Driving to the store for milk, running the kids to practice, keeping up with laundry, and cooking another meal, are every day and often humdrum tasks that this mother of three faced day after day. Most of us call them the daily grind. When faced with the monotony of these repetitive activities the focus of the value of family was lost in the shuffle. My focus should have been on blessings not the busyness. This state of dread continued until August of 2001 when the ability to perform my humdrum duties was suddenly stripped from me.
Monday, August 8, 2001 began as any other day except my feet chose not to wake up. As the day dragged on, so did my feet. They felt numb, heavy and no amount of stomping could awaken them. Being a bit stubborn, I chose to ignore it and press on with hope that the situation would resolve itself.
Days turned into a week and the numbness continued to move steadily higher. Walking and even using the restroom became more challenging. Fear drove my husband and me to visit the family doctor twice without receiving answers, so we headed to the emergency room. The young doctor provided a diagnosis of a simple medication reaction. Concerned, perplexed, and feeling no relief from symptoms, we headed home.
Saturday I was scheduled 7-11pm at my job as a labor and delivery nurse. My colleagues immediately noted what I could no longer mask. My gait was shuffled, my face was flushed from elevated blood pressure, and I was short of breath. I somehow muddled through my shift and headed home more concerned than ever.
Monday morning I made my fourth dismal trip to my doctor. I spent 3 1/2 hours of meaningless testing and attempts to diagnose my puzzling condition. At the height of frustration and true fear, I demanded to see a neurologist no later than tomorrow. “I want real answers,” I firmly told my baffled practitioner.
August 21, 2001 would remain in our memories forever. Our morning neurology appointment ended before it began due to an out-of-network insurance conflict. Burning with anger and concern for my well-being, my husband called the MD’s office and demanded that we “Will not go home without answers!” The physician directed us to the hospital where we had been 6 days prior, and promised to arrange a neurology consult. I will never forget being dropped at those doors and shuffling to the triage area, for it would be, the last time for more than 2 months that I would walk anywhere on my own.
Once examined, staff and orders began flying into action. The day was a blur of tests, IV’s, medications, a 2 1/2 hour MRI and concerned family filling the waiting room. After testing, I was directly admitted into the Neuro-ICU where we finally saw a neurologist at 10 p.m. After more than 10 days of frustration we finally had a diagnosis- transverse myelitis.
Transverse myelitis is an autoimmune disorder where my white blood cells attacked my spinal column. The resulting inflammation caused symptoms similar to a spinal cord injury. Unfortunately, my condition worsened and began affecting my heart rate and breathing. The initial five days in ICU were critical, bringing family to a constant prayer vigil. I was given mega doses of steroids in attempt to stop the attack on my spinal cord. My husband sat at my bedside and covered my walls with Bible promises. My kids visited for very brief times but God sent me great nurses who cared for me like I was family.
Time passed quickly. Nine days in the ICU was followed by another three weeks on the neurology step down unit. My case was consulted by every “ologist” imaginable. Doctors of all kinds worked to find the actual cause for the transverse myelitis. While they investigated and tested, I worked to regain strength. Physical therapy attempted to have me walk 10 days after my admission. The damage was undeniable as I struggled to even lift my feet. My legs would tremor with any attempted step. The journey had just begun. I started to long for my humdrum life back.
As the reality of a slow recovery set in, I was transferred to a rehabilitation facility to face four more weeks of hospitalization and more time away from my children and “humdrum” tasks. With each hour of therapy, I longed for independence and to perform the tasks that I had previously dreaded. Progress many days was undetectable but determination to have my humdrum life back drove me to keep working.
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I wheeled myself to therapy, discouraged and tired. I slid myself from my wheelchair to a therapy table and started my morning stretches. I overheard the therapists discussing a plane crash and attention to our daily routines was diverted to the unfolding tragedy. We were sent back to our rooms, and therapy was cancelled for the day, as the nation sat wounded and stunned. I realized that the victims of 9-11 would never again have the privilege of humdrum in their lives and my determination grew. Gratitude to God flooded my heart and I rejoiced in being alive and able to press on.
I was discharged on September 28, 2001. Overjoyed to be with my family, I was also overwhelmed with the journey ahead. My time limit for standing was only two minutes, I couldn’t drive, and performing most household tasks required assistance. Family had prepared my home with a wheelchair ramp, a makeshift first floor bedroom, shower handles and seat to ease my transition. My wheelchair and walker were close acquaintances for many weeks but my determination stayed intact. I dreamed of the day that I would be able to drive to the store and buy that glorious gallon of milk!
It has been over 18 years since my transverse myelitis diagnosis. And, I’ve had another challenge to face along the way. In 2003, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Life has produced many ups and downs in my journey. I have encountered a total of nine MS relapses in less than 10 years, multiple hospitalizations, and ongoing treatments. But I’m still determined and have not lost my joy for the mundane tasks of life. Fatigue is a definite challenge and I have made numerous adjustments to my lifestyle, including giving up my career as a nurse. When facing adversity, we learn great lessons of appreciation for the simple things in life. I encourage each reader to cherish every day, moments with loved ones, and each humdrum task you encounter. There is great joy in the humdrum you just have to adjust your focus!