I could finally sit up again without having to vomit. My spinal fluid had settled and I could walk around again, so off I went to the library to lend books on MS.
Back at home, the internet became a tool of doom because some websites talk about all the hardships of having a degenerative, neurological illness while other sites gave fantastic info for newly diagnosed people. Not that I was interested in the good stories though, I was looking for the bad ones which told me how to prevent further disability, because “I was disabled now, wasn’t I?”
I was lucky in the sense that my road to being diagnosed was fairly short because being proactive saved me from a lot more pain without knowing its cause.
The medical staff cared for me with much understanding and support. Some still remember me from my C. Difficile superbug event, and even though I can’t remember their names or their faces, their actions I’ll always remember because they went above and beyond what nursing staff should do.
No better words for them, they are simply living angels.
This week I have my eighth ‘anniversary’ of being diagnosed. It has been a huge learning curve, one that is still being tested today.
I fail, but I try again.
I still have dreams because I want to live. I rise and I fall but I always want to get back up.
I loved and lost, and continue to sacrifice because I need to.
It will have been worth it.
© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2013. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner are strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.