The way my life goes, I couldn't just have a "normal" story of finding out I have MS. No, I had to find out in a strange roundabout way that leads me to see it as a blessing in disguise...it probably saved me from being paralyzed. Odd thing to say about a disease that can be crippling, isn't it?
Toward the end of December 1999, I started having the strange sensation of numbness in my foot and leg. But numbness isn’t exactly the right word for it—it was sort of like when your foot falls asleep and starts waking up—only mine wasn’t waking up. Instead, the feeling was travelling up my leg. After a day or so, it started in the other leg too. I was seeing a chiropractor regularly then, so I decided to ask his opinion about this. He said it could be nerves being pinched or something. He gave me an adjustment and told me that if it got worse or, if having a couple of adjustments didn’t make it better, that I should go to my regular doctor. I’m not sure why, but none of this seemed very urgent to me.
When the sensation traveled up my torso the next day, I decided it was time to make an appointment with the doctor. I didn’t really understand why my coworkers seemed so worried about it. I couldn’t explain to them that walking, and even driving, was not an issue, despite the fact that I was numb from the waist down. Those of you who have or had this type of symptom know what I mean. I felt no weakness, no loss of control, and no complete loss of feeling—just that asleep tingling sensation and abnormal feeling. When I walked, I felt like I had pillows on my feet. So, I made the appointment but went about my normal business and continued making my normal plans. After all, it was nearly Christmas and I had things to do...like shopping.
The doctor was unsure of what was going on with me as far as the numbness goes but didn’t seem much more concerned than I was—until he checked my reflexes. One little tap and my leg jumped forward like someone kicked it out. I thought that was weird and asked if there was a concern. He recommended me to a neurologist; I had an appointment the next day—December 23.
My husband (Mark) and I reluctantly took the day off work and went to the neurologist together, Mark figuring he could go in later once I was back home. Still annoyed that all of this was interfering with my Christmas plans, I figured I would find out what was wrong and then have it taken care of after the holidays...maybe in January. That was the plan. As I type that, I can hear Morgan Freeman as God in “Evan Almighty” laughing, “your plans.”
After doing a comprehensive neurological exam, this doctor had a seriously concerned look on his face. He said I had to go for an MRI right away. He told his receptionist to get my insurance to approve a full spinal MRI, neck to tail bone, “no matter what you have to tell them for them to allow it all at once." See, it had to be done that day because he was going on vacation for the holidays. He said he didn’t want to leave without knowing what this was so he wanted an answer right away. REALLY? WTF? I started to get a little concerned, but then annoyed that this now looked like it would take all day. Yeah, I was like that. I was terribly concerned about work that had to be done and stuff I needed to do. Silly me, right?
The receptionist was successful, so we had to head over to the imaging place. Da Guys (my sons, 9 and 7 at the time) were in school and since we figured we wouldn’t be home in time for them, we went to pick them up early and take them with us. On the way into the school, reporters stopped us to get our thoughts on the latest story they were following—two kindergarten students were suspended for playing as if their fingers were guns. Yes, my kids went to THAT school. When the reporters told us the story we mumbled something like “that’s ridiculous” I think. Mark may have had more to say, I don’t really remember as I had other things on my mind. So, our 15 minutes of fame was shown on the evening news. While everyone we knew was laughing at us in front of their TVs, I was starting the first lap on the most traumatic track of my life.
The radiologist first asked me how I was feeling, a question I found strange since I assume no one goes for an MRI when they feel perfectly fine. I told him I felt fine besides being numb from my breast down. He then proceeded to tell me that I had a tumor on my spinal cord and the neurologist wants me to go to the hospital right away where he will meet me. Being the practical mom that I am, I asked if I could go home first to find a babysitter and get my things. He said sure but not to take too long. So, I go to where Mark and the kids are waiting for me to tell them what’s going on. Having no real practical knowledge of what a tumor was or what it really meant, the kids asked “a tumor?” in their best Arnold voice, followed by Mark, also in an Arnold voice, giving the whole line “it’s not a tumor.” Following suit, I too tried to imitate Arnold, saying “It is a tumor.” I have to tell you, hearing this in context of “Kindergarten Cop” does make it easier to hear for some reason.
So, we get someone to watch the kids, we go to the hospital, and suddenly I'm talking to a surgeon about an operation. He said he would do it in the morning. Clearly, he had his priorities messed up, right? I told him that the next day was Christmas Eve in case he didn't know and asked if it could wait until after Christmas. He told me "not if you want to walk after Christmas." Yeah, so I was operated on Christmas Eve and spent the week in the hospital.
It wasn't until more than 2 months later that I found out I had MS. I went for a followup with the neurologist and he saw in his notes that there were 2 things he found, the tumor and something at the base of my neck. The surgeon and another doctor told me it was like having fleas and lice (hence the url of this blog)...two things that have nothing to do with each other but are similar in what they do...or something like that. Anyway, the numbness I had felt was from the MS, that was what he saw at the base of my neck, a lesion. So, without the MS I wouldn't have checked on all of this, at least not right away. The hyperflexivity was the tumor. Who knows how long it would have taken to find that if it weren't for all the numbness. Not only that, but if the neurologist wasn't going on vacation, he wouldn't have asked for the MRI to be of the whole spine and only one of these things would have been found. Which one? Who knows?
Makes you wonder, doesn't it?