Is it Multiple Sclerosis? The saga so far (Pt.1)

March 1, 2017


Almost one year ago, I moved from Boston to Tel Aviv. I arrived in Tel Aviv without a job, apartment, or much of a plan. I found a temporary apartment, and then a lasting one. I applied to graduate school, was accepted and finished one semester. I taught GMAT math, which I hated, and the TOEFL, which I enjoyed.  I met people who passed in and out of my life or became a permanent fixture. I began to create a new life here, or at least I have begun to construct a scaffold to build on.


Around the time that I began my masters program, I noticed I was feeling unwell. Tired all the time, mentally foggy, weak. Like I was always on the edge of getting a virus or on the tail-end of a cold. Except my legs were restless, unbearably restless. 


It is probably stress, everyone said. I said that too. 


Part of it was from stress - I was starting a graduate program in neuroscience, in Hebrew, in a new culture - and there I was, floating about feeling lost.  I was under stress, but these symptoms were not how my body usually responded to stress. Fatigue made sense - it could be due to stress, allergies, an erratic sleep schedule. The headaches were stranger, the constant restlessness in my legs stranger still.


Then my left leg began to feel different from normal. Different in an unidentifiable, uncomfortable, creepy sense. I described it to others using words like ‘numb’ and ‘pins-and-needles’ even though that was not exactly right. A close friend encouraged me to see a doctor right away, and the doctor sent us to the E.R. that evening. We went, we waited, and we left without any new information.


Over the next few days, the sensations worsened. Trouble falling asleep turned into full insomnia. At night I would sit in bed and touch my legs and stomach - left side, then right side, left, right - in order to confirm the presence of and to try to identify the difference between the two sides of my body. I usually get overheated as I sleep, but I had to wear pants and keep a sock on my left foot at all times. Anything brushing against my body caused me discomfort. And there was the restlessness, the jittery toxic energy pulsing through my legs that would not cease - not with exercise or relaxation techniques or pure exhaustion.


I also noticed, with increasing awareness, that my right hand was weak and had an inner tremor.  


below: notes written during one insomniac night


I went to the doctor, and then again and again. My kupat cholim (health insurance) branch became intimately and un-welcomingly familiar. I took the train to Netanya to see a neurologist who never showed up for the appointment. I saw a private neurologist, Dr. B, in Tel Aviv, who worked in a clinic unexpectedly located in the basement of the Hilton Hotel. He did not say much during the exam. Two of my close friends accompanied me to the appointment, and we sat nervously waiting for him to finish writing his report, hoping he would send us back with an answer.


"I want you to get an MRI," he said. "To rule things out. Come back here when you have the disc."


He deferred my questions, saying I would find out more once I did the MRI. Impassively, he told me not to worry too much. Half my body felt foreign, disturbing. I felt sick with worry. 


Time passed and I became more accustomed to the discomfort, less startled. Eventually normal sensation returned, and I could try to dismiss the whole incident as a bizarre episode.


A few weeks later I was back at the hospital for the MRI. The appointment was for a Tuesday, at 1 in the morning. The buildings were still and empty at that hour, and I wandered with my friends around fluorescent hallways until we found the imaging unit. On the medical history form I had answered 'no' when asked if I was claustrophobic; an hour after lying still in the loud MRI tunnel I thought I would go mad. I tried meditation, humming to myself, counting backwards. When the technician finally released me I stretched and stretched my restless body. 


The secretary gave me the disc with the images, and, sleepy and satisfied that I was done with the whole matter, I piled into a taxi with my friends and we went home. 


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