Thursday, February 16, 2012

Denial & Acceptance

I awoke in the morning to the sun shining through my bedroom window & thought "despite the cold it's going to be a beautiful day". I had a hard time getting out of bed & when I went to stand up & walk my right side was weak & I almost fell. I made my way to the bathroom & looked in the mirror. Having been in & around the medical field most of my life, I started to assess my condition. I did the smile test in the mirror & saw that the right side of my face didn't move with the left side. I tried talking & my speech was slurred. My immediate thought was that I had a small stroke. I tried to get a hold of my neighbor, but they weren't home. I got dressed in sweatpants & sweatshirt, since it was the easiest thing to put on. I went to the hospital thinking that I was going to be spending a couple of days there & that I'd be put through the ringer with all the tests they'd run. They brought me right in, started assessing me & whisked me away to radiology.

After what seemed like hours, a female Dr came in & introduced herself. She did her assessment of me & said "The good news is that you didn't have a stroke." My response was "What's the bad news?" She said "You have multiple sclerosis." The tears began to roll down my cheeks. I don't remember what she said after that. I remember her talking to me & I just nodded my head. The nurse came in with my discharge papers which included a prescription for prednisone. I had called one of the girls that was going to pick me up & told her that I was at the emergency room. She said she would pick me up there.

I got in the car & we left the hospital. I explained what had happened & what they diagnosed me with. I was still in shock over it, so I was disconnected from it. We headed to the meeting & I seemed numb both physically & mentally. We went to the diner afterwards for dinner. I felt a little better, but the only thing that kept going through my head was "Why did I bother to stop drinking & drugging when this is only going to kill me?". I was hating life, doctors, hospitals, people & most of all...myself.

I received a phone call from a dear friend who I consider a dad to me asking what was going on. I told him what happened as well as the diagnosis & what was going through my head. We had quite the conversation & him telling me what I needed to hear & not what I wanted to hear. The conversation ended when I hung up on him, because I didn't want to hear what I needed to hear & knowing that he was right. Dad called me back the following day & said "You've had enough time to sit on the "pity pot", It's time to take some action!". We discussed my appointment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN & after a session of 20 questions the decision was made that I would go to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ instead. I knew it was a better choice because I'd be with people I loved & cared about & vice versa.

I made the necessary phone calls, planned my trip out to Arizona with no definitive return date until I knew what the doctors at Mayo Clinic wanted me to do. A little over a month later I packed my bags to fly out to Arizona. In the meantime, I went to meetings, did my service positions & made the best of the situation as much as I could. I kept talking about the fear that was taking over me with this new disease that I was dealing with & the overwhelming emotions that came along with it. I was angry, sad, happy, confused, anxious yet also relieved. I went to the airport, got on the plane & tried to breathe through all the emotions. The stewardess came around with the drinks & for the first time in many years I contemplated having a drink. The thought was there but the answer that came out of my mouth was "Water & coffee please". The stewardess looked at me with concern & asked if I was ok. I said "not really but I will be". She tilted her head a little & looked down. I wasn't quite sure what she was looking at until she said "I like your pendant. Don't worry I've got you." then she leaned towards my ear and said "Nothing happens by mistake. You were meant to be my passenger today." she stood up straight & smiled. Fighting back tears, I looked at her & said "Thank you!" When she walked away I touched my pendant & realized I had my recovery pendant on. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath & quietly thanked the universe for putting me on that particular plane. When the plane landed & I got off the plane, the stewardess was at the doorway in the airport. I walked over to her & smiled. I said "thank you for being here today. I'm not sure I would have done this the right way had you not been here." I gave her a hug & whispered "I know we have many of the same friends, just different faces & places.". She said "Yes we do & now we have one more to add to those friends. Be good to yourself."

Dad met me at the airport. We grabbed my bags & off we went to the house. We talked along the way as I took in the sights of Phoenix, AZ. It was beautiful. I felt alive for the first time since my diagnosis. We got to the house & his daughter & granddaughter met us outside. His daughter & I hugged & laughed when he said "I'm in trouble now aren't I?". We both looked at him & said "you bet!". She's like a little sister to me & he's been like a dad for a long time. So in some ways it was like a mini family reunion. Her & I caught up on the current events in our lives as we made dinner together. My niece kept dad busy, which kept him out of our way in the kitchen since he liked to take over the kitchen no matter who was cooking. I was feeling a little less emotional & didn't feel like I was on an emotional roller coaster anymore. Over the next couple of days, we went out & I got to see a lot of the surrounding areas of Phoenix. I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. I had been through Arizona a few times when I drove a truck, but most of the time I drove through it at night.

The morning of my appointment came & I was a bundle of nerves. Dad went with me & sat in the waiting room for me. I saw the dermatologist first & found out there was a misdiagnosis with the lab in NY. I was relieved, but that also meant a lot of changes in how I was medically treated. They had me see the MS specialist also & I liked him. He told me that I couldn't do any of the injections due to the skin condition I had, so the current disease modifying drugs were out of the question. He suggested that when I got back to NY to start looking into the clinical trials for the oral medication. He gave me a bunch of paperwork to read & things to look at. I thanked him & walked out the door with a smile on my face. A sense of relief washed over me & I felt like I was actually breathing for the first time. Somehow I didn't feel so alone anymore nor did I feel like it was the end of my life. I was feeling like I was beginning a new life, with a new perspective & on a new mission. It was time to start living again.