A friend talked about her anxiety: she has some numbness and weakness in her hand ... and someone with a mild case of multiple sclerosis had warned that MS presents with these symptoms.
She was understandably upset by that suggestion; she's going to see a physician. I'm thinking and hoping carpal tunnel or repetitive motion syndrome. Really hoping it's simple. Because I know what happens when it isn't.
More than ten years ago, I began losing my ability to raise my arms and to hold a pen to write; I tripped on steps, had continuous spasming of my arms and legs and constant burning between my shoulder blades.
Recalling this, I am amazed at how dispassionately I viewed it. I see now that I totally dissociated from what was happening with my body. Maybe it was the muscle relaxants I was taking, or maybe it was my mind's way of protecting itself from the implications of loss of control.
I began making the rounds -- first my internist, who sent me to an orthopod, who sent me to a neurologist ... and I saw multiples of each specialist, finally finding a dual team of neurosurgeon and orthopedic surgeon, men for whose skill I will forever be grateful.
Before I ended up with that duo, each specialist I saw ordered their own batteries of tests. The blood, the spinal fluid, the x-rays, CT scan and MRI ... until the neurosurgeon saw the MRI scan and, with a sharp intake of breath, advised me I should lie flat in bed until surgery could be scheduled.
An expanded version of what the MRI told him:
At the age of three, for still unknown reasons, I had contracted Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, a disease that would damage virtually every joint in my body. I emerged at age 16 in full remission *thank God * but with residual damage that would require three foot surgeries, extensive physical therapy for my hands and then, at the age of 39, fusion of my cervical vertebrae 2 - 5.
During the active period of my RA, spurs had developed on the neck (cervical) region of my spine and, with the wear and tear of age, those spurs were now impinging on my spinal cord, "stenosing" or crowding it, and weakness, numbness and spasming of my arms and legs were resulting.
After much discussion back and forth, the surgeons decided they would "go in from the back," with the neurosurgeon delicately moving the spurred spine away from the cord and the orthopedic surgeon filing away the bony spurs, then stabilizing the spine by installing a steel plate and six screws.
I had a lifetime of experience with our health care system and had developed a deep and abiding distrust of it and anyone in it (in spite of this, or additionally because of it, I had spent some of my career in hospital public relations and health insurance technical writing).
My then-husband, scared out of his wits, with the support of my attorney father-in-law, helped me enact extreme due diligence on the surgeons and the procedure I was about to undergo ... especially after I received the pro forma "there is a 2% chance of quadriplegia" warning.
I went through it. It was terribly painful. And it worked: I walk. I speak. I write.
It took me more than a year and a lot of physical therapy to recover, but I did. I'm an example of the best this country's medicine can offer. And I am still so grateful to have been the fortunate beneficiary of it.
What I want to tell my friend is this: you probably -- I'll say undoubtedly -- won't have to go through this.
But if you do, be glad you're in this country. Be glad you live in this time. And be grateful for your body, with all its failings and mishaps.
This life event changed me. My ideas about what was important had been significantly rearranged. I was more stoic, but less willing to play along with the pressure of the superficial.
And I understood the meaning of this quote: "As the Lord said to the mystic Julian of Norwich, when she was faced by the darkness of the Middle Ages: All will be well and all will be well ... and all manner of things will be well."