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24 Hours Was All It Took

24 November 2017

Unlike most diagnoses of Multiple Sclerosis 24 hours was all it took to receive my diagnosis and, what's more, it was me that asked to be tested specifically for MS

It was November 1997 when I went off to see a neurologist. I had been booked in to see the specialist following a car accident with a semi-trailer which resulted in me suffering whiplash. "Whilst I am here,” I said to the specialist, “can you also test me for Multiple Sclerosis?" With that he frowned at me and asked me why I thought I had MS. I could sense the word ‘hypochondriac’ was floating through his mind.

I had worked in the disability field a very long time and I had been experiencing some quirky symptoms that I knew were different to the whiplash symptoms that I had felt over that past year. The response was not dissimilar to the reaction from my GP when I shared my fear of MS with him. If it wasn't MS then I knew in my gut that something else was very wrong. I hadn't really shared those concerns with my family until the time had come to see the specialist. Why worry people unnecessarily I thought.

We discussed possible explanations for the visual difficulties and nausea I was experiencing. I had also recently acquired a numb patch on my face and a long term random numb toe. I had always justified this latter problem as nerve damage resulting from wearing all the ‘wrong shoes’ as a young woman.

The specialist at that time stated that he was inclined to believe that the visual and facial numbness were more likely to be associated with the car accident injuries (whiplash) however the numb toe left him pondering. I had also been having recent conversations with someone who had shared some of the symptoms her partner was experiencing with his MS. This, coupled with my working experience in the field, is what led to my gut feeling that something wasn't right.

Patience had never been, and still isn't, one of my best traits so, before I knew it, I had wrangled a referral for an MRI. With thanks to my mum, we paid $1200 cash so I could have it done straight away. The very next morning I went to work and then left early to have the MRI. Despite requesting the MRI I was, all of a sudden, feeling very scared and anxious about what they might actually find. I was contemplating what would be worse, knowing or not knowing. What was wrong and what had I started?

I went back to work for those next couple of hours while they processed the results and found myself watching the clock closely until it was time to go back. I rejected the offers from my husband and mother to come with me and played it down by saying that I wouldn't open the results until we went to the specialist together the next day. Did I do the right thing and wait until the next day? Of course not! I got in the car and ripped open my results. I scanned through quickly and found myself reading and re-reading the summary of the report. ‘Multiple lesions were found scattered across most parts of the brain.’ It didn't say MS but it didn't need to. Suddenly my worst fear had become reality. I was no longer sure of what would have been better. Knowing what the quirky symptoms were or knowing and reading my results which I knew meant having Multiple Sclerosis.

Nausea, a racing heart, an instant headache and a feeling of weakness overcame my whole body as I sat there and cried in my car. As I gathered my thoughts and emotions I then called my husband and my mother to let them know that I had not only picked up my results but that I had opened up the sealed envelope. I read out the summary of the report and could feel and hear their distress on the other end of the line.

From there, I met Kel at my mum’s from where we went up to our local GP to seek some formal clarification of what these results meant. All the while I was hoping that I had misinterpreted what was written in the report and that I was jumping ahead of myself.

Despite his initial reluctance to give feedback, and his strong encouragement for me to go back to my neurologist, my GP did discuss the results of the MRI. He provided some responses to my very specific questions remembering, as I said earlier, that patience wasn't one of my strong points. "The MRI shows that there are lesions on your brain which look like they may be symptomatic of MS," he said.

The rest of the afternoon seemed very foggy from then on. The next thing I remember so very clearly was that we tried to proceed with our usual routine with our two youmg children at the time,. We did not want to worry them. Who were we kidding! Kids know when something isn't right. That evening, after pretending everything was ok, we finally put the children to bed. Then Kel and I went to our bedroom, closed the door, climbed into bed and cried. We hung onto each other like we were balancing on the edge of a cliff. Wrapped around each other in a way we had never done so before.

Although I hadn't received a formal diagnosis we were pretty sure that would come the next day when we went back to see the specialist. We wept and clung onto each other for life, not knowing what our future would now be or what all of the information we were about to receive would mean. Our world had been turned upside down and the words fear, panic and distress come to mind when I try to describe how we were feeling at that time.

So there we were trying come to terms with a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. I was experiencing the pain and inconvenience of ongoing whiplash and I was also pregnant with our third child. What would all this mean for our baby? Would he /she be alright? Was I going to be able to care for our baby?

Less than 24 hours had gone by since first seeing the neurologist and having the MRI and now here we were back in his rooms for the official interpretation of the results. Surprise, surprise! Now I could officially say that in less than 24 hours I had an assessment and a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. Kel and I left the specialist’s office that afternoon, got in our car and then we just sat there for a while and broke down once again.

A diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis more often can take a lengthy amount of time to diagnose as certain criteria needs to be met however in this case 24 HOURS WAS ALL IT TOOK.