Spasticity, Grape Vines, and Fever: A Story of Tears and Frustration
When I write an article about something MS-related, I usually try to include lots of research and facts. But sometimes it’s important to just simply share a personal story.
This summer has been very warm and the wild grape vines and English ivy we have growing throughout the yard have flourished. It doesn’t take long before a grape vine once thought eliminated grows rapidly to the top of a tree. In recent weeks, I’ve been tackling these climbing monsters to try to preserve the integrity of our fences, walls, and taller giants. Basically, I’ve been pulling, digging, and yanking vines and roots with raw force and aggression when time and temperature allows.
On Monday morning, I was working on a corner of our yard that had gotten particularly bad, using all of my strength and sheer body force to try to dismantle vines from their perches up in our 40 foot holly tree. I won some of the individual battles with younger stems but will need help with others. Monday night a storm rolled in and as thunder crashed my legs became achy. It was my arthritis acting up due to barometric changes in the air, I said. The result was some minor pain that I knew would go away soon.
Tuesday morning, my arms and shoulders were complaining with pains of their own. Result of the intense wrestling with stubborn roots and vines, I said. Take some acetaminophen, I said, and it will be better soon. Tuesday afternoon, I started to feel frozen and lightweight summer throws weren’t sufficient to melt the chill. As the thermometer measured higher and higher temps, acetaminophen was enlisted to try to bring the heat down. During the night, my temp peaked at 102.4 degrees F which is a far cry from my typical 96-97 degree normal range.
Wednesday morning, I called the doctor. Test was negative for strep throat which has been traveling through our community. And the verdict was a viral infection, expected to improve significantly after the first 2-3 days or so. My fever bounced around between 99.5 and 102.0 for the next two days while I was unable to do anything as simple as go downstairs to refill a pitcher of water without fear of my legs crumbling beneath me. Weak as a sick puppy I had become.
As my temps remained high, my MS symptoms became overactive. Bed was the best place for me as I rested, slept, and repeatedly sweat through several sets of t-shirts, shorts, pajamas, and sheets. During this time, my spasticity decided to misbehave and use the fever as an excuse to push all my pain buttons. It was hard to push back, but fever and delirium certainly helps to mentally float past physical distractions.
Friday, the fever broke and I felt capable of doing a few things for myself, one of which was taking a shower to wash the stench of sweat from my hair and body. Finally, I was able to think in thought bubbles larger than a sesame seed. Definitely past the worst of the illness it seemed and onto recovery. But there was a problem.
As I slowly became reconnected to my body once more, my legs decided to throw a temper tantrum. They were unhappy to be so neglected and abused. How dare I not give them the pleasure of walking around the house, going up and down the stairs, or take them out for a 15 mile bike ride as I had been doing in previous weeks. Couldn’t you have at least stretched us out a bit, they seemed to ask.
These angry legs refused to give in to my “for the really bad times” spasticity medication, or double doses of my usual daily medication, or even an ad lib dose of nerve pain medication. They refused to relent to stretches or massages; too little, too late. And they refused to let me sleep a wink, but instead made me cry in pain for hours despite my pleas. Again, how dare I allow them to shrivel into concrete knots of fiber while I was sick. What kind of educated patient are you, they taunted.
At 4:30 am, I finally resorted to laying of a tub of the hottest water I could stand for over an hour to try to force the muscles to unravel from the bones. The fight seemed to be not much different from my struggles with the grapes vines in the holly tree. Separating the clinging tendrils seemed impossible; but I did manage to achieve enough relaxation to get about an hour’s sleep before the pain woke me up again to complain.
So here it is on Saturday and I’ve enlisted the help of my husband to try to unravel the intricate locks of muscle clinging to the back of my legs. Tears were involved and we’ll need to do more again later, but at least I can twirl my ankles and straighten my knees…mostly.
This experience has taught me a new lesson and confirmed old ones. Fever does have the power to increase MS symptoms, but not necessarily the ones you might expect. Fever makes it harder to think straight and do things for yourself to prevent problems. If exercise helps to reduce spasticity, lack of activity can allow it to flourish. Once the pain from spasticity reaches a certain level, it seems nearly impossible to beat down. Don’t ever let it grow unhindered to take over your body, just as I should have uprooted the vines long before they had a chance to become an invasive parasite in the yard.
Now that I finally have the pain down to about a 4 on the discomfort scale, I might actually be able to grab a few winks of sleep. Time for a nap, my friends. Please stay healthy and avoid getting tangled up with your own MS complications. Pain, spasticity, and fever do not make for a tasty cocktail at anybody’s garden party.