Over the last few month social media has been aflame in reaction to your demand of a seven day week NHS, and dismissive and degrading attitude towards Junior Drs. For weeks I decided not to weigh in on the argument but as an extremely frequent user of the NHS I feel it right to raise my voice. I may sit here typing away and complain about yet another run in with my neurologist, but whenever I have really needed the NHS they have been there, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day!
For almost two years my condition was seriously uncontrolled, this resulted in an ambulance being called out at least once, if not twice, a month. The paramedics had never heard of any of my conditions; they had to learn on the spot and stabilize me the best they could before transferring me to the hospital. My family have nothing but three years of positive thanks for the paramedics we have come into contact with.
Whilst I lie seizing on a trolley, unconscious in a hospital because my brain cannot deal with the pain my movement disorder is causing; it is the Junior Drs that 9 out of 10 times provide the treatment. They are not yet stuck in rigid textbook ways, they want to learn and get stuck in with my non-compliant body, trying everything they can think of. They have gone above up and beyond for me.
My neurologist has scheduled appointments at 5pm but not seen me till gone 6pm. He could have sent me home; he could have had me booked into another clinic or requested a member of his team see me. However, he stayed on into the evening to treat me, he spent more time than he needed listening and answering my questions. His clinic had long since closed but he always makes time for those who need it, I have not once seen him turn a patient away due to the time.
So you see Mr Hunt, I have experienced a fair section of the NHS services over the years. I have had scheduled appointments and I have been rushed into resus by ambulance at 3am on a Sunday morning. They are already providing an incredible 24/7 service, instead of cutting budgets and debilitating already struggling hospitals, try enabling them for a change!
I’m currently on week seven of my Botox cycle. My injections are not being administered for another week due to a mistake (lets presume it’s a mistake and not my new neurologist being devious, because being frank I would not put it past him). I should be in bed asleep right now. Normally I would currently either be asleep or out with friends. Instead I am medicated to the extreme, I have lavender wheat bags heated up wrapped round my neck, and resting along my jaw and heat packs stuck along my back. To say I’m in agony would be an understatement.
I have resorted to taking Oramorph, a medication I try my best to avoid, however I would much rather give in and take it than have a seizure (click here to read what a seizure is like), and right now I’m concerned that with the amount of pain I am in that I will have one. My brain is not staying connected to my mouth tonight, functional paralysis is something I have suffered from for a few years now, but it has never ceased to terrify me. I understand that it is simply my brain being unable to cope with the amount of pain I am in, so it disconnects from the affected part but it is an unnatural experience that no matter how much I attempt to laugh off unnerves me.
Tonight my jaw is particularly bad, and is frequently being functionally paralysed leaving me unable to verbally communicate. It may seem like a small thing to some, but when you are trying to desperately to get any part of your mouth; whether that be your lips, tongue, just anything, to move and they won’t, apart from when they spasm, its horrendous. I cannot yell for help if I need it, I cannot cry in frustration or call someone to talk too to distract myself. I am stuck with my jaw spasming, distorting itself in ways that should not be possible, threatening to dislocate, and all I can do is cry silent tears, pray that I do not have a seizure and use this blog as an outlet for my pent-up frustration with this crushing condition.
I have a 9am lecture tomorrow morning. Which I am determined to attend, most likely in a wheelchair for my own safety, one of my close friends has agreed to take me there which has helped put my mind at rest. For now it is back to attempt sleep and hope that my little Dystonia Alien allows me some rest
When I received my miracle unconditional offer from Oxford Brookes this year my mother and I ended up have numerous discussions on how I would manage on my own at uni. These talks mainly focused around the idea of having carers, 3 or 4 times a week, to help me with basic household tasks that some days are just too much for me to manage. At the time I was insistent on doings myself and put my foot down. I was determined to be an independent, strong, young woman who could manage all aspects of life without any help. Numerous other adults alongside my mother, pointed out that my mum would be right, university would be a reality shock, not only with an increase in work load but also with a huge increase in social life.
Needless to say I listened to what everyone had to say, I took it on board, and promptly carried on with my own plans. Not only did I want to be independent but I was also worried about the judgement I may face from my peers at needing care. My bedroom is rather large, which is great for days when I rely on my wheelchair, but I can easily overdo it by cleaning without realising it. I tried for two weeks before I resorted to carers. Giving in and saying “Yes, I need help!” was honestly the best decision I have made since being here. My fears of being judged and avoided like the plague where unfounded. There have been no drawbacks, just pure relief. I have more time and energy to put towards tasks that need doing for uni without having to worry about little things like hoovering.
My next task to tackle is pacing. For 3 years I have listened to my neurologist tell me to pace my life and stress the importance of it; and for three years I have simply nodded my head and carried on charging on. I have always been focused on the next achievement. It’s not taken me long to realise that tactic will not work for me here. Running on full steam will leave me having a flare-up frequently, which I simply cannot afford to be doing. It’s time to get my act together and learn the mysterious art of pacing…
Today was the first time I have had to give in and use my wheelchair at uni. I had anticipated that today would be harder than usual as I had traveled to London yesterday for my routine injections. My body always reacts badly to them for the first 24 to 48 hours, normally this leaves me in a lot of a pain and with an increase in spasms, which with a mix of painkillers and muscle relaxants I can manage. I therefore had not expected to fall over when getting out of bed this morning. My back and neck had gone into a hideous spasm and my brain had functionally paralysed both legs and my left arm. I spent half an hour lying on the floor like this, debating what to do. I gave myself an hour in which if I managed to get dressed I would venture to uni in my wheelchair and braces, and if I was still on the floor I would ring the Wardens.
I felt extremely proud of myself that it only took half an hour to get dressed this morning despite my brain fighting me, this must be a new personal best. I admit that as I braced the majority of my body I was extremely nervous. My peers are aware that I am ill, but they have never seen me like this, I had no idea how they or my lecturers would react. Within minutes of being in uni my nerves were swept away. Not only did no-one bat an eyelid, but people helped me when I needed it without me even asking.
Part of me had strongly wanted to not go in to uni today. I was worried of what others would think, and how I would physically cope, I had already had several draining days and was concerned that this on top would be too much. I am extremely glad that I took the leap, and forced myself to go. It will help keep my mind at rest the next time my brain decides that a day of alternating between spasms and paralysis would be fun.
When you hear the word university student what do you picture? I’m sure that many of you conjure up an image very similar to my own. One of students sitting in a small dingy flat knocking back a stomach churning concoction from a mix as part of a drinking game; or stumbling back, shoes in hand, giggling from yet another night out. My ideas are based on experiences from my year at uni in 2011/2012. Whilst planning my return to university my mother and I have had many discussion on student life and how sensible I’m going to have to be this time round.
I have struggled to get my head round the fact that frankly I do not have the stamina I once did. My medication, spasms, and pain levels all have an impact. Now that’s not to say I can’t have a night or two out. I just cant do it back to back every night of the week. If I did I would be a spasming wreck and back in the hospital in no time. Whilst mentally I am the same old Becca, physically I am much weaker and more disabled than when I was last at uni. When I was last a student I was not battling Dystonia, I did not know then what it was like to lose control of your body like I do now. Although my condition is well controlled, it’s still up and down. I know when I’m on muscle relaxants I can’t drink, so my body will force me to be sensible every 6/7 weeks when my injections are due. The rest of the time will be down to self-control, and learning what works for me. Prioritising is key to making sure that I am well enough to attend lectures, and doing the studying that is required etc.
I have not lived any element of a student life since becoming ill. It will be a big adjustment process, which I will have to catch on to quickly. As my moving day creeps nearer (24 days) my nerves increase. I’m anxious to take this next step but nervous at just how much of an impact Dystonia shall have. However I am aware that as usual I am worrying over something that is outside my control, there is nothing I can do but enjoy my time at university and handle my spasms with my medical team as they come.
We recently got back from a beautiful family holiday on the coast. The weather was fantastic, and there is something relaxing about waking up to the sound of the sea lapping against sand. Going on holiday with Dystonia requires a fair amount of preparation. Every medication I’m currently prescribed has to be brought with us, just in case of an emergency, so that we can try to ‘contain’ the amount of spasms and deviation my body endures. Even though I can walk, both my walking sticks and my wheelchair were also packed. In all honesty I thought that packing the wheelchair was overkill, but then I have never enjoyed being it, I used to quite literally bum shuffle around the house rather than use my chair.
As many of you will be aware I have recently had a change in neurologist. At my first consultation with him he declared that he would not be following my old injection routine and that we would be switching from 6 weekly to 10 weekly injections. My objections to this change fell on stubborn, deaf ears. Due to his determination I spent my holiday, and the weeks either side of it, unable to consume solid food. Smoothies and soup were my saving grace. Chewing led to rather painful jaw spasms. It made sense to switch to soft/liquid foods in order to trigger the spasms less.
I spent several hours on a couple of separate occasions functionally blind whilst we were away. My eyes had spasmed shut. This was a complete shock to the system, my condition has been incredibly well managed for so long. It is my arm and jaw that I am used to contending with; not my eyes. I don’t think I’ve felt as thankful for my wheelchair as I had in that moment. For once I did not begrudgingly sit in it, I clambered in thankful that it enabled me to still be out with my family whilst lessening the risk of injuring myself. My family were fantastic, describing the sights in front of them to me so I could conjure up in my mind’s eye my own version. My brother amused us all by whizzing around the aquarium with me clutching on to the wheelchair with fear and hilarity.
I would much rather have not had to fight my Dystonia whilst I was away, but in hindsight I’m glad I had no option but to do so. Not only did it create some great memories, but it gave me the strength to not back down when I visited my new neurologist this past Wednesday. I stood my ground and managed to get him to agree to seven weekly injections and back at my normal dosage. This has left me feeling optimistic and far more relaxed about my upcoming move to university.
Today I had my first Hydrotherapy session, this was the first in a course of six. This morning I found myself feeling a mixture of emotions. Part of me was incredibly excited, I previously had hydrotherapy back in 2009 to treat Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, and found it to be very helpful, so I know just how beneficial it can be. However I was also slightly nervous, I could not help but wonder how my quirky body would react to the therapy now. Would it set a seizure off? And if it did how quickly would the staff react? The one positive being, if I had a seizure, that the hydrotherapy takes place at my local hospital and the A&E staff know me very well.
The session could not have gone better. The pool was wonderfully warm which helped relax my rather achy muscles. Having the water support my joints whilst I did the exercises was great as while the water in itself provided a challenge, it also meant I could not hurt myself. For example whenever I twitched in the pool the water provided a resistance to my arm, slowing it down slightly and supporting it, which meant I didn’t hurt myself like I normally do. We had lots of laughs during the session, with my spasms ending up with me splashing my physio repeadedly in the face, and the floats that we had been using during an exercise going flying across the pool. It was great for it to happen in a safe, pain free enviroment!
Below I have put a sneaky photo (I was trying to avoid capturing other patients) that I took at the hospital earlier, it lists some of the benefits of Hydrotherapy. This includes pain relief, and reduction of muscles spasms. It shall be interesting to see if it will help with the spasms I experience! If you have had Hydro, feel free to drop me a line I’d love to hear your experiences.
Today marks three years since my life got a good shake up as my Dystonia alien made its presence known. So much has happened over the last few years that it’s hard to keep track, I’ve had a handful of operations, countless x-rays, far too many ambulance trips, and appointment after appointment with varying Consultants. I have also gone from being reliant on a wheelchair fulltime, to being able to walk with the aids of splints!
It has been an incredibly emotional journey, and I think that’s a naturel response to everything that’s happened. I’m finally at a place in my life where I feel like I am climbing the mountain that is Dystonia, instead of tumbling down it. I still have days like today, where it’s more like I am stubbornly camped out on it, refusing to fall. This morning I woke with my jaw in spasm, and my neck spasming on and off. So naturally I have spent a section of this afternoon lying on my living room floor, as the support that position gave my neck and back was the only way I felt comfortable. A year ago doing this would probably have left me feeling annoyed that I had resorted to doing it, today I was simply laughing, though maybe I am simply losing the plot.
Battling this condition has become second nature, nowadays I always have medication on me, and sometimes there’s even a TENs machine in my handbag. It surprises me how quickly Benedict has become accepted into everyday life without a second thought. This is a bittersweet realisation. It’s fantastic because it shows we are managing, that we are not drowning under the pressure the condition puts upon us. However a part of me feels sad that it has become so second nature, simply because who wants it to be part of their routine to remember to take one of their many pills or injections?
I’ve always kept score against Benedict. I think this year I finally got even.