The State of the Russ

Posted By on March 16, 2007 at 10:00 am

For the past month or so I’ve been on the verge of giving a full update about something that’s been going on here for most of the past year. I have talked about it with some people — family, my employer, a very few friends. I was going to wait until the facts were fully known, but prompted by a post at Cold Fury, I’ve decided now is as good a time as any to spill the beans.

Some of you may recall that last summer I broke my foot. That incident, in and of itself, was not a huge deal, nor the point of this missive, but in that post I referred to some other problems, so it’s something of a chronological landmark in this story.

Ever since I injured my back in the Army in 1991, I’ve had recurring back-related problems. Mostly, it was sustained pain in my legs from a lower-spine disk putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. Sometimes — roughly annually — the disk would decide to get a bit friskier, and leave me flat on my back in bed for a day or two.

This past summer, however, events took a different turn. One day at the office, shortly after I broke my foot, I was making my way down the stairs when I noticed something odd: I couldn’t feel my heels making contact with the stair treads. It felt like I was walking on sponges.

Soon thereafter my constant companion, the sciatic pain, went away. Just went away. Well, I thought, that’s not so bad.

Gradually, though, I noticed that I was losing feeling in my legs, and not just the feeling; I was beginning to lose some of the involuntary muscle reactions that, in reaction to sensations of balance from the inner ear, help a person keep upright when standing. My sense of balance was fine; the muscles in my legs were not reacting.

As a result, I began falling down. A lot. For a period of perhaps a month, I was falling down once every couple of days. My legs simply refused to do what I wanted them to do, and down I would go. It was almost as if the muscles had been turned off, but strangely, if I consciously thought about it, I would usually be able to remain standing.

Eventually, I noticed that certain muscles in my legs had begun to go a bit flabby, while other muscles were building up. As the previously under-used muscles built up, and as I got used to not taking chances, I stopped falling quite so much.

Now, this whole time, I was convinced that it was my old back injury at the root of the problem. I figured that the disk was putting pressure on the nerves in such a way so as to interfere with control and feeling in my legs. The VA, I was sure, would be able to deal with it, but I kept putting off going to see them. Call it misguided stoicism, if you will, but really I’d just been too busy with the rest of my life, and, to be quite honest, as long as it didn’t actually hurt, I figured I could deal with it a bit longer… and unlike my previous back injury incidents, this never actually hurt.

Right around Thanksgiving, though, the rate of my physical decline increased. I began to have a very difficult time standing up; if I was sitting down and didn’t have a way to lever myself up with my arms, I’d be stuck — a chair without armrests was (and is) as good as a jail cell. When walking, I had to keep a hand in contact with a nearby wall or, if there was no wall near, I would walk with very deliberate baby steps. I had at that point successfully avoided falling down in public, but there were some pretty close calls.

I began working from home once or twice a week. My colleagues and managers (and even I) thought I was still having knee and back problems. Fortunately, my management is fine with telecommuting, and, not to put too fine a point on it, it was getting to be just too bloody difficult to get ready and go to the office every day.

By Christmas, the decline was severe. I could not feel anything below mid-thigh, though I still mostly had conscious control of the muscles. Some days, I couldn’t feel anything below my waist. You could probably have stuck me with a knife and I wouldn’t have known it. Certainly, Mycah was sticking me with her claws without me being able to tell. I was, however, putting a lot of strain on my back, and was beginning to feel it.

I stopped commuting to the office altogether. I forget which date it was, exactly, but I don’t think I’ve been in to the office once yet this year.

So, stubborn me, I finally went to see the doc. The diagnostic process began, and as part of that I was sent to physical therapy, so that my muscular capabilities could be assessed. As the therapist targeted specific muscles, I could tell that some muscles just weren’t responding at all. Remember the Thigh Master? I wouldn’t be able to use it. A raw egg would be safe from cracking if held between my knees. Some other muscles were fine, strength-wise, but easily fatigued.
Yet, even as late as the end of January, I remained totally convinced that all of this was the result of my 1991 back injury.

Within a week of that last linked post, though, I had to start using a cane… not for support, as much as for an aid to balance. A “third point of contact,” if you will. My late father’s cane is about four inches too short for me, though, so I eventually ordered one a bit taller.

Think about that. I have purchased a cane. For my own use. Not as a gag.

I’m 44 years old.

After a couple weeks of assessment by the physical therapist, I returned to the doctor for a followup. That’s when I first heard that it might not — almost certainly is not — my old Army injury coming back to haunt me.

The doctor mentioned several different possibilities, but the two words I heard loudest were neurological condition.

That means, of course, that among the possible causes of my condition are Multiple Sclerosis and (though very unlikely) Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis — what I grew up knowing as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but which today might be better referred to as Stephen Hawking’s Disease.

I was referred to a neurologist who, as it turns out, is one of the best in the country. He performed a battery of tests on me, and backed up my doctor’s preliminary assessments. It could be a neurological condition, though thankfully the odds are extremely long against ALS, though the possibility has to be considered — not to do so would be irresponsible. MS is far more likely, but the odds are higher still that this is all the result of a brain tumor, a tumor of some sort on my spinal cord, or even a damaged disk in my upper back. (Upper back? I’ve never hurt that before.)

Now, I’m a pretty well educated guy, so I knew right away that this could be real trouble. Deeply serious trouble. Up to this point, everything I imagined might be wrong with me was fixable. A neurological condition, though… that’s different.

A tumor or a disk problem, they can fix.

MS is forever.

ALS is forever… though that “forever” is, as I understand it, usually rather severely curtailed.

But nothing is certain yet, at least, not until they see it on an MRI. My MRI appointment is scheduled for Monday.

The neurologist put me on Prednisone, which has actually been very helpful with my symptoms — my legs feel as good as they did at Thanksgiving. I can actually feel them, mostly, though the control problems remain. The medication’s side effects are unpleasant (sleeplessness, dry hacking coughs, acid reflux, bloating) but tolerable… though I’m extremely tired all the time now. Fortunately, I’m already on the “tapering off” plan for the Prednisone, I have a supplementary prescription for Lasix to handle the water weight gain (about 30 pounds in three weeks — egads!), and am taking plain old Zantac for the acid.

My MRI appointment is for Monday.

I’m nervous.

What has occurred to me through all of this is that no matter what this turns out to be, I cannot let myself be brought down by it. I have no family of my own, but I have two nieces and a nephew. Though in their teens, they might still be young enough to profit from an example of fortitude in the face of actual personal adversity, as opposed to what merely passes for adversity these days.

(See also: Eiland’s Theory of Compensatory Misery.)

No matter how this comes out, the least I can do is “man up” for their benefit. Even if the worst happens: no whining, no bemoaning my fate. Suck it up and deal with it, with as good an attitude as possible.

Not that I couldn’t use a real-life example for my own benefit. In that respect, Fox News’ Neil Cavuto would serve admirably. Thanks to Mike at Cold Fury for pointing that out; it couldn’t be more timely.

[Update: Speaking of timeliness… Scientists: Manly men heal faster. Cool.]

My MRI appointment is for Monday. I don’t know how long it might take to get the results.

I’m nervous.

Those of you who are so inclined, your prayers would be appreciated. Not for a miracle, mind you — though that wouldn’t actually be bad — but rather, for the fortitude to bear with dignity whatever is in my future.


23 Responses to “The State of the Russ”

  1. Skul says:

    Well poop. Gonna be long weekend for ya Bud.

  2. Azygos says:

    Just a thought. Even if you are not claustrophobic I would strongly suggest you get some Xanax, Valium, or Ativan and take it prior to getting the MRI done. I spent 47 minutes in that torture chamber in 2005 and regret not getting an antianxiety drug prior to the test. I was too macho to accept the docs offer of said drug, big mistake on my part.
    On the plus side you have Mycah. We have two Tux kitties. Does a body good to have them cuddle and pur in your lap. Gods natural blood pressure pills.

  3. Beth says:

    I’ll be praying, hon. And, yeah… Valium is a great idea.

  4. Joe says:

    Those of you who are so inclined, your prayers would be appreciated.
    You got it. Good luck on Monday, Russ.

  5. Jude says:

    Do a web search of “Pernicious anemia symptoms” and make sure you do not have them. Although there may be local nerve damage in the foot or coming from the lower back, please rule out B12
    deficiency, because it is potentially deadly and nerve damage can be irreversable. Good luck.

  6. Jim - PRS says:

    Good thoughts and best wishes coming your way.

  7. Randy Rager says:

    I’m not a praying man, but you’re definitely in my thoughts. Good luck.

  8. mike says:

    Is it just your legs, or have you lost some use of your hands, as well?
    In any case, my thoughts are with you, as well.

  9. sig94 says:

    Misha put this up on his site. I certainly hope and pray for the best. I imagine this weekend is goona be a long one for you. Take care.

  10. Nancy Green says:

    Read your initial comment on Cold Fury. I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting MS when I was 35, back in November 2000. 03-04 I was out of work for about 10 months. It’s been ups and downs. I have a great relationship with my neuro which has been very important.
    You know, MS is forever (or until they come up with a cure) but it’s not the end. For years I felt something was wrong and finally it had a name.
    Email if you’d care to.

  11. LC Wil says:

    I have personal proof of the power of prayer, Sir. My daughter (7yo) is a Cancer Survivor. I was told (4 1/2 years ago) that she had about a one in ten chance of being alive today. Some things are not to be endured alone.
    You are added to my personal prayer list. May God bless and protect.

  12. LC Steve says:

    Hang in there, Russ. You’re in my prayers now.
    As far as MRIs are concerned, they have a facility in Rocky Mount that uses “open” MRI machines so that you don’t feel like you’re being loaded into a torpedo tube. The Better Half™ went there because she can’t handle the circular one. Just a thought.

  13. Brenda says:

    Our prayers and thoughts are with you. All the best.
    Brenda & NinjaCat

  14. maxxdog says:

    All our best to you, Russ. The measure of a man is how he faces adversity. I think you’ll measure up just fine!

  15. Cheryl says:

    Keeping you in my prayers and good thoughts coming your way.

  16. Jim says:

    Well, first, as the son of a U.S.N. submariner, I found being loaded into an MRI “torpedo tube” to be quite invigorating. Imagine, me…. being “fire ONE!” into the hull of some jihadist Boghammer… *sigh*
    Okay, seriously brother. Having met you, you’ll understand that I’m sending extra-large prayers your way. Sounds like no matter what, you’re gonna need ’em.
    The good news? Prayer works. No WAY my Dad would be alive without the benefit thereof, and that sir, according to the finest cardiologist in all of Florida. And given the number of aging geezers in that sunny state, that’s saying something!
    My prayers are with you my friend. Write me, m’kay?
    Sloop New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  17. Freedom1 says:

    God bless you and protect you, Russ! You are in my prayers!

  18. God is Great--Libs I Hate... says:

    My prayers go out to you, Russ. I hope everything goes well on Monday for you.
    And remain a manly man…

  19. Gail says:

    Russ…I am praying for you
    I was diagnosed with MS 1 1/2 years ago. I am now 39 yo. My MRI, which took less than a week to get the results, showed a lot of lesions in my brain. (Remember, it doesn’t really matter how many you may have, it matters where they are.) I got on medication right away–Rebif. I was on that for a year, but had continued elevated liver enzymes and low white blood cell count. I changed my meds to Copaxone. It’s an everyday injection with no side effects.
    My symptoms were and are mild, but it is still pretty scary. If it is MS—get on medication right away. About the MRI—Valium or Lorazepam are your friends.
    Take care and God bless,

  20. You’re in my prayers, too, and I wish all the best for you.

  21. Teresa says:

    Prayers, good wishes, and anything else that will help. Sorry to hear you have to go through all this. Waiting is the worst though. May you have an answer soon and may it be something easily fixable.

  22. Robert says:

    Hey Russ,
    You know, and I know, that there is a plan bigger than us. God has his plan set for you – and it is a good one.
    From past experience with my stroke when I was 9, God has provided a scientific means to help me decrease my tremor. I also can look back – we can’t see God’s plan in the future, we can see it in the reviews and self-analysis that we do – and see that God has given me what I needed and when I needed it. Friends, family – immediate and extended of which you and yours are a part of, and He has provided me with a job that I enjoy, am capable and am good at.
    Much like He has for you!
    Of course you are in my prayers. I will also tell mom & dad, and Bev, Carlene & Buffy and they too will lift you up to God.
    Be calm and steadfast in your faith, the best is yet to come . . . Ask your dad!
    Peace & Blesings to you!

  23. Ram Mohan says:

    Hi Russ, our prayers are with you.
    – Your colleagues from GT3 MOW!