I have survived a stroke. I have survived a series of grand mal seizures. I have lain inert in a medically-induced coma for 13 days. I have survived three or four or five or six exacerbations of multiple sclerosis, unable to walk or hoist myself out of bed.
But what brought me to my knees, what made me unable to function, what made my world stop spinning….was the common cold.
I don’t know where I got it. I don’t know who gave it to me. I just know that it announced itself one evening as a little tickle at the back of my throat that trumpeted to my entire body, “Uh, oh.”
And my entire body moaned back, “Holy crap.”
I’m a bit superstitious about colds. It’s part of the reason I’m glad I’m not out there in the general workforce, breathing all that germ-laden air all day long.
It’s pretty well established that M.S. is related to an overactive immune system. And what is a cold? Your body’s overactive immune system’s response to a viral invader. Ipso facto I give colds wide berth.
I must admit that I do not know of any research pointing to a relationship between onset of colds and onset of M.S. exacerbations, but I’m not taking any chances. I will continue to wash my hands every chance I get, carry extra tissues with me, and spritz anyone who approaches me with Clorox. Not really. Just a little Lysol. Not really. Baking soda, I swear. Dissolved in club soda, that’s all. Really.
This cold walloped me right in the nose and then stuffed sawdust down my lungs. The combination reduced me to a slack-jawed whimpering tissue addict, knocking back large slugs of cough medicine every four hours. I set my alarm clock so I would wake up for the next dose. I had to reintroduce myself to my son after six days.
When the cold symptoms finally began to fade, I tested myself for the dreaded M.S. symptoms that might indicate an exacerbation. Did my toes tingle more than they usually did? Was I dizzier than I usually was? Could I even walk?
Living with M.S. is lots of fun. I have the kind of M.S. called relapsing/remitting. That means that it comes and goes, but every time it comes, it leaves you a little worse off when it goes. So my toes are always numb, and I am always dizzy, and always tired, and I can never walk in a straight line.
Then, if I get an exacerbation, all of that gets worse for a while. I can’t feel my feet at all, or my legs. I look like I’m drunk when I walk, if I can walk at all, and I’m so exhausted I mostly stay in bed. The cure, if you can call it that, is to stick a needle into my arm and pump me full of steroids. Those of course just plump me up like a Thanksgiving turkey, which, to be frank (and I’m a vegetarian), I’m rather thankful for, because eventually I am able to walk again and feel my feet and carry on a conversation.
And, oh yeah, before the steroids kick in, my eyes might crap out on me, too. That’s one of the signature symptoms of M.S., called optic neuritis, where the nerve that carries images from the eye to the brain swells up and you can’t see anymore.
I am happy to report that so far, so good. Just a cold. Just the normal numbness and dizziness and tiredness and zig-zagginess. Looks like we got through this cold spell unexacerbated.
Except I can’t get rid of this little nagging cough. I stopped taking the cough medicine when the sawdust went away, because there wasn’t enough of a cough left to justify the medicine, as tasty as it was (I could get addicted to Nyquil if I wanted) and as soundly as I slept (ditto).
It took me a few days to realize what the nagging cough was: the stroke-cough. It was the cough left over from the tubes that were jammed down my throat when I was unconscious in the hospital after the seizures and the stroke in August 2011. That little nagging cough was still hanging around.
Recognizing the stroke-cough was my first realization of a post-stroke marker. I had already checked in with my M.S. markers: numb toes, dizziness, fatigue, zig-zagginess, all my usual markers of how my M.S. was doing.
Realizing my relative dullness of mind and witlessness took a bit longer, of course. There are more layers of inert gray matter to pound through before active thought forms. Snap, crackle, fizz. Oh, yeah. A thought. Huh.
Speaking of which, that is another post-stroke marker: pretzel-thoughts. As its name implies, it’s a knotty one, or perhaps I should say naughty, as it tends to get me in trouble, or rather it tends to get my relationship in trouble, nothing that can’t be fixed, I hasten to add, because CF and I have 30 years of experience in getting ourselves out of trouble, dating way back to our favorite escapade when we nearly broke up over a can of black olives (I am not making this up) while sitting in our car at the side of the road.
It was very dramatic. I was wearing a filthy dirty softball uniform and it was a hot summer evening in Massachusetts and we barely made it through that fight but we still love black olives not to mention each other and I think I will wait until next time to talk about pretzel-thoughts because my M.S. markers are calling.