Hi! My name is Ruth Wood and in 2006 I was happily sorting out my new life when suddenly everything changed. I’d moved away from Stafford in the UK, where I’d lived for twenty years, to marry my soul mate. We have been friends for years and got married two years earlier.
Because of the move, I gave up my full career life as a singer, performer, singing teacher and coach with my own studio. But I gradually built up a new career, teaching with the Worcester Music Department in schools all over Worcestershire, as well as working at the School of Drama in Birmingham and in a private club. It wasn’t long before I was full time again!
In June of 2006, I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, which is an auto-immune problem resulting in a total intolerance of gluten. I’d been ill all my life, and this explained a lot. Within six weeks I was feeling amazing and beginning to put on weight for the first time!
In September of the same year, I was working in Liverpool on a project involving the drama schools, coaching some girls for a performance of an excerpt from West Side Story. I was enjoying it immensely, but began to feel very tired as well as having trouble with my walking. I tried to ignore it, but when I was in the train travelling home I began to feel that there was something very wrong. The day after I returned home I was due to be working at the music school, but I felt too tired and ill to go in. Little was I to know that I was never going to work there again.
Within a week I had severe pain in my left leg, which was beginning to drag. I went to my GP several times, and she sent me for X-rays, thinking it was probably sciatica. Things went from bad to worse, and my husband persuaded me to try a different GP. Unknown to me at the time, Dr. Cheetham specialised in neurological problems, and when he saw me he immediately reacted. After a thorough examination, he told me he was referring me to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham for further tests. I knew he suspected something, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was, preferring to wait for confirmation. Within hours I was on a ward waiting for the first of what would be several tests.
My pain and walking got worse, until I could no longer lift my legs off the bed. I couldn’t work out what was happening to me, and was terrified it was something terminal. When the results came through, and it was explained to me that I had transverse myelitis, I was actually relieved! I wasn’t going to die.
I was seen by an OT, who asked me what help I would need at home. How was I to know? I’d never been disabled before!
I was in the hospital for nearly a month, after which I was sent for physiotherapy at a local hospital. This consisted of very little more than drinking cups of tea and watching other people do various exercises. After six weeks even this finished.
Because the hospitals had “lost” my notes between Birmingham and Worcestershire, we weren’t visited by any health professionals for over six months. During that time I had another attack, and lost the use of both hands for a time. I was determined this wasn’t going to be permanent, so devised my own exercises to help myself.
Over the next five years, I had another three attacks, one in my back, two more in my neck. I had to give up my career, fight to get my breathing back on track, and accept the fact that my voice no longer worked the way it should.
I wrote a book about my first year as a disabled person, I published a book of poetry; I took up new hobbies and received grants to study Neuro Linguistic Programming. I joined a new church and found my “centre”, and through it all my husband stayed firm and staunch.
I’ve gone back to work part time, helping people to realise their dreams and sing to their abilities, which is richly rewarding. I’m singing and reading at my new church, where I have so many new friends. I write for the online TM magazine, take part in the forums on Facebook and do everything I can to raise awareness of this dreadful condition. I keep up to date with medical research, attending as many conferences as I can. I take part in a creative writing group, am part of an MS exercise group and have discovered toning, which I do twice a week. I’m out of the wheelchair and use a walker, though the pain in my legs, hands and arms is still vicious.
I have now been diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis in both hips, so my exercises are absolutely vital.
Every day I’m thankful I’m alive, and every minute I try to live to the full, in spite of this disablement.
I look forward to sharing more stories with all TMA members, friends and followers from across the pond!