Truly health is one of the greatest blessings in life.
Recently I had sort of an ‘opportunity’ to remind myself about its importance. It’s not that I don’t care about my health before, but this time I get to see it from a different perspective.
A few months back, I started to have tingling sensations over my toes. At first it only lasted for a day, and it disappeared after a good rest (thank you, Dr Ong!). However after a few weeks, the tingling came again, and this time it persisted, day and night. Even the tips of my fingers felt numb occasionally.
After a week of persistent tingling, I asked my senior colleagues (thank you, Dr Aza and Dr Zila!) to assess and write me a letter to see a neurologist. I went to see the head of department but since she was busy, I saw another neurologist whom I love as much.
It turned out my toes were truly numb, and so were my fingers (I examined myself before, but it was difficult to gauge because my brain already knew there was going to be a stimuli). On top of that, my right big toe was a bit weak. So she arranged for an MRI of the whole spine, but in addition to a possible diagnosis of prolapsed disc, she was worried it might be something more sinister like multiple sclerosis, because of the on-and-off nature of my symptoms.
It did come and go. That particular episode lasted for two weeks, and then it resolved. A month after that, it occurred again for a week, and then resolved. After that it came a few times, for a few days.
Without realizing it, I became more anxious. A day prior to a public holiday, I was having tea with my family, I suddenly had this tingling sensation over mynleft shoulder. I panicked but I only told my best friends. The next day it rained and rained and rained; it was such a peaceful day, all I wanted to do was spend time in the masjid. I went to my favourite masjid that morning, bringing along my worries and sadness with me.
The sun that came after the rain only served to remind me that any kinds of sadness will be followed by days of joy, which will surely be multiplied. I thank God for sending us the rain and the sun.
I did not ask for early MRI appointment as I had another big task to go through. Meanwhile, I did go back to the neurology clinic (to settle some stuff for my patients). The nurses and other staff there were so kind and supportive, giving me advice on how to survive the MRI (I’ll get back to that later), smiling cheerfuly when they see me there.
As the date became closer, I became more anxious. I tried to tell myself that it’s all going to be fine, that it’s not a big deal really, that even if the results are bad, I would still live my life the way I do now and believe in the same principles as I do. Most of the time, the positive vibes I tried to instill into myself stuck in me, although there are other times that I just felt like breaking down. I even thought that this scare is good, because I finally learn how to not procrasinate (my friend found it weird and said it is not nice to think of it like that, but I told her I need to survive this one way or another).
I have to mention that a good friend of mine was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis three years ago. She’s still alive and kicking, I must say. Perhaps if I was diagnosed with the same disease, we could promote MS awareness together.
I felt worse after my mom became unwell, and I failed my exams again. I became extremely edgy, especially when I’m on call; something I have managed to avoid being for a few years.
The MRI was another drama (actually it was not very dramatic). I am rather claustrophobic, so the neurologist suggested for me to be admitted so that they could give me some sedation before the scan. I agreed for it.
“Don’t you have any friends who could hold your hand while you’re in there?” she asked. I could not answer that question. I can’t think of anyone who’s not occupied with his/her life. Obviously I won’t tell my parents because they would be even more worried, especially my mom. It is going to be a long wait so I don’t want her to wait that long with me either.
I drove myself to the hospital, checked myself in, thank God I had a single room to myself (it smelt like old hotel room), changed my clothes and settled down with Cecelia Ahern’s Lyrebird. I was given prednisolone cover late that night (I have allergies, although the MRI is an uncontrasted one I still had to take it), thank God I felt sleepy, and slept through until the first vital sign was taken at 5am.
The next day was even longer; I fasted from 6am, allowed lunch at 11am because the waiting list was still very long, fasted again at 1pm, and was FINALLY called for MRI at 7pm. I knew it was going to be like that, I only hoped they would not cancel it after all the trouble.
As adviced by the clinic nurses, I tried going through the MRI without sedation. The radiographer warned me that it was going to be noisy, the tunnel is narrow, I would go in head first, it will last one hour, but I said I wanted to try without sedation. I spent that half hour in the noisy tunnel reciting some Quran verses that I could remember; it had the expected effect of calming me down and made me focus on my memory rather than my sensations. In the end I did not need any sedation; I managed to discharge myself by 9.30pm and drove myself home.
The next day I was still on leave, I had nerve conduction studies done by one of the specialists. It was not a pleasant experience, I must say (I tried not to recall the bad experience reading Cecelia Ahern’s Flawed), although it was a good learning process and the specialist was being very nice to me (thank you, Dr ASM!). The test result came back as normal.
After that, I had another four days until the clinic appointment to find out my MRI findings. I survived the weekend, and on Monday I found out that the MRI report was actually ready within 12 hours after the scan. Talk about being efficient!
Despite being glad that my hospital is that good, I felt my worst that day. For the first time in my life, I did not know what I’ll do in the near and later future. I had no appetite, I felt nauseous, and can’t even think of images nice enough for me to pray about. I could only ask God for more positivity and strength.
I met a good friend, who is a specialist, he asked me how I was, and I almost cried. I told him the whole thing about the exams and the MRI and that I was extremely worried…but in the end I told him I really don’t know what to do with my life, I just had to wait until the next day and then maybe I will have my direction.
It doesn’t help that I felt very lonely at that time. If the report comes back as something sinister, I really didn’t know where to go. Obviously I would not know how to tell my parents, I didn’t know if I could tell my brothers without making things worse for myself because they might not be available, one of my best friends had just given birth to her first baby, the other one is away in Germany, my mentor is probably away too….I just told myself that if God thinks that I need a person with me, He would have sent one, so most likely I don’t need anyone right now.
The day came. I waited for almost four hours in the busy neurology clinic to see the neurologist. When I walked into her room, she was standing and smiled at me.
“Maria, there’s nothing serious in the MRI!” she said.
To be honest, I don’t know who looked more relieved, was it myself, or was it her.
It was not even a slipped disc.
We sat there discussing about the possible reasons for the tingling sensation. It could be an effect from a viral illness (I did have URTI prior to those symptoms), or maybe low haemoglobin. I won’t need another scan for now, unless something very serious comes up, which we both hope will not happen.
For the first time in weeks, I could truly smile. It felt like a huge burden has been lifted off my back. I felt so light in the head, I drove home thinking, again, about my dreams and prayers, and about coffee and cake. The next morning, I went to work with contact lens on, and plastered the biggest smile that I’ve had on my face since a few weeks back.
Truly health is the biggest blessing a person could have.
Sometimes it takes a scare to give it a new perspective.