After losing my voice to a severe and painful stutter I was tested for a stroke. When the tests came back negative my neurologist put me on high doses of Klonopin to “reset my brain.” It helped with some of the anxiety of being diagnosed with a serious and disabling illness but it didn’t help the stutter and it made my brain work much slower.
I worked closely with my PCP on treatments for the Intracranial Hypertension and the accompanying headaches, often seeing her once a week. My headaches improved through the course of the year but didn’t go away completely. I felt well enough to work at several points but the stutter was persistent and didn’t respond to treatment and the headaches always returned. Being unable to communicate clearly was a big disadvantage in this information and telephonic age. Attempting to talk on the phone was enough to make me cry from pain and frustration. I took to writing notes to my doctors so I could communicate with them easier.
I finally saw a speech specialist and was diagnosed with atypical Spasmodic Dysphonia. The standard treatment for it was Botox injections in the vocal cords. I did three courses of it but the improvement wasn’t enough to make it worth continuing. After the injections I could speak in a strangled, rough voice for a few weeks that still hurt. One friend said I sounded like “a sexy Marge Simpson.” I was warned not to whisper as it would damage my vocal cords beyond repair but I ended up communicating that way because it was easier and more clear than stuttering.
I had an opportunity to move into a friend’s daylight basement and I jumped at the chance to get out of my moldy apartment building. The basement smelled odd but I only found a few spots of mold in the window sills and in the bathroom. I kept the heat on and placed air purifiers throughout the space. A few weeks before moving at the end of November I started Predinsone to reduce the inflammation on my brain and help the persistent headaches. My PCP commented that it was obvious I had systemic inflammation but it didn’t appear on standard blood tests. I felt surprisingly well before and immediately after the move; I weaned myself off Klonopin and I was gaining strength. Then in January 2011 the muscle spasms began.
Things escalated quickly from that point. Within weeks the muscle spasms turned into muscle cramps. I started trembling, got pins and needle pain in my feet, had presyncope episodes where I’d nearly black out upon standing, and my fatigue returned worse than before.
My neurologist ordered blood work to check for vitamin deficiencies and autoimmune diseases. When they were negative, she ordered MRIs of my brain and lumbar spine to look for lesions that would indicate MS and did an EMG in my right arm, hand, and leg to check for large nerve impingements. She found osteoarthritis in my lower lumbar region but nothing else. By this time the pins and needles pain increased and spread. Besides my feet, it attacked my thighs, buttocks, lower back, hands, and forearms. At various times it felt like I was being attacked by fire ants, clawed by tigers, zapped by electric eels, and stung by jellyfish. I had other weird sensations that felt like cats purring and frogs jumping under my skin. There were days I couldn’t wear clothing or have anything touch my skin. I spent most of my time lying on my left hip, the one place I could stand to put pressure on. I slowly weaned myself off Prednisone against my PCP’s advice because I had a feeling it had something to do with my new and rapidly progressing health problems.
I ended up in my PCP’s office in tears when the electric shocks started in my crotch area. She put me on Amitriptyline, an antidepressant often used to block nerve pain signals to the brain. I placed a desperate call to my neurologist’s office and saw her about it as well. She offered to refer me to a rheumatologist for the osteoarthritis but wouldn’t do anything about the neuropathy since the tests she ran all came back as normal. She told me it was probably Fibromyalgia and I should learn to live with it. I’d lived with Fibromyalgia for more than 20 years; it wasn’t Fibromyalgia.
My PCP was more sympathetic. She referred me to a nerve pain specialist at the teaching hospital in Portland. In July 2011 I spent the better part of a day in testing: more blood tests, another EMG, skin biopsies, and autonomic testing. I left like I was getting close to some answers. After the testing I switched from Amitriptyline to Nortriptyline. It eased the pain better and didn’t have the severe fatiguing side-effects I had with Amitriptyline.
Since I was becoming more and more disabled and my parents took me to all my out of town doctor’s appointments, I decided to move closer to them when they offered to buy a house for me. They were 80 miles away from me and out of town trips usually ended up being all day or over night trips. In September 2011 I moved inland. A few days later I got the test results from the nerve pain specialists. For the first time since my Spasmodic Dysphonia diagnosis I had abnormal results. I was diagnosed with Autonomic Nervous System Dysfunction (Dysautonomia), Small Fiber Neuropathy, and Carpal Tunnel. The EMG, skin biopsies, and autonomic tests all came back abnormal. The specialist was too far away to be my primary doctor so he released me to the care of my PCP which was fine with me. I just needed him to diagnose me.
Immediately I started reading about Dysautonomia. I needed a new primary care doctor since I’d moved and finding one familiar with SFN and Dysautonomia was important to me. Numerous blogs by other Dysautonomia patients recommended Integrative/Functional Medicine. They had improved quality of life with IM if not complete control of their symptoms. My PCP had also recommended them since I reacted so poorly to standard medical treatments and IM is based more on scientific evidence than the guesswork used in the naturopathy I’d tried in 2009. My first appointment with my Integrative Medicine MD was in January 2012.