Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The old sort of virus!

I'm still off work with a viral infection, but, hope to go back tomorrow. Those viruses have got me again and swallowing feels as if I've got broken glass in my throat. No matter, I've been doing some work by email and I've got a few things to keep me busy, but with frequent rests and cups of tea in between. It's been great to get a few comments added and also a few emails from friends. We live in such an age of instant communication that it's hard to believe that when I was a child and at the doctor's or dentist's or some similar place who required your details, that they would ask 'Do you have a phone?'! How ridiculous from today's perspective, with home and office landlines, mobiles (one of my colleagues has three), texting, emails, online instant pc support, etc. Is it real progress? Or have we lost the reflective moment to compose a thought-out (non-instant) reply? I mean, who remembers partylines?

Anyway, it's to my advantage now, that I can update this blog from home and friends can get in touch with me. Learning to touch type was one of the best things I ever did when I was 16!

Monday, 23 February 2009

To my surprise...

I didn't get to any Church services this weekend as had a virus on top of everything else and had to stay off work today. But, Susie got my blog announced at Church on Sunday morning and lo and behold I now have 10 people following my blog. I can't believe it!

What I want to make sure is that this blog is not a place where I update you on my woes! I actually don't feel I've got any - just challenges to overcome!

I was reading "The Key to Everything" this morning by Norman Grubb and he says the exact same thing: "This is what (the Christian) life is basically: Another living His life in me. You've got the key to everything. Every problem becomes an opportunity. Every tough spot becomes a chance to enjoy the luxury of seeing Him deliver us out of it. And you welcome such spots."

So, let this blog be the beginning of things. He may deliver me out of my illness or He may not.
That's fine with me. What He will do, whether I'm healed or not, is to 'deliver' me into a new place in Him where it doesn't matter what happens to this body anyway. And all for His glory.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

So, what's MS?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disease. That means it affects the nerves and appears to do this 'centrally' - in other words it can affect the brain and the spinal cord. The other name for MS is 'demyelinating disease' - but, MS is easier to say.

No one knows what causes it, but there are a few pointers to why someone might get it. Of course, I've only found this out since being diagnosed and didn't pay much attention to it before that.

Scotland is the world's capital for MS. We have more here than anywhere else in the world. In fact, the further away you get from the equator, the more MS you find - with the exception of Norway, and I'll come back to that later. This suggests that sunlight may have an effect. Sunlight helps us produce vitamin D, therefore the less sunlight the less vitamin D. It's apparently estimated that two-thirds of the Scottish population are vitamin D deficient. We should all take supplements or eat more oily fish. Let's bring Norway back in here - in the north of Norway, they eat far more oily fish and this seems to be a factor in reducing the incidence of MS and therefore bucking the trend of the rest of the northern hemisphere.
As in my own experience, viruses appear to cause or trigger MS. In a talk I was at a few months ago given by a Canadian specialist (the Canadians are well ahead of us in MS research) he cited an example of a pair of identical twins. One had had a specific virus and the other one hadn't - the first had MS and the second one didn't. This doesn't mean every time you have a virus you're going to get MS! There are other factors involved and not all of them known or understood.

Known factors are:

  • A genetic susceptibility
  • Lack of sunlight and hence
  • Lack of vitamin D which is made by the action of sunlight on our skin.
  • viruses.

So, what's the effect? The nerves are covered in an insulating coating called myelin. Think of an electrical wire covered in a plastic coating. Well, the myelin gets damaged and the signals are disturbed or don't get through at all. This can cause weakness, paralysis, pain and lots of other unpleasant effects. Strangely enough, it's our own immune system that does the damage - in medical terminology 'autoimmune'. Our antibodies and defence cells attack our own nerves. The disease affects me in several ways: firstly, weakness in my legs, difficulty with balance and severe pain on one side of my head/neck. Luckily, I've got great painkillers. The other serious effect is fatigue. I run out of energy by late afternoon and spend the evenings resting or sleeping. That helps the nerves recover and I can walk better after sleeping for a while. Interesting.

It's a progressive disease, which means things get worse. But, there's no telling how long it will take. MS is also categorised into subtypes, but I'll write about that later.

Remember, this is only my understanding of the illness. I might alter my thoughts after more reading. But enough for now.

Roman Fort

Alan Martin, from the Struther's Church near London is staying with us this weekend. Yesterday we decided to go out for a short time, and after going on a small errand to Kirkintilloch we decided to go to see if the Roman remains at Croy or Twechar were easily accessible. From Kirkintilloch, you follow the signs for Kilsyth for a short distance and then turn right to Twechar. The first thing you notice about Twechar is a distinct lack of sign posts. As you arrive towards the village, the canal is on your right. There is no signpost telling you to turn right into the village! It would be all too easy to drive straight on and miss it completely. So, we turned right into the village. Part way along the road, there is a sign indicating that Barrhill Fort is a quarter of a mile walk to the left. So, we tried to find somewhere to park - problem number two!

Eventually, we parked outside some industrial units opposite and began our reasonable short walk to the fort. Next problem: It's at least a mile! And it's all uphill. Again no signposts, so luckily we came across other walkers/cyclists who directed us. Frankly, I shouldn't have walked so far and I'm paying the price now with ultra wobbly legs last night and today. When we eventually found the site, there's not a great deal to see, but we found it interesting anyway. Looking down from the site of the fort you can easily see the remnants of the Antonine wall and suddenly the history all becomes alive. The wind was blowing so hard and cold we couldn't stay too long and headed back down to the car. It was good to be out and to walk a bit - even if it was a bit too much. These sites are on our doorstep and I've never bothered stopping before. Glad I did. Tourist photos available here

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Going live!

OK. I'm a bit nervous about this, but, I've put a link to this new blog on Facebook and emailed it to some friends. Please feel free to comment!

In time, I hope to add some videos of some of my own music and some other pictures of friends.
Be warned! Your picture might be up here next!

Friday, 20 February 2009

My family

This is my favourite photo of Matthew and Susie.
In this picture taken at a recent wedding in the Church, I think they both look happy and relaxed. It also shows how much taller Matthew is than his mum!
Susie is a dental practice manager working long hours, but I think enjoying it all. She works in an implant practice not far from here.
Matthew, in this photo, is approaching 21. He is a great son, full of life and fun and takes care of his ol' dad! I think we as a family have always been close to each other, which is a blessing to me and Susie. He joined the army and seems to be happy with his choice of career. We wish him well.


I've just noticed that the my blog starts at the bottom of the web page and works backwards! So, scroll to the bottom to get the first entry. I don't know how to change the layout!

I first saw the neurologist at the Southern General Hospital in March 2008. He was very thorough. Testing reflexes and eye movements. I could do all of the tests he asked me to do except for the walking in a straight line - in what we used to call 'baby steps' - I fell over! He wanted me to do this with my eyes open then with my eyes shut. Luckily, he was good at catching! As a result of this problem, he ordered an MRI scan of brain and cervical spinal cord. I had to wait a few weeks for this, but eventually got this done. It was like being inside a large vibrating and noisy cylinder. I found it OK though, other than having a coughing fit part way through. I was given a review appointment to see the consultant in June 2008, which was when I discovered that I had MS. It was a bit of a shock, I suppose, but this is where my Christian faith really helped (we either believe God's in control, or we don't). I committed the whole matter into God's hands and I've never felt bitter or 'why me?' at anytime then or since.

So, I had to learn to live with a progressive neurological illness - and so did my family.
My walking was getting quite bad, and by July/August time, I had to start using a walking stick. Not all the time, but increasingly since then. Coming right up to date, I use the stick always when out and about and also at work, which took a bit of getting over the embarrassment.
I'll leave it there for now and write more about MS support and what life is like now.

Thanks for reading!

Psychiatry to neurology!

After coming home from work on the Friday I mentioned, back in 2007, I lay almost every hour of the day on the sofa in our lounge. My wife and son constantly badgered me to go to the doctor. I just wanted to lie there. The only positive outcome of that time was losing almost two stones in weight as I couldn't be bothered eating!

Eventually, after four weeks, I gave in and was taken by my wife, Susie, to the docs. He listened to me and to Susie. I was finding it hard to put a sentence together as I couldn't concentrate on words and meanings, etc. (couldn't read or even listen to music as it took too much effort). The doctor agreed with Susie that I was probably suffering from depression. And, true enough, when I filled out the questionnaire he put on front of me, I had to admit that I had depressive symptoms. "But, what about this dizziness I've got? And this strange numbness in my head on the left side?" I asked. He said that depression could bring strange symptoms and it would all probably go away. It didn't. It got worse. Much worse.

That was in July 2007. By Christmas, the numbness in my head turned to pain and my balance and walking were getting worse. I loved walking. I was out on the West Highland Way almost every day (we live beside a section of it), and although I wobbled a bit like a drunk man from time to time, I loved getting out and being among the hills and moors - watching the timid deer in the distance and the buzzards soaring overhead. I could never tire of that.

With some difficulty, I returned to work around Christmas 2007. I had seen a psychiatrist (remember they were still treating this as depression and I was looking for all the help I could get!) who arranged for me to work half days for a month to ease myself back in. I was back to work, but I knew something was far from right with my health - and I was pretty sure the problem was in my head - so, I asked my GP to refer me to a neurologist. The GPs words were "OK, but they won't find anything."


Welcome to my blog!

A number of friends have encouraged me to keep a weblog (blog) particularly of my health since I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in June of 2008. This also allows me to comment on life in general and lets friends and family get (hopefully) regular updates.

For those who don't know me, my name is Paul Sharkey, I'm a dentist working in both teaching dental students in the University of Glasgow Dental School and in dental practice in Stirling in Scotland. I have been married since 1987 and have one son, Matthew, who's in the army and away from home at the present time.
So, about MS.
Three or four years ago, I got a virus. I had what I would describe as 'a bad flu'. I hadn't felt so bad in a long, long time. I knew that there were some neurological effects as my vision was slightly blurred and my balance was affected - although, that could have been ears being affected rather than brain. I felt so ill that I didn't even think of seeing a doctor - I just wanted to lie in bed and sleep. This lasted about two weeks. My vision returned to normal, my balance took a bit longer and the only residual deficit was that my spelling was never the same again!
Other that that, I got better and pretty well forgot about it.
In the summer of 2007, I found myself in a very stressful situation at work. I remember this all coming to a crisis on one particular day when I had the nearest thing to what might be called a 'panic attack'. I felt as though I had been injected with adrenaline. My muscles tightened, my neck got tight and painful. All I could think of was getting home. This was a Friday - I got home, lay on the couch and thought if I just rested for a couple of days I'd be fine. It turned out that I was off work for five months.
When I recounted these incidents to the MS consultant after I was diagnosed, he told me that I had probably had MS before this and that the two crisis incidents that seemed to trigger MS and make it active were viruses and stress. I'd had both. And so, my story begins!