Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Pain of MS

A couple of years ago I was asked to speak at an MS presentation of Pain and MS. Here is my talk.

The human body is a wonderful work of art, an efficient machine. Like a piece of art or a machine it also can be damaged or break down. When this happens, our bodies have ways of letting us know of an injury and letting us know when it is recuperating.
Pain is the body's way of signalling an injury. In the case of MS, pain indicates a problem in the central nervous system and is sometimes the body's way of telling us it's trying to get itself back to where it should be.
There is trigeminal neuralgia, which is a pain in your jaw that can be relieved, in some cases, by surgery, severing the nerve. There is L'Hermette's sign, that blast of lightning down your spine when you lower your head to your chest. I don't know what, if any, treatment there is for that one. In my case, it was first the itchy skin on half of my body, sometimes scratching my arm and leg 'til they bled. Then wanting to reach back in my throat with my fist to scratch an itch on the inside. Then the burning feeling on my skin that quickly turned to pain upon touch; a layer of clothing was sometimes too much to bear. A co-worker once put an arm around my shoulder and I almost screamed. Sex was out of the question...when half of your body doesn't want to be touched, including your genitals, there is no amount of K-Y jelly in the world that can make things bearable.
I didn't want people to stop touching me and I didn't want to go through any explanations about why, so I got a cane. People will give you a wide berth when they see you with a cane and that kept them away from the right side of my body. It was also protection from accidental bumps from shopping carts or crowds of people in shopping centres. After several weeks, the pain started to subside. Actually, I almost welcomed the pain as it indicated my body was trying to get back to its normal state. It was really too weird to touch the right side of my body and not feel it....when the pain began, it meant that I had feeling back again, such as it was.
The pain subsided after a few weeks, though the tingling remained for several months, slowly leaving my body from the centre outward, until all that was left was the occassional tingle in my toes or fingertips.
For me, MS is one of life's paradoxes. It has resulted in several missed days of work, frustration at being fatigued and having to be inconvenienced with juggling a normal day's schedule to accomodate my need to have a rest or two every day. However, it has provided an enormous learning experience, renewing my interest in neurology. As a result, all symptoms I have had, reveal a part of my brain and its function that I had been unaware of before. Much of what we know about the brain is through studying dysfunction. So, in a way, my having MS, and tracking symptoms, including pain, is advancing the study of the brain. To a student of science, there is nothing more exciting than to be a part of discovery.
Pain may indicate injury, but in this case, it also signalled recovery.


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