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MS hug and the common cold

June 12, 2011

Hello, hope you’re feeling better than I am today. I’m either catching a cold or my allergies have gone haywire (I’m leaning towards a cold because of the sore throat). While trying to get to sleep last night, I got to experience a symptom that I haven’t dealt with in a long time. The last time I experienced it, I ended up in the ER: an “MS hug.”

The first time I experienced this was years ago in college. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me at the time, but I realize now that I was about a week into a relapse that lasted for about 3 weeks. I was tired all the time no matter how much I slept, my muscles were aching and still all the time, constantly had migraines, and a whole lot of cog fog. I was also having the usual numbness and tingling in my toes and fingertips. If I had just needed to go to lectures and scribble down notes, I would have been ok and no one really would have noticed. But, I had to start at a new clinical placement during this.

The first day of my second last placement, I was sent home by the charge nurse. While my preceptor was introducing me to our first patient of the day, I felt like I was going to faint. It was extremely hot in that facility, much hotter than the rest of the placements I had been through, which is what probably brought on the near fainting. I was standing at the foot of the patient’s bed (thankfully they were still asleep so they didn’t see any of this), and I just couldn’t handle the heat anymore. The room started spinning, my vision went blurry, and it felt like the floor was dropping out from under me. My preceptor looked up and noticed that I was going pale and was wobbling. She sat me down in a chair next to the window and opened it (apparently I was slurring something about feeling warm). The cold air felt amazing (this was the middle of winter so it was very cold out) but the room would not stop spinning. I tried to get myself into the tripod positioning so I could do some deep breathing, but when I put my head down tingling shivers ran down my spine (scared the daylights out of me at the time, but now I’m realizing that was probably my first encounter with L’hermitte’s sign…) I started to feel like something was squeezing my chest. I started to panic. What was wrong with me? Am I going to fail this placement before I even really get started? My pulse started to race because of the panic, and my preceptor took me out to the nursing station.

The charge nurse hooked me up to a monitor and checked my blood sugar. Blood glucose was fine, my pulse was dangerously fast, and my blood pressure was through the roof. She couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. A swarm of nurses and aides started to build around the nursing station. Word had been spread that I had actually lost consciousness (though I didn’t), and a fainting student? That’s entertainment. The charge nurse told me if I blood pressure went up anymore she was going to call an ambulance. I was horrified. Leaving a clinical on the first day in an ambulance? Oh hell no, that’s not going to happen. It was clear at this point that I was going to be leaving for the day, the question was how am I going to leave and where am I going. Am I going home by foot? Am I going to have someone pick me up? Will I leave in an ambulance? Will I walk myself to the hospital across the street? I went with the stupid option: walk home.

It turns out though, that this was the best thing for me. The cold was marvelous. It didn’t get rid of the squeezing sensation, tingling, or numbness, but a few minutes into my  walk home and everything stopped spinning. By the time I got home my speech wasn’t slurred anymore. I spent the rest of the day laying in bed beside an open window with a fan blowing on me. Eventually everything but the tingling and numbness went away so I tried to just brush it off and get myself ready to go back to the placement the next day.

Later that night though, it came back. The muscles in my back and arms got even sorer, and the squeezing came back. It made it hard to breath. It wasn’t the same as the tightness in my chest that I get during a really bad chest cold though. It didn’t feel like my lungs weren’t expanding fully, it felt like there was something wrapped around my chest that kept getting tighter. The numbness in my fingers started to spread upwards towards my shoulder in my left arm as the pain in my shoulder started to shoot down my arm. I was fully alert this time, a little lightheaded, but I wasn’t slurring and was completely aware of what was going on. I started to worry that it was a heart attack, so I went to the ER.

I sat in the waiting room after being triaged for about 3 hours despite it being a very quiet night in the ER. Once I finally saw a doctor, I was sent for a chest xray. It showed nothing wrong. They ran an ECG, and once all the leads were on, the tech’s eyes shot wide open and she said “Oh..OOOOOKAY! SO! Uhhh…wow, ok ya we need to calm you down like, RIGHT NOW!” Despite that initial panic, she was fantastic. No need for a sedative to calm me down, she managed to get my heart rate back down to a semi-normal level just by sitting and talking with me. The doctor admitted that he could not figure out what was going on. The wonky ECG reading showed that I wasn’t just faking it to get attention or something, but he had no idea what it was. After a few hours everything but the numb fingertips faded away. While the doctor still couldn’t figure out what was going on, I was stable so he decided not to admit me for observation and told me to come back immediately if the symptoms came back. Thankfully, they never did….until last night.

That feeling of something wrapped around my chest getting tighter and tigher came back about a half hour before I started getting ready for bed. My throat has been kinda sore the past few days and I’ve been getting very stuffed up and sniffly. I assumed it was allergies acting up and waited for it to pass. My throat is much worse now, I have a bit of a fever, a massive sinus headache, and I can’t stop coughing. When I started to get ready for bed last night, the dizziness came back full force. My numbness  spread again (once again I can’t feel the left half of my tongue and roof of my mouth). At least this time I had a good idea of what was going on. Between the hug, aching back and chest muscles, and sinus congestion, breathing was a nightmare. I just sat in bed for hours next to an open window (thankfully there was rain last night so the air was cool) in a tripod position and did as much deep breathing as I could and kept calm. Eventually the banding sensation in my chest eased up enough to let me get some sleep and the room stopped feeling like I was in a centrifuge. Getting to sleep took forever, but once I was out, I was out. I slept like a rock after all that, probably because it was so physically and mentally exhausting.

So, I’m going to try to take it easy today. I’m going to take lots of breaks in between chores, and I’m going to have a light night when I go to work this evening (thank god). I’m certainly not going to go to the doctor for a cold, even if it does bring on this stupid symptoms.


From → Journal

  1. Hi love, WoW it’s amazing how the body can bring so much pain and fear into our lives. I have some thoughts about this so I’ll just run them by you and you can take them seriously or not. I’m just in the habit of thinking out of the box. So one of the things I believe is that there is a limit to the amount of pain and torture anyone can experience. I figure what you’re going through is happening for a reason., There is something to be learned here and once you learn why you are experiencing such pain it will start to go away. I think it has to do with your high conscious level of awareness. People only get to a certain level of awareness and experience resistance. The medical people want us to believe that they are the only ones who can help us. I don’t believe that. I figure they can help but in the end it is your own mind that is going to heal your physical condition. We should keep throwing ideas around and see if things get better.

    your friend, sue

  2. Hi sue,
    While I appreciate your input and respect your opinion, I strongly disagree with it, both as a patient and as one of “the medical people.” While state of mind (mental health) can play a role in physical health (ex: depression is linked with physical pain, thanks to how it throws off the chemical balance in your brain), it cannot cure it. The most likely culprit for the cause of my symptoms is demyelination in my central nervous system thanks to a wonky immune system that is attacking my own body (think of your nerve cells as a wire, with the insulation on the wire slowly being stripped away. That is what happens with a demyelinating disease). I wholehearted wish that disease could be cured with just positive thinking, not just for me, but also for all past, present and future patients under my care, but it just won’t happen. Hypochondria can be a powerful thing, but not all physical symptoms are psychosomatic. Positive thinking can affect a patients ability to heal, but it doesn’t change their illness on it’s own. The way in which it helps them heal is by making them more likely to stick with their medications, engage in physiotherapy, that sort of thing.
    I know a lot of people believe that there is a cause of suffering and a finite amount of suffering in the world, that surely there is something they can do differently to lead a “good” life and they will be able to avoid suffering. This is a very dangerous line to walk, and is the bargaining stage of grieving. For many illnesses, there is as of yet no known definite cause. For others, it is just heredity. For many diseases, it is a combination of environment and genes. To say that a patient somehow deserves their illness because of something they did wrong in their life is very upsetting to me, regardless of what the illness is and who the patient is.
    While I am aware that it is not your intention, most people who have an illness (myself included) find that being told that their mindset is to blame for their illness insulting, condescending, and even flat out rude. Though the remakes are usually made with good intentions and the desire to help, unfortunately it is not helpful and can lead the patient spiral down through depression, anger, and frustration. So while I appreciate your offer to explore the spiritual side of things, as a non-spiritual person who does not wish to blame myself for something that is out of my control, I respectfully decline the offer. Thank you for your input, take care

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