Without making it a sob story, I wanted to share a bit of my history. A lot of people have illnesses or things happen to them where the only choices are to succumb to it or to work hard in order to have a life as well as you can get. The Paralympics events have shown us that people are consistently overcoming disabilities or illnesses to be successful in different areas of life.
Nine years ago, I had become ill with the flu. I couldn’t get out of bed for almost a week. I eventually recovered and a week later I went to Newquay in Cornwall with my partner for my birthday. While I was there, I began to experience a lot of pain in my leg with “pins and needles” sensation in my feet. This spread to the rest of my legs very quickly, until one day, I woke up and couldn’t move my legs at all. In fact, I had no feeling from the waist down. I was admitted to the orthopedic ward of the hospital. A scan showed that no disc was compressing the spine and I was told that they could do nothing to help me. At the same time, they discovered that my ovary was enlarged to 7 cm and they felt that this might be compressing on my spine. In the meantime, everything was getting worse – I was unable to control my bladder and was catheterized. Eventually, I had an operation to remove my ovary. I awoke from the operation in the same situation, unable to move. The gynecologist finally referred me to the neurologist. My first “pins and needles” sensation in my legs started in April. It was now July.
The first time the neurologist examined me, he said, “I know what’s wrong. I can’t make you better but I can make sure you aren’t in any pain.” I had a lumbar puncture and many MRI scans which showed Transverse Myelitis (swelling which damaged my spinal cord). I finally was given intravenous steroids, which repaired some of the damage. What followed was a month in rehabilitation having intense physiotherapy. I eventually went home and continued physiotherapy. I was in a wheelchair and only had some movement in my right leg and some control over my bladder. I had at least learnt ways that I could control it.
For three years I had constant visits to the hospital, terrible pain and was unable to move. I took and continue to take lots of medication to try and control the pain. It took a long time to come to terms with my situation. I had always been a fit person, who was constantly active. I felt that I had lost that person and needed to grieve for her. Once I began to accept who I was, I started to get a life back. I got a new job and completed my Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). I am now part way through a Masters course and without a concrete plan for the future. But I know where I would like to be.
When I started to work, I became stronger and was able to walk on my crutches for longer periods of time. I built up my core strength in my arms. I now swim regularly; I kayak and have learnt to paraglide. I also fly my power kite. A big part of my rehabilitation was acceptance. Unless you strip it back to the beginning and accept the person that you have become, you can’t move on with your life.
I do have bad days and I have days when I feel frustrated about the things that I can’t do. I know now that I can get myself through those days and I allow them to happen. I am only human and it’s been a long journey. However, if you asked me whether I wanted to relive the last 9 years without having Transverse Myelitis, I would choose the TM. It has changed my life and made me a better person. It has given me a deeper understanding and empathy of the struggles that people go through and also helped me chose a career based on helping other people overcome disability and illness to live an independent and full life.
As I said before I am nothing special, I have a choice to live a life or succumb to illness. I choose to live!
~ Siobhan Gallagher