Onset

onset

Onset (noun)
the beginning of something, especially something unpleasant

It was the summer of 2008. I had just turned 39 and was in the south of France on vacation (living in Switzerland) with a friend. I’d been working dozens of hours a week and desperately needed a holiday. Unfortunately southern Europe was experiencing the worst heat wave they’d had in over a decade. It was 100 degrees which made it hard to do anything outdoors. We hid in shops, movie theatres, and cafes.

We were staying at a lovely winery and while we did taste some of the local fare, by no means were we walking around squiffy. One night I went to bed fine, and the next day I woke up with a numb butt. I remember asking my friend if that had ever happened to her, it had not.

That started my odyssey for a diagnosis. Flash back to a few years earlier and I did crisis work for a multiple sclerosis medicine that was removed from the market and re-released after proper precautions were put into place. In the deep recesses of my mind, I knew something was wrong aside from the everyday aches and pains we experience.

The next months would come with experiencing weakness in both legs, more numbness, and a lot of fatigue. Fatigue so bad that after sitting in a movie for two hours, I would walk a dozen steps and need to sit down on a bench.

I saw my GP, chiropractor, and acupuncturist. I knew that the weakness in both legs at the same time wasn’t sciatica since I have experience with that. Your sciatic nerve is on both sides and not connected. So it’s rare that would you have it bilaterally.

My GP did all kinds of blood work to rule out potential diagnosis, which is still currently the way you also rule IN the diagnosis of MS, including lumbar puncture. Tests for Lupus, lyme disease, syphilis (latent disease can cause neurological symptoms), and a brain tumor (more on this later).

The GP finally referred me to a general neurologist who did some basic motor skills tests and said that I was fine. In the U.S. I would have pushed for more test, and they likely would have at least done a brain MRI, though it may not have shown anything at that point.

In December I had an eye issue where my eyes had trouble focusing distance. No problem seeing up close, just distance. I saw an optometrist (no issue with my prescription) and referred to the eye clinic at the University Hospital. I spent NINE hours at the eye clinic one Saturday. It was like something out of the 1600s, literally. A few days later I met with the attending physician who said I likely had strabismus. Ok, so while my dad had it as a child, I’d just had an eye exam for my contact lenses a few months prior. So NO, it wasn’t strabismus, but rather like when you get a weird rash and the doctor calls it “contact dermatitis” because they have no idea what it really is.

I went back to the general neurologist who now thought it would be good to get a brain scan. Upon receipt of those images, his next idea was to do a lumbar puncture. Playing a doctor during the day, I knew there had to be something in between a brain scan and a sticking a HUGE needle into my back.

Between the results of the brain scan and the eye issue, this was sufficiently enough to freak me out. I was going home in a few days to have knee surgery (a story for another time). So I put my dad on the mission to get me into see a neurologist back home that could help me sort the issues. Two phone calls and 20 minutes later I had an appointment with one of the top neurologists in the U.S. who I still see to this day. I call it mobilizing the Jewish healthcare mafia. We ALWAYS have a doctor to recommend.

Two days later (NYC) I was in the neurologist’s office, images in hand, and parents for support. He reviewed the images and said he saw a few more tiny brain lesions, but nothing that would give him cause for concern. He did some motor skills tests and since I was asymptomatic at that point, he didn’t consider it MS. Phew! Dodged a virtual bullet. He gave me his card and said call his mobile any time and we were on his way.

Three months went by and all was fine. Then the last week of March I couldn’t get my feet warm at all. Warm water, double socks, heating pad. My feet were constantly cold. And over the course of the week I went numb from my feet up over my stomach. Not paralyzed, but numb. I could still walk and no one was on the wiser.

I finally called my GP and although he felt it would subside it was probably time to go to the ER. I took a shower, packed some clothes, and hopped on the tram to the hospital. In hindsight I probably should have waited to text my dad because it was 10a where I was and 4a here in NYC.

They took me back into a room and I immediately called the neurologist I’d seen in NY a few months earlier. It was really important for me to have someone back home in the healthcare system who a) knew where I was and b) could be connected into the treating physician. Turns out I was at the hospital where the top MS institute in Europe is located.

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