At first, I couldn’t understand how the left side of my body could be “not working” and what it had to do with my brain. I couldn’t understand why the doctors were doing a Computerised Tomography (CT) scan and a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of my brain! Amazingly, I could have drawn a (perfectly straight) line down the middle of my body separating what worked and what didn’t. Half of my face drooped whilst the right side was totally unaffected. It was upsetting when I caught a glimpse of my face in a mirror (before I lost my sight) and I could see that only half of my mouth was smiling! Even my left eye seemed to be droopy. The doctors originally diagnosed me with having had a stroke (cerebrovascular accident; CVA) and it wasn’t until four years later that I was finally diagnosed with MS.
So what did the brain have to do with this?
Well, like the plastic insulation that is around an electric wire to help it conduct electricity more efficiently, the neural “wires” in your brain have myelin around them to help conduct the signals from your brain to, for example, your finger. So, when you decide to move your left index finger up by a centimetre, a signal is sent from your brain through the neural “wires” which reaches your finger and moves the finger up by a centimetre. On managing this, feedback is then sent back to your brain to update the finger’s new location.
How does MS affect this?
In the case of multiple sclerosis (MS), damage to the myelin (the insulation around the wire) may result in gaps or holes, which prevent good conduction of signals to and from the brain. The signal may be distorted, slowed down, or even completely lost. This means that the desired action of moving your finger is distorted, slow, or not carried out at all. If the damage to the myelin is significant, the signals simply cannot pass through the “wires” and therefore you are unable to move your finger, hand, or arm. In my case, signals were not getting through to my left leg or arm so I could not move them. They were like dead weights. I was mentally willing my finger to move but it wouldn’t move! No matter how much I concentrated on the finger, it would not move.
After six weeks in hospital, one afternoon while I was still trying to make my arm move, I felt the signal getting to my elbow. Of course there was no evidence of this and nothing moved, but I felt it! The next day, I could feel the signal reaching half way between my elbow and my wrist. A couple of days after that, the signal arrived to an inch away from my middle finger, and the following day I actually moved my middle finger a little bit!!!
These initial few weeks in hospital were absolutely hellish. I continued to deteriorate on a daily basis and was scared to go to sleep for fear of waking up in the morning to find something else that wasn’t working. I just could not understand what was happening. Would I be able to walk again? Would I be dependent on a carer for the rest of my life? The thought of being a “burden” on someone filled me with horror. The sensation of a signal trying to get through to my finger was the first little glimpse of hope that I had had but would it be able to reconnect with my finger?
Next time, I shall explain how the brain controls the two sides of your body. Thank you for stopping by and be sure to subscribe. If there are specific areas of interest that you would like me to write about, do let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!