I woke up on the morning of November 11th and I could tell something wasn’t right with my left eye. It hurt to move my eye, colors weren’t as bright, they were dimmer compared to looking at them with my right eye, and the vision in my left eye was quite blurry. After gulping down a cup of coffee and waiting for the clock to strike 8:00 am, I called an Opthamologist. I had to let my fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages of the phone book; having moved to Rolla 3 years ago, our family hadn’t needed to make an Opthamological appointment. The doctor’s office that I called said they’d see me that afternoon. Thus, my medical odyssey had begun!
I am a healthy 48 year old woman. No major health issues as a kid, appendicitis at the age of 10. 7 babies(2 twins), and a cold once in a while, hayfever in the summertime. So this issue with my left eye was a real puzzle to me. Was this a sign that I finally needed to face the fact that I do need to wear glasses? The Opthamologist was kind, thorough, and ran me through a battery of vision tests. No sign of a problem that he could detect, but he did say that if by the first week of December my left eye was still having those symptoms, to immediately come back for another round of tests.
Thanksgiving came, and we had a wonderful time in Ohio visiting my parents, brother and his family, mother-in-law, husband’s brother and sister and their families. Even our son in the Marines was allowed a 96 hour leave and could travel as far north into OH as we were so it was an extra special time to get to see him, too! However, my left eye was still having the 3 symptoms: pain, dim colors, blurry vision. On December 3rd I was back at the Opthamologist’s office and facing the same battery of tests as before. Finally, a diagnosis came through: Optic Neuritis, a swelling of the Optic Nerve in my left eye, with an added, ominous note. Optic Neuritis can have several causes but it is a main symptom of Multiple Sclerosis. The Opthamologist told me as kindly as he could and made an appointment for me to see a Neurologist the next day.
Multiple Sclerosis?! I vaguely knew what the disease was and what it would mean for my health down the road. With my laptop, I began reading all I could on MS via the internet. I discovered that Jack Osborne, son of Brititsh Rocker Ozzy Osbourne, was diagnosed with MS in his mid-20s and that he has made a series of videos about MS for the MS Foundation, entitled “You Don’t Know Jack About MS”. An autoimmune disorder, scientists and doctors don’t know why MS occurs, but they do know what it does. The patient’s immune system begins to attack it’s own nervous system, mainly the brain and the spinal cord. The body’s natural antibodies begin to attack the myelin sheath which protects nerves in the body. The sheath, sort of like the plastic cover on an electrical cord, gets broken down by the antibodies to where nerves are exposed when they shouldn’t be. This leads to a myriad of symptoms: extreme fatigue, some pain, weakness in muscles, tingling in hands and/or feet, Optic Neuritis, balance issues. Other than my eye acting weirdly, I didn’t have any of the other symptoms associated with MS. Upon meeting with the Neurologist the next day, I also learned that at my age I was on the “old” end to be getting a diagnosis of MS. Most people with MS get diagnosed in their 20s and 30s. The Neurologist ordered me to report on Wednesday, 12/5th to the Infusion Center at Phelps County Regional Medical Center to begin a 5 day regimen of a steroid iv, a dose requiring me to remain hooked up to the iv for 4 hours at a time.
Off I went to the Infusion Center. Up on the 4th floor, I walked into a small room, brightly lit. A nurse sat in one corner at her desk, and along the walls were 6 reclining chairs with blinking, lighted machines and iv poles to the right of each chair. I checked in with the nurse, sat down in a chair, and waited for the pharmacy to bring up the steroid for my iv. The other patients in the other chairs all looked at me curiously, some smiled shyly at me. I was definitely the baby in the room, as the other patients were in their 60s on up. I learned that some were receiving chemotherapy drugs and others were receiving blood transfusions. I am sure they were all wondering what I was doing there, as I looked to be much healthier than the rest of them. After a bit, the medicine arrived, and I was hooked up the the iv, with the blinking, brightly lighted machine measuring in the dose, monitoring how much time I had to sit in the chair, and periodically taking my blood pressure and heart rate. I marveled at the machines and the work that they do and wondered how infusion therapy was done for patients 30 or even 50 years ago?
To pass the time, I brought along a book I had been reading off and on this past year, Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, a historic account of Meriweather Lewis and William Clark’s amazing trek across a wide swath of America in 1804, as they explored the newly purchased Lousiana Territory for President Jefferson. To find a path from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. On the next to the last day of receiving an infusion, I wrote our family’s annual Christmas letter that we include in our Christmas cards, and I also got the envelopes all addressed.
Being forced to sit for 3-4 hours a day for 5 days, hooked up to an iv machine forced me to stop and dwell a lot on the what ifs of this Optic Neuritis and MS. I didn’t really ask why me? I spent more time thinking about What if? Our house is a large, 2 story Colonial. It’s great for our large family, but it won’t work if I am eventually in a wheelchair. Raize it and rebuild a modern ranch style? That was one weird idea that ran through my mind. Medical bills mounting, that idea was much more scarier to me than the expectation of ending up in a wheelchair! Interferon is used to treat MS patients and I imagine it costs a lot more than the prednisone the doctor put me on after the iv transfusions were done. What if my left eye doesn’t regain it’s normal vision level? In some cases, that is true. What if Optic Neuritis strikes again, in the right eye? I told my husband and the doctors that if it weren’t for my right eye’s normal vision at this time, I wouldn’t be able to drive at all. If this was the start of MS, what about my kids? Would they be genetically at a higher risk to develop MS themselves? While not a death sentence, MS is a disease that has no cure and it’s effects grow harsher on the body as the years go by. How would I handle that? How would my husband and kids handle that? For Better or Worse, in Sickness and in Health…our wedding vows kept coming to my mind, too.
I am a christian and my faith in God gave me strength throughout this medical puzzle. I knew, and still know, that no matter what the outcome of an upcoming MRI scan, that if I was dealing with MS or just Optic Neuritis, that God would be with me and my family. He would carry us through this next chapter in our lives and He would never let us go.
The MRI scan happened on December 12th and the results came to the Neurologist on the 13th. The scan showed that my brain is normal and no white lesions were in evidence anywhere, white lesions meaning MS is present. Some future blood tests are set for early January to try and get to the bottom of the Optic Neuritis, and while MS could still show up in those tests, the doctor says it is now probably not as much as a factor due to the normal brain scan. Needless to say, I felt a load lift off of my shoulders as the doctor went over my brain scan with us. My left eye has regained colors and there is no eye pain but vision is still blurry. Another visit with the Opthamologist is forthcoming too, and eye glasses will be a new fashion accent!
When life throws a curve at you, whether it be in the form of a medical puzzle such as mine, or an unasked for and unwanted event, how do you get through it? Not on my own, but firmly entrenched in my mind, my faith in God helped me through all of this. According to the doctor, the prednisone would give me insomnia yet I was able to get a full night’s sleep through all of this. My husband and I felt calm and peaceful through this tumultous week. Even the morning of the 13th, my husband was quick to reassure me that whatever the MRI would show, that all was going to be fine because our God loves us and would be with us no matter what.
So now I sit here writing about my medical puzzle and feeling very thankful. Thankful that my left eye has improved due to the modern miracle of steroids and prednisone. Thankful for the prayers of our families and good friends and for a God who hears and answers those prayers. Thankful for the peace that passes all understanding which our family experienced that week in December. Thankful for good doctors and nurses and medical machines. Thankful, even, for being forced to sit for 3-4 hours a day for 5 days in order to receive my medicine.