This is the 3rd of a 4-part series documenting my pre-diagnosis experience with lesser known symptoms. In Part 1 and Part 2 I talked about the strange, seemingly unrelated symptoms I began to feel.
If you or anyone you love has similar symptoms, please seek medical advice immediately.
In my doctor’s office, I shakily described the terrifyingly confusing symptoms I’d been struggling with.
My doctor had a way of reassuringly brushing off innumerable questions related to my amateurish self-diagnosis attempts. But this time, her stance changed rapidly when I announced the two latest conditions, numbness on my left shin down to my foot, and a ‘floppy’ right foot. The mere mention of them highjacked her attention immediately.
Sitting upright in her office chair, her face creased with concern, she pushed back her chair, and moved hurriedly around her desk towards me. Her facial expression, combined with her swift physical response, indicated I’d now catapulted into a category of higher medical interest to her.
During our prior meeting, as if thinking out aloud, she’d mused that she really didn’t know what’s going on, my symptoms were all over the map!
Well, finally I offered up something worthy of her attention. She was prompted into action by these (scary to me, juicy to her) symptoms.
Galvanized, she immediately jumped into action. She began directing me through a set of questions and diagnostic evaluations that I recognized as a standard neurological assessment. She ascertained what my body can or can’t do physiologically, the first order of a suspected neurological disorder clinical assessment.
Can I squat down, then stand up without help?
Can I feel any sensation from this tiny prick from a needle on my leg or foot?
How hard can I push against her hand held out towards me?
Barely at all.
Can I balance at all on either leg?
Briefly, wobbling a lot.
Other points we covered were washed out of my memory by persistent waves of fear.
Putting it bluntly, the question on both our minds was what messages could my brain still send that’d work my lower extremities?
Apparently not the one that could help my droopy foot work the way it was meant to.
The rudimentary crux of medicine is to firstly find, then secondarily fix, what in the body no longer works. In my case, in no particular order, that meant my droopy foot, the numbness on my shins, and my impaired cognitive processes.
And I desperately needed her help to fix what didn’t work, so if nothing else, the tsunami of overwhelm and terror I was experiencing subsided.
In response to these seriously troubling symptoms, along with the results of her clinical assessment, my doctor suggested I get a fasting blood glucose test first thing Monday morning.
“Go off all carbohydrates for the weekend in preparation for the test’. Her firmly stated comment startled me, triggering a powerfully visceral reaction. As I slowly digested her words, rolled them around in my head to check that I’d heard her correctly, the look on my face alerted her to the sense of dread that was slowly engulfing me.
“All carbohydrates’, I murmured.
She didn’t look as though she was joking. I wished it was a farce, as I tried to get a grasp on how I’d survive this new regime. My mind closed in on the single point of abstention of carbohydrates, now my main issue, like a photographer honing in on the exact lighting for a subject.
I was wondering what I’ll be able to eat in lieu of my beloved carbohydrates. In trying to wrap my head around this novel idea of not eating them for a weekend, my imagination felt stretched.
It didn’t occur to me to just eat as normal, omitting carbohydrates.
“Just for the weekend, then you can add them back to your diet,” she said brightly, with what sounded like contrived encouragement .
I derived a little bit of comfort from the words, “Just for the weekend”. I intoned them, more to myself then to her, as if trying to fix the idea in my head as a good one to embrace. Still, I mentally held the words at arms length, as if to block them from infiltrating my being.
So this is it for instructions? The paucity of helpful hints offered escaped me in the moment as I focused on the big picture. Questioning her more on details about carbohydrates really never occurred to me. I thought I knew enough about what they are given how frequently I ate them, easily identifying the more obvious simple carbs like breads, cakes, pizza, pasta, rice or potatoes.
With no more detailed nutritional suggestions being offered as to how to survive the weekend, I lollop out of her office, my right toes hanging in a defectively downward angle on my uplifted foot, itself flopping in the clumpy shoes I wore.
My preferred fashionable shoes were redundant due to the fact they no longer did the job. Not being able to operate all parts of my foot in cohesion, I resorted to lifting it high enough off the ground to avoid dragging it toe first and risking falling over.
It was a strain, trying to appear dignified (something I was oddly overly-concerned about), with this bizarre walk. Finding a modicum of dignity seemed a reasonable counterbalance to the slow-motion fragmentation happening internally. My gait could pass for an out-take of the 1970′s sketch from the Monty Python show, John Cleese’s classic ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’ routine.
I wasn’t laughing at this point.
As frequently is the case, the dreaded weekend turned out quite differently from the story unfolding in my anxiety-riddled mind.
Just thirty-six hours after I abstained from carbohydrates, that action led to a stunning revelation, one that was destined to change the course of my life forever, and that far exceeded my wildest dreams.
In the next and last post, I share what that defining weekend revealed.
Partner up with your doctor
1. Although most medical personal have precious little time to chat, be precise, clear, courageous and question what you don’t understand, or need more information on. They don’t know what information you need unless you speak up.
Despite the fact that they’re the professional, many, especially older patients, continue to see them as THE authority figure, and that they shouldn’t be questioned.
Wrong! Your doctor should applaud legitimate questions that will lead to better patient understanding and compliance. Not to mention safer, as a lack of it is the single biggest contributor to failed treatments. If your MD brushes you off, persist or change doctors.
2. Ask your doctor to write down the main points. Tell him/her that you can’t absorb the diagnosis or instructions. Or take notes yourself if able.
3. Anticipate you may hear difficult news. Collect yourself in the waiting room, calm yourself down through focusing on your breath, taking several deeper ones, and holding it for a count of 3 before exhaling.
4. Rehearse internally asking the doctor to explain further, repeat or clarify information.