Saturday, 10 February 2018

The walling off that illness brings

At the end of January I spoke at a Scottish Parliament event to raise awareness about the dire lack of services for ME sufferers: there are currently no consultants in Scotland with expertise in ME - and only one specialist nurse in Fife. We do, disturbingly, have the Lothian ME/CFS clinic - again, no expertise in actual ME, it appears to treat 'chronic fatigue' - and people are reporting harms from graded exercise therapy on offer. I met a young woman who now uses a wheelchair because of being made worse by graded exercise. And a mother spoke of her young son having a seizure because of graded exercise. This is horrifying. And they are not alone, many with an ME diagnosis have reported worsening of symptoms because of exercise therapies they have been pretty much coerced into. This exacerbation of symptoms is unsurprising as ME sufferers have poorly understood mitochondrial dysfunction. We *cannot* exercise without provoking highly disabling post-exertional malaise. My abnormal EMG and muscle biopsy from 1984 demonstrated this.

The platform of the event was a twenty minute showing of UNREST film (my review here) and Jennifer Brea, the director of the film, spoke via Skype. When it was my turn to speak, I was more emotional than I thought I'd be, I had to pause a few times, the words clogged in my throat, I was sure I would cry. There was  a palpable collective trauma in the room, the harm visited on ME patients was obvious in the mood of the audience. I do hope the sixteen MSPs who attended will follow up with action and address the issues this much neglected patient population faces. I gave a copy of The State of Me to Joan McAlpine, the MSP for South Scotland, we were both at Glasgow Uni in eighties, so I thought the novel might resonate for her.

There is going to be  a debate in Westminster on 22 February about the harms of PACE - this has been secured by Glasgow North West MP, Carol Monaghan. It is crucial - and hugely welcome - that this is happening. The tables are turning, though the clowns who have harmed us will not bat an eyelid and indeed continue to defend the nonsense of GET/CBT as primary treatment for a neuroimmune illness - the fact that patients are being made more ill doesn't seem to touch them. How convenient to wear so easily such armour against the truth.

I have been thinking about autumn 1983 when my fellow students who had completed their years abroad were gathered excitedly in the Modern Languages Building for the start of the new academic year - the Junior Honours year (our fourth year of study). There was so much to catch up on - this, of course, was pre-Internet - you had to actually see people or phone or write in order to know their news. I remember having to sit on a table in the hallway - it was mobbed, my legs were weak, I had constant pain in my spine - and feeling entirely walled off from the buzz and the joy of it all. I felt like an impostor.

I had only been able to do six weeks of my year in France and had to abandon it in the end. I would  not be starting Junior Honours - I'd been on course to do joint French and English Honours and got glowing comments in my second year English exams -  but had now signed up for just one class a week, which would enable me to finish an Ordinary Arts degree. I'd been diagnosed with Coxsackie B4 by then and had just started seeing Professor Behan - happily, there was an ME specialist in Scotland in 1980s - but I'd not yet had my ME diagnosis. I was very poorly but, there I was, still trying to keep a foot in the well world - much to my detriment, of course (I had no idea of the horror ahead). I could cry thinking about it now.

1 comment:

Sabine said...

I cannot remember how I fund your blog years ago. Maybe I found your novel first.
It doesn't matter.

I, too, have a rare and serious chronic disease - nothing like ME, the moment specific auto-antibodies were found in my blood, the medical experts started buzzing with eager surprise and mostly, they are digging deep and fast to figure out what next from the magic box of the treatment options.
It's pretty shitty and all, but what do I have to complain.

My level of fatigue is bothering me an awful lot but I imagine it is nothing compared to yours.
But for what it's worth, I do have an inkling, when I am awake at night thinking about life going on like *this* for how long etc.

And still, here we are and today I want to thank you for writing this and everything else, I can only try to imagine how much energy it cost you.

I had to relearn entire concepts of happiness and what the joy of life consists of and what we cannot take for granted. And yet, life can be wonderful and amazing and filled with love and wonder.
I hope yours is too.