Painting, Pins and Needles by Paul Fenniak

They say that stress can bring about MS exacerbations.  You could say that when my symptoms first appeared I was a little stressed.  My middle child, oldest son, was making plans to escape to college in far away lands.  He was sowing his wild oats, just a little, in typical high school senior fashion.  I was applying for jobs while taking the last classes towards my Bachelor’s Degree and sitting sweaty palmed through first and second interviews…only to be passed up.  I didn’t think I was excessively stressed, but that is the funny thing about stress: sometimes you hold it deep inside and it rears its ugly head in the form of physical decline.

I was 45 and pretty active. I went to Zumba and belly dancing classes.  I regularly walked several miles at a time, at a pretty good clip.  I looked and felt rather fit.  One night in February 2010, after Zumba, I noticed my left foot felt a little numb; primarily my toes.  I thought that maybe I needed a new pair of sneakers with more cushion.  For the next several classes my legs decided to join my foot in feeling this strange pins and needles sensation, and I developed what I could only describe as “boingy” legs.  It got worse with higher impact aerobic activity and as I described it to my doctors, it was worse when “I walked with purpose”.  It was like a strange electrical current would flow up from the ground into my legs. Weird.  My legs felt oddly numb when I shaved.  I could feel them, but it was an altered sensation.

My primary doctor sent me for a lower lumbar MRI, which according to the local neurologist that read the results, was “unremarkable.”  His 10-minute exam resulted in his assessment that “it might get worse, or it might go away.” Well, thank you Dr. B, that sounds like a very intelligent hypothesis.  I decided to see a podiatrist, thinking my symptoms were simply the result of an ingrown toenail or an infection.  My toenails were always a little funky (never in the “we refuse to give you a pedicure” category), but often bruised.  I apparently trip a lot; that should have been a clue.  He gave my toenails a glowing report and suggested I have an EMG (electromyogram) which tests for abnormal muscle electrical activity.  The results were slightly abnormal and I was referred to a nearby big city’s prominent teaching hospital’s department of neurology.  Wow! My podiatrist was referring me to the big dogs while the local neurologist felt I was “unremarkable.”  Are podiatrists even real doctors? I was scheduled for another series of MRI’s, this time cervical and thoracic spine.  No one mentioned MS, though I have the internet.  I, like most people do when they have an ailment, googled my symptoms and the possibility loomed like a dark cloud threatening to open up and pour down upon me.

This time my results were read by the neurologist at the big city teaching hospital affiliated with a prestigious ivy league.  Dr. F wanted me to repeat the test at his facility and included an order for a brain MRI as well as scheduling me for a “full battery,” which is known as evoked potentials which tests for transverse myelitis.  Again, no mention of MS, though it had to have crossed his mind.  It was definitely on mine.  The appointment was booked four months out with both tests scheduled for the same day.  Things seemed to have not gotten any worse so I bided my time. When February finally came, my EP test was canceled because the technician was out of the country.  Then the MRI apparently hadn’t gotten preauthorized in time.  I arrived at my appointment, after an icy hour and a half ride and I was told I would have to be rescheduled. More stress!  By the time all my tests were complete and my follow-up appointment with Dr. F took place, it had been one year since my feet went numb.

My follow-up visit with Dr. F, the neurologist at the prominent medical facility, was quick and to the point.  We looked at my dossier of MRI pics, he pointed to a few white spots, barely visible to my untrained eye, and declared that it was “likely” MS.  Just like that.  Pretty straight forward.  Kind of a wimpy way of delivering such a potentially devastating diagnosis, but I zeroed in on the “likely” part and left with the notion that although “likely” mostly means yes, the word “definitely” was not used so there was still hope right?  He referred me to the MS Center which is affiliated with the hospital and I was given an appointment for April.  It was February 14, 2011.  Thank you for the lovely Valentine, Dr. F.  But the good news was it was only “likely,” and not “definitely.”  Always keep your glass at least partially full.