When Amanda Thompson developed severe lower back pain, she didn’t think too much of it at first. But the pain didn’t go away — and then she started having some weird symptoms along with it.
“I went to a chiropractor to try to get the back pain fixed and ended up with numbness in my right arm and hand,” Thompson tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I thought the chiropractor had pinched a nerve or something.”
When the pain and tingling didn’t let up, Thompson saw her primary care physician and mentioned she’d also been having some fatigue. “My doctor said it might be neurological and mentioned multiple sclerosis,” Thompson says. “I literally went to my car and Googled, ‘What is MS?’ because I had no idea what it was.”
MS is a chronic and usually progressive autoimmune disease that damages the sheaths of the nerve cells in a person’s brain and spinal cord, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The condition can cause symptoms such as fatigue, pain, walking difficulties, numbness and tingling, and spasticity, among other things. People with MS can also struggle with exacerbations (also known as flares, relapses, or attacks), which is a worsening of symptoms or the onset of new symptoms.
Thompson says she felt “a little bit of panic” when she read the most common symptoms of the disease. “It all started clicking and making sense,” she said. Her doctor sent her to get an MRI and eventually a spinal tap. “It was kind of crazy and scary,” Thompson says.
The doctor’s diagnosis was eventually confirmed, and Thompson was put on a disease modifying drug, and then sent home. “That was kind of it,” she says, noting that she lived in a rural town at the time. “I had to do a lot of research about the disease on my own.”
She had “really minor relapses” for the first five years after her diagnosis where she’d feel “extremely tired,” have numbness, or back pain. “It was nothing major,” she says. But in February of 2018, Thompson had a major relapse.
“All of the sudden, I started talking like I was drunk.”
Thompson says she went on a “rough trip” to California and thought she was fine afterward. “But I was on the phone with friends and all of the sudden, I started talking like I was drunk,” she says. “I couldn’t quite figure it out.” She had been going to physical therapy at the time, and her therapist happened to work next to her neurologist. “He immediately called her and said something was wrong,” Thompson says. “It just snowballed really fast. I went from slurred speech to being off-balance to not being able to hold things, not being able to drink liquids without choking and spitting it out. Really not being able to do anything.”
She adds: “I was unable to talk, talk and feed myself for months due to my MS.”
Thompson ended up in a wheelchair. “It was pretty scary, especially for my kids to watch,” says the mom of two. “It was a really quick decline — it all maybe took less than a week.” Thompson’s medical team eventually discovered that she had several infections that sparked her relapse. “Your immune system ramps up and that’s when you get into trouble with an autoimmune disease,” she says.
She was put in the intensive care unit at her local hospital for 10 days of treatment, followed by in-patient rehabilitation for five weeks before she could go home. Thompson also had to do five weeks of out-patient rehab.
It was hard for her to eat, too. Because of her difficulty swallowing, Thompson was put on a special soft foods-only diet. “Any liquids that I took down, I had to add a thickener to it,” she says. “All of my food was disgusting, and I had to be spoon fed for most liquids.” She also needed round-the-clock monitoring, so her mother or husband was with her at all times.
“I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get back to normal.”
“It took a lot of hard work and medication to get better. It was a hard road,” Thompson shares. She ended up needing physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy to address all of her symptoms. “I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get back to normal, but normalcy eventually started to come back. It just motivated me to keep working at it,” she says.
Now, Thompson says she’s doing well: She’s back full-time at her job as a real estate agent and is even able to go to the gym most days of the week. Still, she says she’s nervous about having another relapse. “I try really hard to stay positive and not think about it, but I’m always very conscious that this can happen again,” she says.
Thompson’s current medication is working well for her but, if it stops doing its job, it’s unclear what will happen next. “If this drug fails, my neurologist says they don’t know what the next step is,” she says. Things are largely good with Thompson’s health, but she does have some off days. “I listen to my body more than I knew was ever possible. I know when I need to take a day and just sleep,” she says. “Fatigue is probably the most frustrating and annoying symptom. There’s no combatting it. You can’t drink an energy drink and be okay. It’s like you’ve hit a brick wall and you’re just done.”
While Thompson has dealt with a lot since being diagnosed with MS, she wants other MS patients to know that a diagnosis “doesn’t mean the end of your life.” “You can have a career still. You can have relationships and have fun. You just have to do it in a very conscious manner,” she says. “Stay positive. You can do this.”
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