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Friday, July 25, 2008

Who am I? Part 2

If you haven't yet read Part 1, click here...

Part 2
In November of 1997, not even a year into our new life together, all our plans came tumbling down around us. Note to self ~ don't make plans. It was a few weeks before finals. I still had about a year of college to finish. I was taking 18 credit hours and working 2 part-time jobs. I guess things started to catch up with me because I was really tired.

Then, one day, I got this really odd spot in my left eye. It was kind of gray in the middle. When I watched television, the outside edges of the screen were clear, but the inside was fuzzy. Then, all of a sudden, I got a really bad, and I do mean a REALLY BAD headache. I could pinpoint the exact moment it came on and the exact location of the pain. It was very... weird. The pain was directly behind my left eye. If you were to drill a hole (Ok, don't get grossed out, this is just a description ~ stick with me here...) through my left temple and another one from the top of my head above my left eye, down, the pain generated from the point where the two would meet. The pain was especially intense whenever I would turn my head or move my eyes.

Over the course of several days to a week, the pain got worse and worse, and the spot in my vision got bigger and darker until I was completely blind in that eye. I was scared. You know, I didn't really value things like my vision or my health until they were taken away from me at that moment.

I went to the doctor on campus, and his first thought was that I had a migraine. That made sense to me because my mom has always had migraines. So, he gave me a very strong shot of Toridol to take away the pain. And, it worked! I felt better... for about an hour, and then the pain came back and my vision did not return. So, the next day, we tried another shot, but this time, it didn't touch the pain. At that point, the doctor referred me to see an ophthalmologist in town to see why my vision had still not returned.

This doctor did some visual tests and examined my eyes. I vividly remember the lady technician who performed some of the tests having me look at the letters in the machine and asking me what the lowest line I could read was. I was frustrated because, in the beginning, I couldn't seem to make them understand. I told her I couldn't see them and so she changed something on the machine and asked me if that was better. I told her, "No, it's black. I can't see anything at all with this eye." I was so scared. What if I would never see with that eye again?

Well, like I said, this doctor examined my eyes and then he sat down with me and D.T. to talk. I will never forget sitting in that chair and hearing what he was about to tell me. There are a few people and events that have changed the course of my life, and this was one of those events.

He told me that I had a condition in my left eye called optic neuritis, and I thought, "What's that?" Then, he explained that optic neuritis is simply a swelling of the optic nerve, and I thought, "Ok, so what do we do to take away the swelling?" I wasn't really verbalizing any of this, but everything was just swarming around in my head. Then, he said that this condition is more common in young women than in men, and that often, it is the first symptom of Multiple Sclerosis. At that point, I think I stopped listening. Somehow, through my fog and tears, I heard the doctor say that we needed to do an MRI to determine a course of treatment. I heard him say that if the MRI showed any lesions on my brain, I would need to go to the hospital for steroid treatment and that "studies show" that this will reduce my chances of having Multiple Sclerosis in 5 years. I thought, "Studies... what studies? Reduce my chances? Don't I either have it or not?" I was 21 years old, and I felt like my life was over. All I could think about was not being able to see or walk or take care of myself. I was sure my life would never be the same again.

Standing in the waiting room following my visit, I remember hearing the nurse on the phone with the hospital, trying to schedule my MRI. It seemed like she was having a hard time getting them to give her a quick appointment, and the doctor overheard her frustration. So, HE actually got on the phone with the person at the hospital. Of course, I could only hear his side of the conversation as he told them, "I don't care if they have to stay until midnight, this patient needs an MRI TODAY!" Needless to say, that is exactly what happened. I remember thinking as the receptionist handed me the test orders, "This must be really bad." I don't remember the exact time, but I do remember it was dark as we drove to the hospital and I think it was somewhere around 9 p.m. when they put me in the machine.

The next week was like a blur. My parents came down to be with us. Thanksgiving was only a few days away. The day following the MRI, I had my usual classes on campus. I went a few minutes early to my Psychology class (Bibliotherapy) to talk to my professor. I explained to her what was going on and told her that I might have to leave in the middle of class if my doctor called. Sure enough, he did. I felt so conspicuous when my cell phone rang and I had to get up and walk out. It was the doctor, and he told me that my MRI showed lesions and that I needed to go to the hospital right away.

If I thought it felt awkward leaving class the first time, it felt a whole lot more awkward walking back in class, gathering all my things, and walking back out the second time. It was very surreal.

That night I started a 3-day treatment with IV steroids, which was supposed to reduce the swelling on my optic nerve and restore my vision. This was definitely not my favorite thing in the world to do. Suffice it to say, I HATE needles, and now that I have had the pleasure of having steroids, I HATE them too. They make you feel really nasty. Fortunately, the nurse was able to leave the IV in for 3 days and just wrap up my arm each night before I left to keep it in place. Fortunately, the treatment worked very quickly and my vision began to come back after just the first day. I must say it was the oddest Thanksgiving I have ever had. We ate dinner at a nearby hotel restaurant, and I could only eat with my left hand because the IV was in the right. Let's just say I'm clumsy anyway!

The hardest part of the whole treatment was actually after it was done because I experienced withdrawal symptoms until all the medicine had left my system. That was the beginning of my love relationship with Advil! LoL!!

Well, like always, this is getting too long. I guess there will have to be 3 parts so I can tell you how I responded to everything and how it has impacted the rest of my life. It's all part of who I am.

Coming soon... Part 3

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