Back for a bit! Also, about my back (spinal cord, to be exact)
I was flattered lately to get a few emails and tweets from people who are used to seeing updates from this blog. They said they missed my writing, my ideas! What a lovely thing to pass along. For a while, I suspended this blog since I was busy doing other things and couldn’t contribute to it with any regularity. Work, travel, chasing kittens, sitting on committees.
I also managed to be hospitalized with something called Transverse Myelitis. I got sick in the middle of a work rotation up north in Yellowknife (which was wonderful! the patients and staff there were a treat), a few weeks before Christmas.
I went numb and tingly from the waist-down one day. I thought it was related to my migraine or my migraine medication (known to cause tingling aka parasthesias). Maybe I was in denial, as I kept thinking it would just get better on its own. But it lasted, and after two and a half days, I finally talked to one of my colleagues and he invited me to the ER to get checked out. I left on the next plane and went to one of the hospitals I work at in Vancouver because Yellowknife didn’t have MRIs, neurology, or the support I needed. I was examined a few times, MRI’d, and admitted. There was something on my spinal cord. Long story short, I got a lumbar puncture (spinal tap), high dose IV steroids for 3 days, more MRIs, some blood tests, and got out in time for my birthday. I told just a few friends who were good at expressing care at a distance; I didn’t really want visitors or to tell too many people because I didn’t actually know what to tell them – I didn’t know what I had or whether to worry or not. I was very lucky to have my fella looking after me. I was allowed to be scared and he was calm beside me. He brought the comforts of home to the hospital and even obliged trying to put my hair in a pony tail (when I couldn’t do it myself because my IV wouldn’t allow me to bend my arm). That hairdo was terrible.
There are still tests ongoing and we don’t know what caused it. Right now I guess it is called “idiopathic transverse myelitis,” meaning an inflammation across my spinal cord which developed for unknown reasons. Hopefully it was a one-off, triggered by an infection perhaps, but given the results of some of my tests, there’s a high chance I’ll develop Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in the future. I’d never taken a ‘sick day’ since starting practice, and here I was away on disability for 6 weeks. It was pretty uncomfortable at first and emotionally it was challenging; not knowing what I had, and even having a label for it, not really understanding it was very hard. Also, probably TMI but when you can’t feel your genitals, going to the bathroom is super creepy! At least I didn’t have any weakness/paralysis. My case certainly could have been worse and I’m grateful that I can walk and talk and think and smile.
There are between 1 to 8 cases of transverse myelitis per million people , so there isn’t a lot written about it. Also, some of the tests didn’t really provide answers and other tests that were ordered were never completed. Uncertainty is a challenging thing and I’m glad I had the time off because I don’t think I would have been able to be completely devoted or empathetic towards my patients while I was trying to come to terms with my own illness. I was lucky to be able to travel and be with my fella and my family – good distractions from the racing thoughts. I’m 29 and I did not expect at this age to be considering picturing adding a wheelchair ramp to the home that we dream of building. I am far from that now, and it may never happen, but this has been a wake-up call to realize that health can change at any instant. I also realized how powerless one can feel in that time. And how bad hospital food really is.
It’s been a very good experience to be a patient. I’ve been admitted before for 5 or 6 days with tonsillitis but it was a feverish, drooling blur. I had Bell’s Palsy in 2010 and while it was scary, I was very lucky to have almost complete resolution. Now, 8 weeks from when it began, my legs are much better and I’m back to work. When I have interrupted activity – walk, sit for a while, walk again – my legs get “jangley.” They feel like they are buzzing and vibrating and there is an apprehension feeling that they will collapse, but this is gradually lessening. Soon, I hope I’ll be back to hockey.
None of this was a secret, it just kept me busy and has probably changed me as a person and as a physician, I hope for the better. I still don’t fully “get” what is going on and probably will never get all the answers. I’ll get used to it, whatever happens next. Plus, I’ve got more important things to think about! In my six weeks off, I couldn’t quite sit still. In addition to lots of time with family, I submitted a paper to a journal, read a few books, and started a big project.
I don’t know how much I’ll be writing on this blog, but when it’s ready, I’ll post an update on my not-so-secret secret project, Less is More in Medicine.
(I share this not to seek sympathy, but because writing and sharing and hearing the stories of others will help me extract whatever meaning and learning I can from this experience)