What a Year (give or take)

i never could have imagined that my 30th year would be so challenging. then again, i never really took the time to imagine what 30 would be like at all so how could i have had any idea?!

it all started with a bike wreck in september of 2010. it didn’t seem like a huge deal at the time. i had some shoulder and back pain but my bike, my laptop, and my brain all seemed to be in perfectly good working order. i went about my business and threw in some PT to get my shoulder in good condition again. i began yoga to strengthen my shoulder but after a couple of months i could no longer sit in the chairs at school without back pain. chronic, aching back pain. and so the spiral began.

i had trouble walking after i would stand. i still had shoulder pain. i could no longer ride my bike or work. my doctor put me off on a 6 week medical leave so that i could focus on PT and not aggravate my injuries. spring break came and i took my first ever trip to mexico with a close friend and my partner. shortly after arriving, i had fatigue that i couldn’t shake and an itchy rash on my back that was slowly spreading. a week after i came back i was diagnosed with shingles. i was then prescribed antiviral pills in addition to muscle relaxers and pain meds.

i began to see a chiropracter three times a week plus PT twice a week. i went back to work as soon as the shingles were healed wearing a back brace and with chronic tingling in my legs. nothing seemed to change the tingling and between the chiro, PT, dr’s appts, school, and work, i barely had the energy to celebrate and enjoy graduating college in may of 2011. i spent the rest of the summer shuffling back and forth between dr’s appointments.

somewhere in the midst of that i learned about a friend’s stage IV metastatic colon cancer. i am still trying to process her very serious condition. it is all so unfair.

at the end of july 2011, i reinjured myself at work helping a patient into her car at her discharge. i have never been in pain like that and i hope that i never will again. more pain meds, more steroids, more addictive opiod medications. i now have quite the collection: ativan, valium, flexeril, vicodin…my 82 year old grandpa takes less medications than i do.

workers comp ordered an MRI of my neck and low back in august of 2011 because ever since i hurt myself on the job, in addition to a worsening of my low back problems, i also had tingling in my right hand and pain in my neck and shoulder blade. at my next appointment the workers comp doctor went over the MRI results with me. given all of the symptoms i was having, especially the tingling up to my waist (used to only be in my legs) i was pretty sure that the MRI would show many disc herniations.

it didn’t.

instead it showed that i had multiple demyelinated lesions in my spinal cord. the radiologist’s impression was multiple sclerosis. all i could think about then was the woman who came into my unit who was unable to walk and had such bad tremors in her arms she couldn’t feed herself. she was 37. that could be me.

what. the. fuck.

how could the last year be so fucking bad?? its as if the people i care about were falling apart in front of my eyes and i couldn’t do a thing about it. i felt so betrayed by my own body and so numb from bombshell after bombshell being dropped about my own health and that of my friends and family.

it was an incredibly tough year. i tingled everyday. i couldn’t walk for more than 10 minutes. i had doctors appointments and workers comp nonsense to deal with in addition to a graduate program and the demands of working on the floor in a hospital unit. i saw two neuros who both agreed that i had MS.

i was so fatigued i would cry myself to sleep. i felt like everything in my life was uncertain. i was half in disbelief that i really had MS and half terrified because it was true. i still have those moments, the “i can’t believe this is my life” moments.

after a fair amount of “what the fuck” time, i got myself together and began to think about what i wanted out of this life. being diagnosed was forcing me to consider that i was not infallible. a notion that had not been challenged thus far in my life. i could do anything i wanted at any time! consequently, there were many things that i put off because i felt like i could get to it later, but lately i have been aware that my brain is a time bomb. that i am a time bomb. in that sense, there was a new urgency in my life that i didn’t have before. what if i can’t travel later? what if i lose the dexterity i need to learn to play guitar? what if i am no longer able to walk and therefore unable to hike the trails i have been wanting to hike for so long? any of those things could happen, or they may never happen. i have no way of knowing. i decided that from now on i have to focus on leading my life with purpose and stop thinking i’ll get to it later.

i also discovered that there was a part of me that was in complete awe of what was going on in my body. it was like there was a little kid in my head watching a science experiment exclaiming “cool!” i hope that doesn’t come off sounding really egotistical or anything…

for class one semester, i had to read the memior of a man who was paraplegic from a car accident called “life on wheels.” after his accident, he discusses how others were wondering if he was planning to kill himself, while he was busy being fascinated with how his new body worked. i can relate to that. maybe i’m just a total nerd looking at her own body as the biggest, baddest case study she’ll ever work on, but in a way its how i feel. i am fascinated with knowing more.

since being diagnosed, i finished a whole semester of grad school under unbelievable amounts of stress, worry, and medication side effects. i’m proud of that. my grades were all A’s except for research ( i struggled with this one because of the MS). the tingling one day disappeared and only shows up occasionally and is extremely mild. i found out that i have an incredible support network around me of friends and family that truly care about me, they are my cheerleaders. and if there is one thing that i appreciate the most so far about having a chronic, progressive disease with only marginally successful treatment options its that it helped me realize that fact.

and there you have it: the story up till now complete with a sappy ending.

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