Let’s go way back for a minute…
Christmas Eve I woke up with the beginnings of a standard cold virus: runny nose, sore throat. After a long festive day with family and an evening full of church, more family, wrapping until my lower back couldn’t take it anymore, and hauling the gifts under the tree by myself – since hubby was in a NyQuil coma from his own cold – my head hit the pillow to welcome the rest my slightly unwell body needed. However, my cold seemed to progress by the hour, and after sleeping horribly during the night, I woke up Christmas morning much worse than the day before and I knew I was getting the horrible cold hubby had.
In spite of this, we had a pretty standard Christmas morning, and the dose of DayQuil convinced me I was feeling well enough to go to church to wish Jesus a happy birthday. Halfway through the service, in between thoughts of “What was I thinking?!” visions of sleeping danced through my sick little head and every minute I felt worse.
One of my friends at church said to me that morning, “You’re looking wobbly this morning Shan!” I love his honesty. I’d much rather hear it since it’s kind of confirmation of what I’m feeling, but can’t see. I answered him that I felt how I must look and I wasn’t sure why, maybe it was because I was getting sick?
A few days later I told someone I hadn’t been that sick in a long time. This was probably true, but what I didn’t say was that I hadn’t had a bad cold affect my MS symptoms in such a way before. By that Christmas evening, this cold, with its fever, completely compromised my ability to walk unassisted. Occasionally I need my walking stick out in public or when I know I’ll be somewhere new or crowded, but never do I need it in my own house. However, for the first time since I suffered the worst flu virus of my life years ago, I could not walk on my own. More than that, I even struggled to stand up straight. It was as though my weakened lower extremities did not have the muscle power to keep my legs straight, and instead, wanted to bend at every available weak spot in my supporting structure – specifically my hips and knees. My husband noticed my difficulty when I would get up to go to the bathroom etc., since using walls and furniture to support my traveling from room to room is a dead give away. Therefore, he insisted on getting me everything I needed, likely because it hurts him to see me struggle so. And just because he assumed I would not cooperate with his intention for me to remain immobile, he brought me my walking stick and stuck it right next to me.
At one point I got up to go to the kitchen to make tea and realized my autonomic dysfunction was much worse as well, as I could feel my heart rate increase and tightness in my lungs simultaneously affect my ability to stand and breathe. It was difficult to use my hands as well, as the regular numbness I have in them was severely amplified. Of course a fever always increases the vertigo, and the pain in my eyes as well that the optical neuritis causes.
It concerned me that this would be like the last time. That although the cold would pass, the exacerbations of these MS symptoms would not and I would become house bound again.
Without giving the details of all I was experiencing, I asked a couple people to pray for me.
Surprisingly, for the next few days I kept getting better and not worse. But I’m reminded that an ordinary virus in my body can cause effects that are anything but ordinary.
Nearly three months later, I forget all about this event of course; the joy of health causes temporary amnesia of the suffering of illness. I get better, I move on, until I get sick again – it blindsides me. Man down. And again, a simple fever causes the exact same exacerbations as I described before, and I realize all over again, my being sick is in an entirely different category from most others, yet, when I explain to someone I’ve been sick, I know they don’t have a clue what that means in my world. It means not being able to stand when showering. It means not being able to fake it and attend functions with my kids because suddenly, overnight, I can’t walk. It means numbness so severe both my hands are asleep. It means not being able to breathe normally. It means tightness so intense in my rib cage that all I can do is hug myself to bring some sort of relief to the MS Hug. It can mean vision changes, muscle spasms, and many times it has meant costochondritis. It often means antibiotics since the immunosuppressant drugs they give me sometimes prohibit my body from being able to fight a common cold. However, it does not mean I want to make excuses, and it does not mean I can’t and don’t push myself. Just let me decide what it means to be sick in this body, because it’s not always like this, but when it is, please understand my version of a “common cold” can be completely uncommon.