Wednesday, November 4, 2015

no more heels

In college, I took up running as a pastime. I found it relaxing and helpful in getting rid of that "freshman 15" and those exam jitters. It was also an excuse to procrastinate studying and see the guy I had a crush on running on campus. Aside from a caffeine addiction and frequent visits to our dormitory cafe for cookies, I considered myself to be a healthy gal.

I graduated from college in 2007 and eventually married that handsome guy I had a crush on. We settled down in Fort Worth, Texas and I started teaching and working at a daycare part time. Many late nights were had preparing lessons and grading. I was a new wife who was learning how to encourage and know her husband better too.

In the summer of 2008, a tingling sensation in my left hand and foot began occurring on a regular basis. My foot and hand were "falling asleep" more often than normal, but I didn't worry about it. I was mostly just annoyed because I couldn't get rid of the tingling feeling by shaking it off like you normally would be able to do if your hand fell asleep. I knew I wasn't sitting on my limbs in a funny way either. All of the mental and physical "busyness" of this season was probably just catching up with my body. When stress strikes or when nerves are pinched or tightened, tingling can sometimes occur in your limbs too. Thanks Google.

Anxious to feel better (and get answers), I went to a chiropractor. An x-ray showed that a couple of discs in my spinal cord were slightly misaligned. It was possible that they were pinching one of my nerves and causing the tingling. After a few months of back adjustments and electrotherapy, my tingling sensations had stopped. Even though the problem was solved, my chiropractor suggested I visit a neurologist to monitor my body.

“My left hand and left foot seem funky. They tingled for a while, but that stopped. Now they seem to feel weak sometimes. They seem ‘floppy.’ I’m tripping and running into things a lot too. I went running with my husband and I hurt my ankle somehow. I’m not sure if that makes sense…?”

I felt ridiculous explaining these mysterious symptoms to my neurologist, but this is a pretty accurate description of the conversations we had. Over time, I began to notice new and irritating things my body was doing. Tod and I wanted to relive our runner days, so we began running around our neighborhood when we had time. As a new wife, I had to impress my new husband with hearty meals so he’d think I was the best, organized cook ever. Well, that was silly and needless to say, we had gained a few pounds. Running diligently was short-lived though because I had trouble lifting up my left foot and was tripping more often from weakness.

Hand and leg weakness became more frequent when I was stressed or certain tasks were more physically demanding. I felt weak after taking a shower and blow drying my hair. Raising my arm and hand to dry my hair was ridiculously difficult to do. I began to notice more tripping incidences at work as well. Walking up stairs or wearing heels to work was difficult. I found this out the hard way when I bit it in front of my students at school. I was wearing heels, and my left ankle rolled. I gracefully fell, but I managed to keep all of my school work intact. No more heels though. I felt no shame kicking off my shoes and walking limping to the car barefoot. Being barefoot seemed to be the easiest these days, but I’m still confused and frustrated at this point. On to more tests.

As I’m hopping up on the table to get an MRI, the lab technician asks me if I could possibly be pregnant. My husband and I share a bed, so naturally I reply, "Hhhm, yeah. It could definitely be possible, but I don’t think I am." The MRI and a diagnosis were postponed because it turns out I was pregnant with our little gal. We were thrilled, and I was anxious for a new, medical setting. On to my ob/gyn I went.

I honestly can't remember how my body acted when I was pregnant with Mae. I walked very carefully because I was afraid to trip, but I don't remember having many weakness "spells" in my limbs. Thankfully, there didn't seem to be much regression in the weird things my body was doing either and our healthy, beautiful daughter arrived in June, 2010. After our little gal was born, I continued testing and had frequent visits to the neurologist.

And finally the long-awaited (not really) results of a brain MRI and a spinal tap.

I frowned and nodded as my neurologist pointed out the lesions that were on my brain. He was confident that the lesions, or scars, proved to be symptoms of multiple sclerosis. My immune system was attacking and damaging the protective covering (myelin) around certain nerves in my brain and spinal cord. The lesions on my brain showed where the damage was done. Damaged myelin and deteriorating nerves caused miscommunications between my brain and the rest of my body. In this case, the nerves responsible for communicating with my left limbs were getting limited memos.

I remember sitting in the office with Mae, making sure she finished her bottle and hoping she’d take her morning nap. My mommy brain was racing through our schedule of the day and looking forward to nap time. My sleep-deprived self was not too concerned about a brain MRI. I wasn’t sure what all was entailed with multiple sclerosis either. Mentally, I was planning to Google it later now that I had a name for the funkiness my body was doing. I wasn’t crazy after all.

I didn’t expect a diagnosis of anything. Thankfully, I had not been worrying about what the doctor would say or what treatment I would take if they found something. I tend to overthink things and worry, so God was gracious to keep my mind preoccupied with caring for our little girl. It’s not that I didn’t care; I think I was just emotionally and mentally preoccupied. Our daughter Maevri is hugging my arm as I type this. I’m so grateful for God’s provision in caring for me throughout this pregnancy, and I’m reminded constantly of His perfection and faithfulness amidst the failures of my body.

I didn’t know how to react to this diagnosis, but I gradually processed it more as we discussed treatment options with my neurologist, friends and family.