Sunday, September 2, 2012


Our beautiful beach in the Strand captured at sunset by Douwleen Bredenhann

6 September 2012.  Exactly 2 years ago I was diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy.  Over the last two years we have been forced to adapt to a life very different from the one we previously lived.  A life that excludes us from visiting most of the homes of our friends and family, allows very little of our previous passions like travelling, cooking a meal for my family, entertaining friends, pottering in the garden, working out at the gym, theatre…and the list goes on.

I try to handle all of this with grace, encouraging my friends and family to go on trips, celebrate occasions and attend concerts.  They are entitled to live life to its fullest and need not feel guilty because when we are unable to participate.  Fortunately we were privileged to travel a lot before MSA struck, and now I love going through our photo library, reminiscing about the many happy trips and sharing my photos with my facebook friends.

Happy memories: August 2007,  a good year for flowers in the Biedouw valley and Nieuwoudtville

It is in my nature to always show my positive side and hide the negative side from most of those who share my life.  Sometimes this contributes to a false image of me and my abilities.  This is my entirely own doing and I confess that reporting honestly about the ugliness of MSA is hard for me to do.  Some brutal honesty is needed to enable others to truly understand how I live now, and what it takes to get to that state where I’m dressed, coiffed, with lipstick and a smile, and sitting opposite them in a coffee shop ready for a chat.

Sometimes I unexpectedly yearn for the freedom of those days when I went about unencumbered by the wheelchair.  One such occasion was when I recently saw a photo of foot prints in the sand of our beach.  I didn’t expect the tears that came when I realised that I, who often walked kilometres in the early morning on this beach, would never feel the soft sand under my feet again.  I’ll have to be content with the beautiful photo album of our beach made by an acquaintance.  That is exactly what I did, for happiness can not be found anywhere but inside ourselves.  This attitude enabled me to enjoy the rest of her album and appreciate the fact that she brought the beach to me through her photos.

Foot prints in the sand  (photo Douwleen Briedenhann)

When a MSA friend recently asked me how I cope with the many losses that come with the disease, I answered that I try to concentrate on what I can do instead of what I can’t do.  That enables me to feel like a winner instead of a loser.

I’ll always try to be positive, to dig deep for my inherent happiness. But being positive is a transient state not always achievable.  I am only human and sometimes things happen that make me forget my own philosophies.  It is not easy to hear friends planning weekends away and I always feel guilty that my husband is excluded because of me. I spent days going over the many obstacles of long journeys to destinations not geared for my disabilities, but fail to come up with the necessary solutions so we can join them.  At such times I do feel like a loser. 

Last week I once again experienced a sudden, dramatic drop in blood pressure.  I was in the recliner when images and sounds started fading out and I started fainting.  Despite the current cold weather my back was wet with perspiration and I felt nauseas.  Johnny panicked and rushed off to fetch a damp face cloth to wipe my face.  Once everything came back into focus, he helped me out of my jacket and attached the blood pressure monitor.  The reading was 67/43.  Although this sometimes happened in summer, this was the first time it occurred in winter.  After some thought of what could’ve brought this on, I realised this was the ugly monster, MSA, showing its fangs: 

Low blood pressure due to nervous system damage (multiple system atrophy with orthostatic hypotension).  This rare disorder causes progressive damage to the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and digestion. Although this condition can be associated with muscle tremors, slowed movement, problems with coordination and speech, and incontinence, its main characteristic is severe orthostatic hypotension in combination with very high blood pressure when lying down.”

To try and fix every symptom with a pill is not always possible, as medication always come at a price, not only in monetary value, but most importantly, in side effects. Finding the right balance is important.  Last year I was taking so much dopamine that it caused a facial tic (dyskinesia).  When the dopamine was reduced that problem was solved, and as a bonus I now sleep better.  On the other side my movement and the tremors worsened because of this reduction, and I’m as stiff as a plank during the night.  Overall  I cope better with things as they are now.  I disregarded the neurologist suggestion to take halve a tablet of dopamine during the night for the stiffness, as doing so would awake me completely and I would most probably not fall asleep again.

When I recently had the flu and a secondary respiratory track infection, the doctor firstly prescribed anti-inflammatory painkillers for the fever and aches, and later cortisone for the persistent cough.  Both of these medications helped for my chronic back pain.  As a short term solution these drugs work wonders, but on the long term I know the side effects would be severe.  So for now I have to be satisfied with lying down when sitting gets to painful, and not to push my body past the point where I can think of nothing else but the pain.

During a recent consultation with the neurologist who attends to me, he stressed the importance of creating awareness for Multiple System Atrophy in South Africa.  There are less than 70 neurologists in this country, all of them booked months ahead, and over worked.  Others in the medical and caring profession often have little or no knowledge of this rare disease.  Awareness here can lead to earlier diagnosis, better treatment, care and understanding of the disease and the patients. 

Sunset in the Strand (Douwleen Briedenhann)

Although we haven’t planned exactly how we are going to do things on 3 October this year, I am hoping that more people will join us for our walk on MSA DAY.  Don’t underestimate the hope you bring by showing that you care.  I am looking forward to you joining me on 3 October, when you can leave your foot prints in the sand of our beach.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We love getting messages - drop us a line.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...