Today the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday, and with this milestone it is important to acknowledge what a valuable asset it is. With a government that seems to care very little about it, it is more vital than ever before that we shout from the rooftops about the wonders it performs day and night 365 days a year, and make our opinions known when it comes to ensuring that the NHS receives the funds it needs to continue you the amazing work it currently performs.
I am lucky to have experienced both sides of our NHS, as a student midwife I witnessed the strain in staff numbers and how overworked they are; as a patient I honestly doubt whether I would still be alive without them. I’ve had more ambulance trips than I care to count, and spent many months over the years being cared for as an inpatient. Without my neurologist I know that I would have little quality of life; I would not be able to eat, drink, talk, see, or move my limbs. He enables me to live a life that is fulfilling.
To the NHS I say thank you. Without you many lives would be extinguished, and many more would be experiencing incredible suffering. Thank-you for doing your all every day and night all year long. Thank-you for continuing to provide outstanding care despite your own government failing to supply you adequately. Thank-you.
Yes that’s right Dr, at the tender age of six I was bitten by a mythological creature. Within six months of this terrifying beast having a chew on my thigh you diagnosed me with M.E. You had exhausted all other diagnostic criteria. Not once did you consider that something so dramatic as a dragon bite may have occurred. Had you have taken a thorough medical history maybe right from the start you would have suspected Lyme Disease, perhaps you would have treated me and cured me of this hideous illness straight away. But how silly of me. You are a Dr, you do not deal in the likes of maybes, possibilities and mythological creatures; only cold hard facts, ones that fit nicely into your tick boxes.
Over the last 17 years do you know how many times your kind have uttered the words “It would appear you have X, but I am unsure because you just don’t fit into any of these boxes exactly!” Since when did the boxes become so rigid and unadaptable, are we not all unique individuals with our own mix of conditions that affects us all in varying ways? If as people we are so unpredictable in the way a condition may manifest, why then are your boxes so unforgiving. Only Monday of this week the Dr sat there trying to decide whether to diagnose me with inflammation of the optic nerve in both eyes or inflamed retinas in both eyes. Frankly the lovely woman was lost, I had her quiet confounded. She could see plainly that I was rather ill, her barrage of tests confirmed that, but not one of them could put their finger on as to why. I sat there quietly next to my mother, both of us whispering “The dragon bit me 17 years ago, but you don’t believe in Chronic Lyme Disease.”
Now replace the word dragon with a tick. This small seemingly insignificant creature is known to carry, in many cases, Lyme Disease. A disease that more often than not will report a false negative during testing due to the lack of accurate testing methods available. Oh but a lumbar puncture would pick it up you say? Yes, it sometimes does, but my neurologist swears me away from it for fear of making my Dystonia worse. One hospital says we will give you IV antibiotics that you need to cure you but we will only do this if you have an L.P, another admits they are 100% certain I have chronic Lyme but their hands are tied due to regulations that are out of date and blinded with inaccuracies.
Chronic Lyme is often hailed as the Great Pretender. You only have to look at me to see why. Here I am in another flare up of symptoms, attempting to treat each one as it appears. Its distressing really, knowing that IV antibiotics would cure but regulations prevent this as I’ve had both positive and negative results. So in the meantime it’s a guessing game of what will subdue the next round of symptoms for now.
If only Drs believed in mythological beasts like Dragons and Lyme Disease.
Since I last blogged things have been hectic. I have spent the majority of my days either at the hospital having various investigations carried out, or on the phone to them chasing down followup appointments. This week I have had more bloods taken and an MRI of my brain, eyes and spine with contrast performed. Tuesdays MRI experience seemed a bit surreal. It took 35 minutes, three medical personnel and 7 attempts before I was successfully cannulated as my veins were up to their usual disappearing act. This time allowed for me to internally become quiet anxious at the thought of being in the MRI machine for a minimum of an hour – in the end it was about one hour twenty. I am generally not a claustrophobic person, but this machine brings that fear out in me, this is most likely exacerbated by the fact that I have to be strapped to the table to ensure my spasms cannot move me around to much and distort the images.
Taken just after escaping the MRI machine
My stress levels have been through the roof this last week. I have fought so hard over the last four years to be put on a medication regime that allows me to have more control over my body again, and live a relatively normal life. The mere thought that my body may become more of an issue again is distressing. However I am lucky that I have a good support system in place, my family help keep me distracted, my boyfriend is great at talking through my concerns with me, and my councilor has been a fantastic space for me to vent and explore my frustrations at my faulty body.
Relaxing in Costa after a long day of tests at the hospital
I get the results of my MRI on Monday. So I shall know then whether more investigations need to be carried out or if it is MS.
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!
Currently I feel like I am a whirlwind of emotions – confusion, terror, anger, helplessness – are to name a few. From the 1st of September almost daily I will get another test result back from the private hospital, and then on the 10th I shall attend to see if they have decided to treat me or not. If they do agree then I cannot even begin to describe the relief I would feel at finally getting the correct treatment. But it would be very bittersweet relief as I would have to somehow fund this treatment.
Yet the panic I am already feeling about finances is nothing in comparison to the terror I feel about having to deal with the spasms caused by my Lyme Disease on top of my Dystonia again. I know that I have dealt with it all before so I CAN cope again, but I don’t want to. The thought of it sends me running for the hills. When my hands spasmed before I frequently used to tell my mum that I felt like I had pulled my fingers out of joint, I’ve recently been diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos type 3, which makes it highly likely that I was subluxing in my fingers. To be frank I am scared of the extra amount of pain that untreated Lyme Disease will bring. At the moment with oral treatment it is dulled down, manageable. Which has enabled me to learn to cope with Dystonia and the pain that it causes. I don’t want to go back to being rushed by ambulance in to hospital every month.
I have enough oral antibiotics to get me through to the middle of September at the moment. From our recent experience of coming off the antibiotics and the deterioration that that caused I am loath to go through it again. Its quite selfish really as I know a lot of my fear stems for not wanting to lose my hands again. I love being able to do simple activities such as brushing my own hair. It is a sign of independance and I get such satisfaction from being able to do tasks such as this.
The majority of my Dystonia is well controlled with Botox, and Benedict is not inflicting too much pain at the moment. I just want to maintain/improve my condition. In the meantime I shall keep my fingers crossed that the private hospital wants to treat me, and wish to the NHS fairy that they open their eyes and acknowledge chronic Lyme, and start treating us sufferers properly!!
The last several days have been very busy and very positive. I finally feel that I am getting things in place that I need and have an aspect of control. As I have little control over parts of my body, having control over some aspects of my life is very satisfying and makes up for my Dystonia alien crazy ways.
This coming Monday I am going to my local hospital for an appointment with the Orthotic department. My splints have served me well over the last few months, however as it has gotten colder my spasms in my legs have gotten worse. My right leg spasms so strongly that it often manages to escape my splints. I am hoping Orthotics may have an idea of what they could do to help. If not I have some images of some splints that I think may be able to contain my legs. It would mean having a solid front section to the splint as well as a solid back, this I think would work well as it would be a lot harder for my leg to break through. I’m looking forward to hearing their ideas.
When the Dystonia hit my legs I was given your standard NHS wheelchair – lets describe it as sturdy. My poor mother struggles to lift it in and out the car, and watching my friends lift it makes me feel awful. Recently however the functional paralysis that I experience on and off has meant that my wheelchair needs some extras added to it but this is not something that is possible. This has meant that when I have an episode of paralysis affecting my back I have ended up flopping half out the wheelchair and being stuck till it comes back.
So after a couple of weeks of pointing this out repeatedly to the NHS Wheelchair service I am now being reassessed to see if I qualify for a voucher that would enable a chair to be customized for me. Even better news is that the even with all the extra things added to it the chair will still be much lighter than my current one.
Knowing that my splint and wheelchair issues are going to be dealt with has given me such peace of mind and enabled me to relax. They are such small issues but in the long run have a big impact so having the two solved will make a big difference.
Last Saturday I attended a bring and buy sale at my local Church. One of the stalls was raising money for The Dystonia Society. In the end just over a £100 was raised, which is incredible. I would just like to say a huge thank-you to everyone involved.
“Dystonia is an unpredictable condition. It tends to progress slowly and the severity of a person’s symptoms can vary from one day to another“, NHS Choices. This quote sums up Dystonia quite nice and simply I think. It is extremely unpredictable, which makes it hard to work out what you are capable of doing one day to the next, if you guess wrong the games over for the day. In my case guessing wrong would result in me putting my spasming body to bed and hoping that a long nap will help calm my symptoms down…but thats providing the spasms don’t stop me from getting to sleep. I always try to make the most out of each day, to accomplish as much as I can incase the next day results in being unable to move from my bed. However trying this can often backfire on me and ensures that I spend the next day in bed, but sometimes if I’m really lucky I get away with it for a day or two. These are the days I love, as on these days I am beating my Dystonia – not permanently, but even an hour of winning is a huge achievement.
Dystonia symptoms and it’s impact varies from person to person. A quick glance at the Dystonia Society’s list of type of Dystonia and their symptoms gives you an idea of just how wide a range http://www.dystonia.org.uk/index.php/about-dystonia/types-of-dystonia . Due to this it does not surprise me that Doctors understand so little about the condition, why patients have little choice but to fight tooth and nail to find a treatment that works for them, to find a doctor who will listen. Through the power of the internet I have slowly got in touch with more and more sufferers, and even a handful of curious doctors. The sufferers amaze me. I hear the stories, and count myself lucky that I have a good support network, something many do not have. We all band together to raise our voices to get Dystonia out there, and it’s working. Slowly but it’s working. The emails I get from Doctors around the world prove that.
Yesterday at Choir we were practicing Christmas songs, which got me thinking of all the things I was thankful for. As much as I wish nobody had to suffer from this hideous condition, I am so extremely thankful that there are others out there. That those of us lucky to have found each other can support one another, give advice and a listening ear. Without being in contact with these amazing people, I honestly wonder how I would cope. I am also thankful to those of you who read this blog, and often share it with others. Since becoming ill I have become determined to become an advocate for Dystonia, to make my voice heard, and bring awareness to the condition and what it is like to live with it. Looking at the comments you lovely people leave me, the shares, likes and statistics brings me such happiness, as it shows me just how far my voice is being heard and assures me I am on the right path.
On one last note, I promised a while ago to upload photos of the amazing women who raised money to buy me a bath lift. I have attached them underneath. I feel incredibly lucky to have met such generous and caring women.
I am so angry right now. I have tried to get in to see my GP for about two weeks now, but as I have been unable to see him I asked him to phone me. I wanted to discuss having IV antibiotics arranged. When I saw my neurologist 5 weeks ago, he agreed that a lumbar puncture would do me more damage than good and that it was worth switching from oral antibiotics to IV. My neurologist put all of this in a letter for my GP.
My GP is usual a great source of help, and I usually think he is fantastic – however usual is the key word here. Today was one of those days where he was exceptionally un-helpful and left me in a rage. He stated that he did not want to arrange it as it would be “complicated”, and he wants me to come in so he can explain why it was “complicated”. When I pointed out the reason I had not been into see him was because he was fully booked in the evenings when someone is at home to take me, he claimed that was nonsense – I had to bite my tongue at this point as I’m sure the receptionist would not lie to me for 2 weeks about him being booked up. He then asked to speak to my mother!!!! Now I am sorry but I am 20, why on earth is he asking this?! Now my mother comes to all my appointments with me, but really what is so complicated that he has to explain to my mum instead of myself?
I feel disgusted, disappointed and disheartened. He wants ANOTHER letter from my neurologist about IV treatment. Luckily I have an appointment with my Neurological Consultant next Tuesday, so I shall explain and ask him to write another one then, but this is all beyond ridiculous. He already has one letter stating it, how will another one saying the same thing make any difference?
I could go privately and pay for the treatment myself, however it is very expensive and I don’t see why I should to do so, when my neurologist was happy for it to be done on the NHS. Why does the medical profession insist on picking a fight with me at every hurdle? All I want is to rid me body of the disease that caused my Dystonia, is that really too much to ask? After all if they had picked up on it 14 years ago I would not have Dystonia now!
In the winter I quickly discovered that cold weather and Dystonia do not mix, my body spasmed constantly and I had to leave the house with several layers on and a hot water bottle or two! I never worried about how the heat may affect my Dystonia, and if our weather had stayed typically British then I am sure my spasms would have stayed to their ‘normal’ rate.
Now don’t get me wrong I love the fact we have had a lovely stretch of untypical heat, which in turn has led to BBQ’s, evenings in the garden etc, however I don’t love that it is sending my feet and legs barmy. I get through the day but by the evening I want to beg my feet to uncurl. In desperation I bought a desktop fan for my room to help me at night, which is so far working a treat. It has been a delight though to see the blue skies and watch birds on the bushes outside my bedroom window. Summer always brings a little uplift in mood for me which is fantastic.
My Botox is definitely kicking in now and I have barely any pain thanks to the spasms disappearing. I have some pain in my TMJ‘s (your jaw joints) but this is nothing in comparison to what I was in. It is amazing how much of an impact these injections can have and I feel very lucky that I respond well to them.
Thanks to the permission of some amazing people I have compiled a letter for the Health Secretary containing the different stories of people with Dystonia and their struggles for help. The Health Secretary told me he could not deal with just one case so I decided to compile these stories and open his eyes to the struggles we go through to receive treatment! Whilst I recognise some people have had fantastic service from the medical society, so many people have not and their voices need to be heard.
If you would like to help me open up the government and the NHS/private doctors eyes and try to get more help for us sufferers then please contact me with your story at either email@example.com or here https://www.facebook.com/dystoniajourney .