We got off the train at Euston station, severe vertigo rendering it impossible to walk. I could not see straight nor gage where the floor was. This was to be the start of many more attacks of vertigo, little did I know what the cause was going to be. My partner, Nick, virtually carried me across the station to a coffee shop where we remained until the spinning settled down enough for us to navigate our way to Medserina for my upright MRI scan. It was August 19th 2016.
Despite the multitude of symptoms I’d had over the years, headaches were never one of them. In May 2015 I began to develop the most excruciating pain to date. I had pains in my head 24/7, they ranged from pressure, occipital headaches/neuralgia, pulsating temples, frontal head aches, pulling back of my skull, teeth and facial pain. At times I lost my speech, my mouth would droop and my face go numb. These were headaches like NO other and the fact they were unremitting, I knew something serious was at play. Debilitating neck pain accompanied the headaches along with clicking, crunching and spasms. I became very aware of the weight of my head. Suddenly I felt like I was carrying a bowling ball on a tooth pick and my shoulders became equally as painful. It was terribly debilitating.
The next 15 months were spent in and out of A&E, neurologist appointments and testing. It was a long, complicated and traumatic 15 months, the worst time of my life. I will revisit this time again in my blog but at present its still too raw.
The oh so familair diagnosis merry-go round commenced, starting with a suspected stroke, due to weakness on my right side and facial droop then followed bleed on the brain week. As time went by and more scans were not showing the cause (as they were supine) the avenues of migraine, occipital neuralgia and hemiplegic migraine ensued. I had injections into my skull without anaesthetic due to allergy, all to no avail.
I was losing hope. I had no idea what was causing such pain but I knew living my life like this was not an option. I couldn’t carry on. As time went by the headaches increased in intensity, shoulder pain worsened and the ability to carry my head was becoming impossible. When upright I’d physically hold my head up with my hands at times. As strong willed as I am, at this point I felt I could not go on another minute. I was still employed but unable to attend work due to the severity of the symptoms. I spent 3 months mainly bed ridden, feeling very isolated and alone. I was losing every aspect of my life, everything I worked for, everything I enjoyed, everything that made me, me was fading away and I didn’t know why. My world became very small.
Over time I developed weakness down my right side, I was dropping items, severe vertigo, dizziness, vision problems, increase in nausea, my hearing changed, tinnitus, I started to forget words and have problems communicating at times. I began choking on liquids and solids and found it increasingly hard to swallow. The list of symptoms increased as the months went by. I had never felt as frightened as I did at this time.
It was a chance conversation with my Shoulder surgeon that put me on the right path. I’d had right shoulder pain for years and was told by many physios it was just a strain. An MRI scan revealed I had 2 shoulder tears (EDS for you) and I was referred to a surgeon. As well as my shoulder the surgeon was very interested in EDS, asking me about my various symptoms. I told him about the current symptoms and the impact they were having on my life. He immediately said it sounded like neck instability as the way I was describing my symptoms was almost identical to that of rheumatoid arthritis patients he had come across with instability in the neck.
Once home I took to google, I came across articles on Craniocervical instability and the similarities were far too canny. I found a support group on Social media (they have proven invaluable) it became apparent from other sufferers and medical information that the only way to find Instability in EDS patients, due to the mechanics of why we have it is through an upright Motion MRI of which there was only one in the country. My GP made the referral.
We arrived at Medserina and were taken into the waiting area. The vertigo was so extreme I had no idea how I would sit in a scanner for the next hour, but I hadn’t come all this way for nothing. I sat and sipped on water trying to focus on one place in the room as it span around me. Nick completed the paper work for me and I signed.
Nick walked me to the scanner and stayed in the room with me. I was strapped into the scanner with a cage placed over my head. First of all, scans were taken in neutral followed by flexion, once I was flexed a bar was placed to support my head and to limit movement to enable a good clarity of picture, the cage was again placed and the radiographers left the room to take the images. I then had to extend my neck and it was held in position. It was very painful but I tried to remain focused to get the job done. Then came rotation both left and right. On rotation right I lost the ability to swallow, this frightened the life out of me. I could not speak as I could not swallow, a groaning came from me and the radiographers ran in and released the bar. I had no idea at the time why that had happened. The scan lasted just over an hour.
We sat in the waiting area afterwards as I felt too unwell to get back to the station. Myself and Nick got chatting to a lady who felt equally as rough after her scan and it turned out she also had EDS and not only that she lived less than 10 miles from me, small world. We exchanged numbers. We left the facility after 30 minutes with my images on disk and was told the report would arrive within the week. The journey home was horrific. My head and neck agony after the scan, vertigo still lingering and now nausea. It felt like the longest train journey of my life.
A few days later I received a copy of my report, it was clear from the imaging I had craniocervical instability. I did not understand everything in the report so I arranged a telephone consultation with Professor Smith, consultant radiologist. Professor Smith explained that I had a range of motion in flexion and extension greater than 95 degrees and that instability was demonstrated in flexion and on rotation. He went onto say I would need a fusion surgery however this is not yet undertaken in the UK on EDS patients. I could not believe what I was hearing, it was 2016 not 1916!! The professor gave me a few names of world class surgeons, all based in America and said that UK/Irish patients were having to go for surgery over there.
Panic set in, how could I make it to the states? How could I fund such surgery? I read numerous stories of patients in the UK and Ireland having to fundraise to get over to America. One amazing girl had to sail as she was not fit to fly. I felt I was in a living nightmare. I needed to get the advice of top neurosurgeons as soon as possible. In the support group there were talks of another surgeon based in Barcelona who had recently undertaken a surgery on a fellow EDS’er. More and more UK patients were heading over to consult with him, I felt at that time this was a viable option and we made arrangements to have a consultation over in Barcelona for November. We also scheduled a Skype consultation with one of the worlds leading neurosurgeons in America for December.
It was only when we made the long and difficult journey to Barcelona to meet with both Dr Gilete and Dr Oliver (Europe’s leading skull based surgeon) did we realise just how severe my instability was and the risks involved…………….