A Simple Cold is Just Not the Same Anymore
Many therapies for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) either suppress the immune system or affect how the immune system works. Now before I move on to my point, let’s make sure we are on the same page here. Your immune system is what fights off anything that is not supposed to be in your body such as a virus, a bacterial infection or a parasite. In autoimmune diseases like MS, the body’s immune system (for whatever reason) gets confused and mistakes the very body it is supposed to be protecting for a foreign threat such as the flu or a common cold. You can think of the immune system like an army of little cells (soldiers) that are supposed to fight various forms of illness such as cells from viruses (the bad guys) but for some reason these “soldiers” were sent an order to attack the cells that make up the central nervous system (CNS) as if those cells were the bad guys instead of the good guys that, again, they are supposed to be protecting. So suppressing the immune system would be like removing some of these confused soldiers so that there are less of them to attack the body (a smaller army). Another tactic is to try to retrain those confused soldiers in attempt to teach them who the good guys and bad guys really are so that they will stop attacking the wrong side. In a nutshell, that is what is going on behind the scenes of MS and some of the various treatments available to combat the disease.
Being very careful to avoid getting sick
In the slightly-over-7 years that I have had MS, I have been on 6 different treatments, also known as disease-modifying therapies (DMTs). It was only after my second therapy that my doctor had decided that we needed to try heavier and more aggressive treatments. At this moment, I am on a therapy that paired with my last treatment has left my immune system slightly suppressed and possibly “retrained” (or in the process of retraining). I really can’t tell if these treatments have helped me or not but things have definitely changed in my body. When I first completed round 1 of my last treatment (about 2 years ago) my immune system was a lot more suppressed making me much more susceptible to infection. I had to be very careful not to get sick; constantly wash my hands, always have hand sanitizer on me, keep surfaces such as doorknobs nice and clean, avoid going out, and sometimes even wear a medical mask (just to be safe). I like to think that all my precautions paid off because I went almost 2 years without getting sick, almost.
I caught some sort of bug
Sometime after my second round of my last therapy, it happened… I caught some sort of bug. It started off like a cold; I got the sniffles, I started to feel a little weak, and I was just really tired. But within a day it quickly became more severe, like the flu; I developed body aches, I felt a little nauseous, my chest felt really congested, my throat started to hurt, and overall I just felt like something was wrong. Over the next few days this only progressed and as the subtle movement of air around me started to burn my skin like an icy wind I realized that I had a fever. I was told while getting my treatment that if I ever developed a fever of 100 or more I would now have to go to Urgent Care for medical attention. I really did not want to go but in the blink of an eye my temperature went from the low 99’s to 103 and I started vomiting… well, there goes my choice, time to go. I felt terrible, worse than I have ever felt with any of the illness I have had in my life. It felt like my body was just in “panic mode” and slowly shutting down, I was so weak, so fatigued, I didn’t want to move.
It was a “simple” cold
I quickly got a room at Urgent Care (a perk of being immunosuppressed; not having to sit in the waiting room) and they drew some blood and did a few other tests to see what was going on. It didn’t take long at all for the results and from what the doctor could tell I just had a simple cold and was very dehydrated. I was negative for any kind of flu virus and showed no signs of any other type of illness; my labs looked totally normal (except for being really suppressed of course). So they loaded me up with liquids (IV) and sent me home with a handy-dandy little guide for treating a cold. A cold. A simple cold.
It hits me so much harder now
Eventually, I started feeling better and all the symptoms I had developed had gone away but I was now left with something new; a paranoia of getting sick again. I abandoned any thoughts that all my crazy precautions were a bit over-the-top and doubled down on them because I was not going to let that happen again. That was terrible. But then a while ago I looked at my labs and saw that all my numbers had returned to where they were before my treatment (some were even higher). My little army of immune cells had completely rebuilt itself and so I began to let my guard down a bit and actually did not feel all paranoid about getting sick when everyone in the house started to catch a cold about a week ago. I thought I was back to my “crazy overactive immune system that wouldn’t let me get sick” but… I was wrong. I still got really sick and though it was nowhere near as bad as it was last time, it still hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t know if this is an indication that my immune system has been reprogrammed in some way-shape-or-form but what I do know now is that thanks to these treatments, a simple cold is not the same anymore; it hits me so much harder now so, gone are the days where I can just power through it.