Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Timely Vacation

We just returned from a little sojourn to San Antonio to see GH's family. We traveled by car since gas prices have dropped so much (paid $1.32/gallon when we left), so I got a lot of pleasure reading done on the lengthy drive.

GH's cousin was in TX visiting his daughter & son-in-law. His ex-wife lives a few doors down; they are on very good terms, a very amicable divorce. Anyway, Diana is in her 60s and has been living with MS for about 40 years. In GH's Jewish culture, the timeliness of this visit is what is known as bashert, or loosely translated, "destiny."

Although I already have an example of living with MS very close to me (hi, Mom!), I always find it refreshing to meet and know others with MS who live the way I hope to live. Diana is a very vivacious person who truly lives her life to the fullest. We talked openly about MS, and she noted how much better I looked this year, as compared to last year. Mind you, last year I had not been diagnosed or had any indication that I had MS.

Anyway, I truly enjoyed spending time with Diana and the rest of the family. This was a great example of how to model my life. Take care of myself, conserve my energy when I can, and enjoy the people I love having in my life. Also, don't be afraid to ask for assistance! Diana uses a cane to walk; she also has a wheelchair for longer adventures (like the Riverwalk!), but she told me she uses her wheelchair more like a walker and loads her stuff on the seat. How's that for energy conservation?

This restful vacation has inspired me to make sure I prioritize the important things in my life so I can fully enjoy them! When I grow up, I want to be like Diana! ;)


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Pall of Sadness During the Holiday Joy

I am deeply saddened by some recent developments. My best friend's sister-in-law has been gravely ill with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome since before Thanksgiving. She has been in a drug-induced coma since then, but was expected to recover, albeit at a very slow pace. I just learned that the doctors have stated that the only thing keeping her alive now is the ventilator. The family is going to say goodbye, then take her off the machines.

I am so sad for the entire family. The woman is only 40 and has a husband and two pre-teen children. During my single years, I went to all of the family events, birthdays, holidays, etc. Since I've been married, I haven't attended as frequently, but still see everyone on a regular basis. We all went to high school together and played in band. Yes, we were all band geeks.

My best friend is a rock, and I am sure she will help everyone pull through this horrible, untimely death. However, I worry about her. To whom can she turn to express her grief? I hope she will let me be her rock. She is always so supportive of me. When I was going through my diagnostic process and the diagnosis itself, she was my rock. She offered quiet sympathy without drama, you know? She just took everything in stride and made light of the funny parts of it, especially the way I walked during my flare.

Dear readers, please send your positive energy, good thoughts or prayers (you choose) to this family in their time of loss.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cognitive Triumph

On Tuesday, I received a letter from the university where I work. This letter was from the head of the English department, my major. I was informed that the entire English department faculty had met earlier in the fall to vote on scholarships for English majors. I was awarded a scholarship that is given to the "best" students in the English department.

Well, I was a bit floored. You see, I decided to take advantage of my employee benefit of free tuition beginning in January of 2005 and decided to go back to school for an English major. Since so many of the credits from my other collegiate life transferred, all I had to take were major courses. So I've been chipping away, one course a semester, since that is the only way I can pursue this degree, working full=time and staying married, LOL!

I called the English department the next day to see what this scholarship entailed; I was hopeful that I could get some cash to buy my books for next semester. I was told to call the Financial Aid office. They told me that this particular scholarship is for tuition only and will be applied to my tuition before my employee tuition benefit kicks in. Oh, well. At least I was recognized for my abilities. That really means a lot, especially since my MS diagnosis. It's really nice to know that I can compete intellectually with students half my age, literally.

On a completely different note, I read about an interesting clinical trial that combines Copaxone and estriol. It looked like a no-brainer, win/win to me. You either receive Copaxone and estriol or Copaxone and placebo. I contacted the closest facility conducting the trial via phone and e-mail. Unfortunately, I do not qualify since I am already taking Copaxone. Bummer! :( At least I tried!

Anyone out there involved in this trial? It sounds really exciting!


Monday, December 15, 2008

I'm So Tired of Fatigue!

I know my fatigue is not as awful as many of my MS family, but I really hate the mind-numbing effect is has on my brain. Seriously. I have to take usually one day a month to stay home and do NOTHING all day. And I mean NOTHING. Getting out of my recliner to pee or eat is a chore. I don't even watch anything enlightening on TV, just daytime crap. Although, a paternity results show on Maury can be entertaining in a demented way.

Here's the other thing I hate about the fatigue. People who don't have MS don't get it. They will say something like, "Oh yeah, I get so tired, too!" The only non-MS person who doesn't piss me off with those statements is my friend who has nine kids and has a business out of her home. Just thinking about trying to live a day of her life makes me tired!

Do others have a difficult time describing their fatigue to people, especially their partner?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da...

...life goes on, bra. Missed the first parts? Go to So it begins...

After the diagnosis, GH & I prepared for our trip to NYC to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. I did call my family and close friends who had been following the saga to let them know I had received the diagnosis.

I was really afraid to tell my mom, because I knew she would blame herself and feel guilty. However, she surprised me by saying, "How do you feel about this?" That is SO unlike my mom. I think her therapy sessions have helped her to be more introspective. I did ask my dad later if she fell apart, and he assured me that she was OK. So with that bit completed, we packed and went to NYC.

I won't bore you with the details of our trip, but GH was very OK with me saying that I was tired and we needed to go to our apartment and rest for awhile. This was our fifth or sixth trip to NYC, so we didn't need to do all thte touristy crap. We spent our time exploring places we had not seen before, as well as hanging out at some of our favorite places. We only (!!) saw six shows in the ten days, which is a record low for us.

I think the two things of which I am most proud was that I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and spent an entire day at the Bronx Zoo. The only real difficulty I had was our last two days, when it got extremely hot and humid. But we survived.

Once we came home, I had to set up an appointment with a nurse to come to my house to teach me how to inject my Copaxone. That was a great meeting! The nurse was so upbeat, but not in the annoying, perky, cheerleader fashion. She was a real, humorous, down-to-earth person who also has MS and she is still living her life to the fullest. I wholeheartedly believe that she was sent to me by a higher power to show me that I, too, can live my life to the fullest.

Another accomplishment post-diagnosis is that I starred in a production of Same Time, Next Year, which is a role I have dreamed about for years. Despite a bad review from an asshat critic (he commented that it appeared that I was rolling my eyes at the audience, allegedly breaking the fourth wall; I wrote to inform him that the "eye rolloing" was due to optic nerve hypoplasia and not an acting choice, for which I received an apology), I was so pleased that I was able to memorize half a play (it's a two-person show), dismissing any fears I had about cognitive dysfunction.

I have also received a title change at my job, which was long overdue. This reclassification moved me from an hourly employee to a salaried employee with four weeks of vacation and a 15% salary increase. Others in my department who hold this title of Project Coordinator do no more than I was doing at the lower ranking, so I stood up on my hind legs (an Oklahoma or Southern expression) and requested equal treatment. I did inform my supervisor about my diagnosis; we have worked together for nearly seven years and he was very concerned. However, I still have not informed Human Resources. I am not going to do that until absolutely necessary; things can be SO political in a university setting.

Long story short, I have tried to continue with my "abnormal" life as well as I can. I am fortunate, in that I do not have MS symptoms that are more than merely annoying. The left arm and leg have retuned to normal and I saw an ophthalmologist about my eyes. He (an old high school friend) assured me that there was no damage due to my exacerbation and now he has a solid baseline to compare if I do have problems in the future.

I have taken my Copaxone faithfully everyday, with the help of GH "shooting" me in those locations I cannot reach. I have lost about 20 lbs. since January and I am working to lose 10-20 more. I am going to physical therapy for a shoulder problem (old theatre injury) and trying to exercise a bit every day.

To see my progress, go to Six Month Followup.

Monday, December 8, 2008

It's Official!

Missed the first parts of the story? Start at So it begins...

May 28, 2008. A day that will live in my personal infamy. I went to the neurologist with GH. By this date (remember, this all started on May 9, 2008), I had regained a great deal of my functionality on my left side and the vertigo was gone. I felt well, although apprehensive about this appointment. I was also excited, because GH and I were leaving the next day to go to New York City on vacation to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. We financed the trip by colloecting from all those who bet we wouldn't last ten years. ;)

The doctor enters the examination room, introduces himself and then asks me, "What did your doctor tell you?" I repeated exactly what the nurse had said, that the MRI was indicative of multiple sclerosis. He affirmed that this was correct and proceeded to show me the MRI photos. The lesions were lighting up like a Christmas tree. Even my untrained and defective eyes could see this. Speaking of my interesting eyes, the neuro was totally fascinated by my eyes. I guess it's not often doctors get to see someone like me. I mean, I think my optic nerves have appeared in medical textbooks. Shouldn't I get some royalties for that?

Anyway, I was put through a battery of neurological coordination tests. The results were not nearly as horrid as the one in the urgent care facility, but there were still deficiencies on my left side. The doctor was also concerned about my left eye (that's the REALLY bad one). He thought the pupil was not as reactive as it should be. This concerned me quite a bit, so I made a mental note to make an appointment with an ophthomologist when I returned from NYC. That is one thing I do not mess around with or procrastinate about. Although optic nerve hypoplasia is not a degenerative condition, I always am very proactive about my eye care. That was the most upsetting part of the appointment.

The rest of it was just discussing disease-modifying treatment and any questions I had. The doctor suggested Copaxone, and since my mother had been on that medication for about seven years without a relapse, I wholeheartedly agreed. He assured me that they would make the arrangements and I would start after I returned from the trip.

There was a humorous moment during the appointment. The neuro was very positive in assuring me that I could still have children. He was all, "You're still young enough; MS will not keep you from having a baby." I was cracking up, because GH and I had decided early in our marriage that we were not going to have kids. I was trying to explain this to him, but he didn't get it at first. So I had to break it down. "Listen, GH is 23 years older than me. He has three grown kids and two grandchildren. We would have to go to extraordinary measure like IVF to conceive and we did not want to go that route." Then he backed off. I mean, I thought it was nice that he was concerned, but enough already!

So, there it was. I had my official diagnosis. Wow. Actually, I should say we had our diagnosis, because GH was there every step of the way, even knowing my greatest fears before I articulated them.

Of course, we had an obligation that night. GH was in rehearsal for The Chosen and I was stage manager. Before we went to rehearsal, we shed some tears in the car. Then during rehearsal, the guy who was best man in our wedding (who was also in the show) had this scene that is just heartbreaking to see. I just wept throughout that whole scene. It was very cathartic for me.

We went home afterward, packed the last bit of luggage, went to bed and prepared for our trip.

Tune in next time for Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da...

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Dreaded Phone Call

Missed the first parts of the story? Go to So it begins...

After the MRI, I tried to put it out of my mind. I went back to work for half-days, because that was about all I could sit up for an extended period of time. So, on Thursday, May 22, 2008, I was hanging out at my father-in-law's duplex, resting after my half-day of work. He lives in what's known as midtown, which is closer to my office than going all the way home in the suburbs.

I guess I should explain. I don't drive. I learned how to drive in the event of an extreme emergnecy, but I do not have a driver's license. I am, shall we say, visually challenged. I have a condition known as optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH), which means my optic nerves are only a half to a thrid the size of normal optic nerves. Like MS, no one knows what causes it. I have had this condition since birth, so I have no idea what "normal" vision is like. I can do nearly anything except drive and read an old-fashioned thermometer. Anyway, I digress.

While I was resting at FIL's, I received a call on my cell phone. I went outside to take the call. The nurse from my family doctor's office said, "Mrs. F, I have your MRI results. The test is indicative of multiple sclerosis." She said it in a very matter-of-fact tone, without apology. Believe it or not, I was glad she didn't say, "I'm sorry." I thanked her for letting me know and hung up. While outside, I decided I needed a cigarette (wouldn't you, even if you don't smoke?) and absorb the news. I wasn't freaked out, surprisingly. I think, somewhere in my conscious or subconscious, I knew MS was a possibility.

I went back inside and waited for GH (Goat-Hub) to pick me up. I think I called to see when he would be there. I could have sworn I said, "I heard from the doctor's office." Anyway, when he got there, he exchanged news of the day with his dad and then we went home. I had another performance of Midsummer Night's Dream that night. As we were driving home, GH kept talking on and on about inane things that occurred during his work day. I had no idea what he was saying, he could have been speaking in Russian for all I knew.

At some point, I said, "Honey, did you hear me say when I called you that I heard from the doctor's office?" He said, "No! I didn't hear you say that! What did they say?!" So I repeated what the nurse had said. He was like, "Well, we knew that was a possibility." To which I replied, "At least it's not a brain tumor, right? This is something that is manageable. This will not kill me. OK, let's not tell anyone except family until I see the neurologist, OK?" He agreed.

We got home, greeted the fuzz muffins (Janis Joplin F, a.k.a. JJ and Johnny Cash F, a.k.a. Cash; yes, we name our dogs after dead singers) and I called my mom with instructions to keep it quiet for now. Then I started to put on my makeup for the show. Although I still couldn't use my left hand, I could still apply stage makeup with my right.

I went to the theater, going through the routine of getting ready. I'm sure I was more quiet than usual, but I bet everyone attributed it to me not feeling well. I did what I was supposed to do and went home immediately after the show. During the times I had some quiet space around me during that performance, all I could hear in my head was, "MS, MS, MS, MS...The MRI is indicative of multiple sclerosis." It was like a broken record playing over and over and over.

This was right before Memorial Day weekend, of course. Why can't I ever have a medical problem during regular business hours? My mission for Tuesday when I returned to work was to call the neurologist's office and see if they could schedule me any earlier than July. I told the receptionist about my MRI results and that I would really like to get an official diagnosis as soon as possible. She said she would let me know if anything became available. She called back later that afternoon to tell me that an appointment became open for the next day. I said, "Great! I leave for New York the following morning, so this fits perfectly."

Tune in next time for It's Official (and Happy Anniversary, by the way)!


Go to the start of my story: So it begins

Don't think I'm a pessimist due to the title of this post. I stole it from the House recaps at Television Without Pity. Bad stuff ALWAYS happens on House when the Patient of the Week has an MRI.

I went to the second MRI of my life on May 19, 2008. I had the first one in 2002 when I was experiencing numbness and tingling in my right arm. That MRI showed no abnormalities. I still felt pretty crappy, but the vertigo had subsided somewhat and I was no longer nauseated.

I arrived at the hospital and did all of the registration stuff. Once I was lying on the table/slide before entering the MRI of DOOM, the tech asked what music I would like to hear. I wasn't aware that they now offered CDs. Being the music lover I am, I asked for some Aretha Franklin. Of course, they didn't have that. So I blanked out and just said the first thing that came to mind, "OK, got any Beatles?" They did! So I slid into the tube and assumed the most comfortable position for lying motionless. Then the most effed up versions of Beatles songs began to play. I assumed they put on some compilation CD that had unreleased studio recordings or some such. Dudes, I have never taken acid in my life, but after the experience of listening to that weird stuff while in the MRI of DOOM, I think I have vicariously. That was messed up!

When I expected the nice technician to say that I was done, she fooled me. She said, "We're going to bring you out and inject some contrast dye." Uh-oh. That doesn't sound good. I start freaking out a little inside my head; this was around the same time that Ted Kennedy was diagnosed with a brain tumor. OMG, OMG, OMG! Long story short, I got shot up with contrast dye and endured another round of pictures with the bizarre Beatles music in my ears.

When it was all over, I had to just sit for awhile before my head felt like I could walk again. You don't realize how dizzy you can get from lying flat and motionless for a long time. Anyway, I finally left and found GH (the Goat-Hub) and related the experience to him. We made jokes and went along our merry way, awaiting the results.

Next, The Dreaded Phone Call

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Six month followup

How did I get here? Start at So it begins...

So, I'm skipping ahead to the present. I'll fill in the gaps later.

I saw my neurologist yesterday and learned that I have NO active lesions and no new lesions! Woohoo! Copaxone seems to be working well for me. I had a gut feeling it would, since my mom has been on it for seven years without a relapse. Although I had some bothersome site injection reactions for the first four or five months, they have substantially subsided. I guess my body has become accustomed to the medication. Yay! The only new thing I will try is some medication to keep me from getting up at all hours of the night to pee. Sorry if this is a little TMI for you gentle readers. I know you other MSers get it. ;)

I've also started physical therapy for a problem I'm having with my left shoulder. I don't know how much is MS and how much is from a broken collarbone in 1995 (a great story I'll post some other time). It's probably a mixture of both. Anyway, the therapist gave me toys to take home to help me do my homework exercises. I am trying to stay away from pain or muscle relaxing medications. They make me stupid! If the pain gets to a point that I cannot tolerate, I will try medication. I am a firm believer in "better living through modern chemistry." I know that is almost contradictory, but that's me! ;)

Needless to say, the Goat-Hub (my wonderful husband who does a fabulous Goat-Boy impression) and I were very pleased with the news. Goat-Hub always goes with me to the doctor, in case I forget to bring up a point. However, we had made a list of symptoms, questions and issues I have experienced since my last appointment. Since my handwriting is atrocious, even before MS, I typed the list. The doctor was thrilled that I came so prepared and asked for a copy to put in my file. I try to be a good patient and proactove as much as possible. It is really nice when that is appreciated. I have heard so many horror stories about impatient and unsympathic physicians and I am so glad I have caring doctors.

So, I don't see the neurologist again for six months, unless I have a problem. Hopefully, I won't!


Friday, November 21, 2008

Fast Forward to May 2008

Want to start at the beginning? Go to So It Begins...

I woke up on the morning of May 9, 2008 with a headache, so I called in sick to work and went back to bed to see if sleep would help. When I woke up, I started to walk to the bathroom, I felt like I had consumed copious amounts of alcohol! What the hell?! Everything was spinning and I was completely off-balance. I went back to bed for awhile, then decided I should do something productive, so I attempted to vacuum the living room. Two platinum-blond Cairn Terriers can make a mess of a burgundy carpet!

I think I tripped and hit my left foot on the vacuum cleaner about 10 times during that exercise in futility. I tried to eat something, but it didn't stay down long. I found some flat ginger ale and laid back down until the hubby got home.

He didn't believe I felt as horribly as I did. He thought I was exaggerating my illness to procrastinate the much-needed housework. BTW, housework is the largest bone of contention in our marriage. Hubby is a tidy person and I am not as particular. The biggest arguments we've had in our eleven years together are about the division of housework duties. Truly, if that's the worst thing we fight about, I think we have a pretty solid marriage!

At one point when I got up to go to the bathroom, he noticed the uneveness in gait. He said, "Walk to me." So I did. I kept leaning to the right, since my left leg was not responding properly. He then said, "Seriously. Quit screwing around." To which I replied, "Honey, really, I'm doing the best I can." Finally, he realized that I wasn't exaggerating, he went into caretaker mode, making sure I was OK and trying to find something that I could eat.

By the next morning, I was still miserable. The only position I could manage was lying down. Anything else made my head spin. I asked him to take me to the urgent care facility close to our home. Of course, this wouldn't happen during the week when I could see my regular doctor. So we went. I was pathetically miserable riding in the car and I couldn't fill out the forms; he had to write everything for me. I did manage to sign my name. When he saw my signature, he said, "You know, your writing looked really weird last week when we signed that rental agreement with our new tenant at the duplex." I replied, "Yeah," because that was all I could manage right then.

The doctor I saw looked like she was about 14. I almost called her Doogie Howser. ;) I mean, seriously, how much confidence can you have in a physician who wears a midriff-baring shirt to work? Although, honestly, at that point, I didn't care. Just give me something for the nausea. She made me do that neurological test that resembles the sobriety test. C'mon, you know the one, "Close your eyes and touch your index finger to your nose." Well, I could do that fine with the right hand, but I was missing wildly with the left. The sad part of that is that I am left-handed! Doogie was quite freaked by this. She insisted that I get an MRI first thing on Monday. She also prescribed some Meclazine for the nausea, which is the main symptom I wanted to control. I was really afraid I would get dehydrated if I couldn't keep anything down. The diagnosis she gave me was vertigo, which is what my brilliant powers of deduction had assumed, although I had never had vertigo before.

I went home and called my mom to let her know that we had to cancel the Mother's Day lunch we had planned. I was going to make a fabulous prime rib dinner with all sorts of wonderful side dishes. She was very understanding and told me to just get better. Since we already had the prime rib defrosted, hubby decided to cook it the next day. I got up long enough to eat about ten bites of the meal before I had to lie down again.

In the midst of all this, I had to call in sick to the first rehearsal in the theater space for Midsummer Night's Dream. I was playing Hippolyta; it was my first Shakespearean role! The stage manager was very sympathetic and told me to get better and hopefully be at rehearsal on Monday.

On Monday, I saw my regular primary care physician. He was pretty concerned at my situation, so he ordered an MRI and set up an appointment with a neurologist. He gave me some vestibular exercises to help redistribute the fluid in my head, hopefully curing the vertigo. I started doing the exercises 2-3 times a day and it seemed to help. I stayed home from work until Thursday, although I was going to rehearsals at night. The show was to open on Saturday!

I managed to make it through the first weekend of the show with help from many people. The director's mom did my hair, as I still did not have full use of my left hand. She also helped dress me. Other cast members helped me on and offstage, as well as up and down the stairs on the set. By the end of the week, I was feeling better and returned to work on Monday.

The MRI experience really deserves a post all its own. 'Til next time!

Next, The MRI of DOOM

Monday, November 10, 2008

So it begins...

My journey with multiple sclerosis (MS) began in August of 2001. I received a phone call that my mom was in the hospital because she had lost vision in one eye. I was unemployed at the time, so I spent a great deal of time with her at the hospital. I did not want my dad to have a hectic schedule, as he is diabetic and must eat and take medication on a very regular basis.

After a couple of days in the hospital on IV steroids and multiple tests, my mom received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. She was completely devastated. Although she was a nurse, the only people she had known with MS were either in wheelchairs or nursing homes, dependent on others for care. Needless to say, Dad and I were also shocked, yet relieved that now we had an answer. It wasn't a stroke, which is what my first thought was. Mom regained the sight in her eye and went back to work a few days later.

I went back to my busy life with my husband and two dogs. I was still searching for a job, preparing for the holidays, etc. I checked in with my parents frequently and finding Mom to be OK, just left it at that. In February of 2002, I started working at a university for a petroleum engineering research consortium. I was so glad to join the work force again!

Later that year, I noticed that my right arm felt like it was asleep all of the time. I had those "pins and needles" feelings from just above the elbow all the way to my fingertips. I thought perhaps I had been doing too much data entry and was suffering from carpal tunnel. I went to my primary care doctor and he recommended wearing wrist splints while I slept. Still the numbness and tingling persisted. I went to the neurologist, who did a test that measured my electrical conductivity. This was not pleasant, as it involved pricking needles repeatedly into my arm. The test results were normal. An MRI was ordered, which also showed no abnormalities. I was put on a month-long regimen of Neurontin. After that month of medication, my arm returned to normal and I never thought of it again.

In the meantime, my mother's mood had altered considerably. She was very irritable, had entered into feuds with family and friends and then slipped into a horrible clinical depression. She had been fired from her job and could not explain why. My dad did not know what to do or where to turn. After a long conversation with my husband, we decided that I would take charge of her care. I made an appointment for her with my primary care physician and her neurologist. I went to all of the appointments with her. We helped her file for Social Security Disability. I found a psychiatrist. After reading a great deal about MS and its effect on cognition and depression, I knew Mom had to see a psychiatrist in order to find medication that would not interact with her other meds. Mom was approved for SSDI the first time and slowly returned to herself, after approximately a year on medication.

Although Mom didn't have the outward appearance of MS, she displayed many of the invisible symptoms that the general public are not aware. After her diagnosis, Mom started on Copaxone, a disease-modifying drug, and has not had a relapse since.

So began my journey with the MonSter. I will post more about my experiences with MS in this blog. Come back for more info about me and my family.

Next, Fast Forward to May 2008