What Is MS: Multiple Sclerosis Awareness

Photo Credit: Pixabay

 

Many of you know that I was recently diagnosed with the relapsing-remitting form of multiple sclerosis (MS). My diagnosis came after a life-threatening appearance of a demylenating lesion in my brain stem (specifically the pons region of my brain stem) in 1999. This was followed by more than ten years where I experienced a number of bizarre, seemingly unrelated symptoms.

Although I visited a number of neurologists and other physicians, all but one seemed to find my symptoms unrelated. Several times I was told unequivocally by neurologists that I did NOT have MS. Over those years, my husband and I moved several times, and I couldn’t any establish continuity with any doctor long enough to make sense of my history of dizziness, falling down, headaches, choking, foot cramps, finger tremors, hearing loss, nausea, and a changing gait.

Then in late 2014, I developed additional neurological symptoms and was ordered to undergo a brain biopsy of a new large lesion that had appeared in and around the area of my brain stem. The neurosurgeon was confident it was a glioma, considered to be an early form of cancer. The biopsy required a crainiotomy and resection (p. 8) , which was an additional challenge to my neurological system.

Why MS is Often Misdiagnosed
My situation is not unique. Many disorders share symptoms with MS, making diagnosis difficult. Those disorders include

Lupus: can cause muscle pain, joint swelling, fatigue, butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks, and headaches
Lyme disease: fatigue, fever, headaches, and muscle and joint aches
Stroke: loss of vision; loss of feeling in the limbs, usually on one side of the body; difficulty walking; and difficulty speaking
Migraine: intense pain; throbbing; sensitivity to light, sounds, or smells; nausea and vomiting; blurred vision; and lightheadedness and fainting
Fibromyalgia: headaches, joint and muscle pain, numbness and tingling of extremities, memory problems, and fatigue
Conversion and psychogenic disorders: conditions in which psychological stress is converted into a physical problem — such as blindness or paralysis — for which no medical cause can be found
Sjogren’s disorder: dry eyes, dry mouth, fatigue, and musculoskeletal pain
Vasculitis: joint pain, blurred vision, and numbness, tingling, and weakness in the limbs
Myasthenia gravis: drooping eyelids, double vision, difficulty with walking, speaking, chewing, and swallowing
Sarcoidosis: including fatigue and decreased vision
Vitamin B-12 deficiency: fatigue, mental confusion, and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM): fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, vision loss, and difficulty walking
The National MS Society has created the following short video. It gives a simple explanation of what happens in a person’s body when they live with MS and helps us understand why the disease can be so difficult to diagnose, since MS influences every function of the brain, and therefore, the body.

The video helped me understand that because one of my largest lesions damaged the pons area of my brain, it makes sense that my breathing, swallowing, taste, sleeping, vision, hearing, balance, and walking have changed.

WHAT IS MS?

A Day in the Life of MS

dead-battery-1623377_960_720This morning my thermostat batteries died, so of course, I changed them.

No biggie, right? You’d think, but not for me. Not any more.

Ten steps from the living room couch to the thermostat to diagnose problem.
Eight steps to the drawer to get AA batteries.
Nine steps to the thermostat to try to put in new batteries.
Failed effort, due to blurred vision, weak fingers, and trembling legs.
Eight steps back to the drawer to retrieve a screwdriver for battery prying.
Eight hand-on-wall steps back to thermostat to pry with one end of the screwdriver and pound with the other as legs shake like my dryer on the spin cycle.
Eight wobbling steps back to drawer to return screwdriver, accompanied by muttered prayers.
Eight final wobbles back to couch, followed by plop-and-prayer for sleep.

At 8:30am, I’ve completed my first marathon for the day. There will be many more. A trip downstairs to do laundry, gripping the railing and leaning against the wall. Pulling myself back up the stairs carrying small loads of clothes I can manage.  Simple tasks I completed without thought by others exhaust me since being struck by multiple sclerosis (MS). Putting on pajamas or dressing  can seem insurmountable.

But not just for me–for many people who live with chronic illness.

Low Batteries: Fighting Fatigue

Medical experts report that it takes five times the effort for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) to accomplish the things healthy people can do. Put this into perspective by thinking how tired you’d be if you did five day’s work in one day every day for the rest of your life.

You can almost always assume someone with MS or other chronic illnesses are trying to beat back exhaustion. I’m in my pajamas by 6:00pm. I attend evening events very seldom. When I go to church on Sunday, I have a “down” day on Monday. I’m proud when I walk on the treadmill for five minutes. On “down” days I drive to my mailbox to conserve energy for more important things (hey, it’s a long driveway).

fatigue

The Pain of It All: Symptoms

MS symptoms vary widely. I people with MS can lose color in their vision. Their sight can also diminish in other ways. My vision has blurred, making it difficult for me to read and work on my computer, even with a 24″ monitor. Migraines can last for days and weeks. Debilitating neuropathy pain in legs, feet, and hands often escalates at night, along with  ongoing muscle spasms and cramping in legs, feet, and back.

About that Twitch: Neurological Problems

Many patients with MS find the path to diagnosis long and frustrating because symptoms can mimic so many other things: lupus, sarcoidosis, Lyme disease, stroke, and other illnesses. For this reason, other illnesses must be ruled out when making an MS diagnosis.

MS is a neurological disorder that causes the protective myelin covering over the nerves in the brain to deteriorate. The nerves become exposed, which causes lesions (tissue abnormalities), not tumors (cell clusters that grow). Brain lesions multiply over time, causing increasing disruption of brain and, therefore, body function.

My lesions attacked my brain stem. I’ve had two major attacks–the first in 1999 and a relapse in 2014. MS patients seldom return to the same threshold of health after a relapse. My relapses have affected my walking, balance, hearing, vision, swallowing, memory, resilience, and cognitive function.

For instance, I now work use a 24″ computer monitor. I must take breaks every hour to “rest” my brain.  I walk on the treadmill in 5 minute increments, which is my usual max time. I no longer work at my computer beyond lunchtime because of fatigue. I experience frequent and prolonged migraines. My legs and feet cramp continually. I take medication for neuropathy pain in my legs and feet. And like most MS patients, I’m always cold.

Takeaway: Eyes Wide Open

Suffering can bless us with a perspective on others’ pain. It can either bring us into community or isolate us; drive us to bitterness or build our awareness of the sorrow that surrounds us. Chronic illness can gift us with unique sensitivity to those who quietly suffer–not necessarily with illness.

Jesus saw the needs of those who stood at the edge of the crowd, who were unable to push to the front, who could only catch the edge of His robe, or who climbed into trees to see Him. They were all looking for someone who cared enough about them enough to reach out and help, maybe even love them.

Jesus touched unclean bodies. He used the power of His words, His hands, His presence, the hope in His eyes, His wisdom. You may be sick–but you can use your pain to touch someone else. A day in the life of your pain may have given you the gift of words, experiences, the touch of a hand on an arm, of prayers, quiet presence, hope, or encouragement needed by someone else. Are you willing to live with eyes wide open to give to others, even in your illness or pain?