If it hadn’t been for my mother-in-law, I wouldn’t have fallen in the river...
3 days beforehand, doctor phoned to say we know what the rest of it is – Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (‘PPMS’).tions there. After his parents moved right away in the early 70’s, they settled to making regular visits back. In turn, both of their sons joined the military and set off on their own adventures.
Skip forward to 2014, in late March, and there was to be a special visit back to celebrate their Diamond Wedding Anniversary, at which they wanted the entire family present. So we came for the weekend, all of us, from all over the country. From Cornwall, from Norfolk, from Warwickshire, from Surrey, from all points of the compass. Each taking a timeout from our hectic, busy lives.
Having arrived the evening before, husband and I decided to take ourselves off for a walk after breakfast, to make the most of our rare time together. Similarly, our adult children opted to head into Oxford together and mooch around the museums before the festivities began.
We’ve always been outdoorsy people, mountain and coast-path hiking, but I couldn’t keep my footing on the Thames towpath! About half way between Oxford and a pub lunch in Abingdon, I just kept stumbling more and more. It started out as rather funny, making like a stumblebum on a flat towpath (we put it down to my being a bit tired after another hectic week at work). But as I got more and more unsteady, it stopped being funny and began to be a bit alarming - why couldn't I pick my feet up?
I phoned our doctor’s surgery from the riverbank and booked an appointment for after the weekend. I tried everything I could think of, lifting my knees, high-stepping like a pony, but that only made it worse much quicker. So I just kept staggering along after my husband as best I could. I fell in the bushes, fell in the nettles, then finally fell in the river!
But not the river itself, I fell down into a back channel, all black and green and slimy, twigs and branches sticking up - managed to spin round to present back and protect tummy, so I got covered ... A proper swamp monster!
What's happening? What's wrong with me?
Nothing hurts but my legs aren't working and now I'm stuck in this horribly swampy channel!
Couldn’t climb back out – there was no ‘up’ in my legs so my husband had to get in to haul me out ... No way off that section of towpath, so with my hand on his shoulder for balance and pull, we continued on towards Abingdon and the next exit.
A chap came into view, walking towards us,
“I don’t want to see anyone!”
“It’s a public path.”
“Well, I’m not going to look at him!” And I didn’t but could see him passing out of the corner of my eye, the hugest grin blooming across his face! He said not a word, bless ‘im , but I’ll bet he had a tale to tell in the pub later ...
How to get back to our Oxford hotel? Much too filthy for public transport, so my husband rang our grownup children, museuming in Oxford and, as it turned out, surrounded just then by a school party of 5-6 year olds ... As related to us later, it went something like this: -
Hello? Oh! (it’s Dad) They need rescuing!
[Buzz of small ears – ooh! They need rescuing!]
Oh dear! [more small oohs all about]
Okay – We're on the way!
To his sister – They need rescuing, Mum’s fallen in the river!
And off they set to make the rescue, leaving a crowd of very excited little people behind them. Our son did say that, with them being grownups, the children thought that as their mother, I must be ancient! And I had fallen in the river!
We made our way to the square with its many coffee bars and metal benches - I could sit down and drip quietly while himself went foraging. The local pigeons keep an eye on anyone sitting in the square and with it not being too busy, one wandered over to see me – no crumbs on offer, just a soggy bod, so he wandered on. A few minutes later, I realised that the pigeon had returned to my side and was sipping the drips as they dropped from my coat!
I was amused, enchanted even, that he had spotted an available drink and felt safe enough to stand by my side and enjoy it. I actually felt comforted by the pigeon’s presence and thankful for the gift of his trust, for something good amidst the chaos.
Thirst quenched and still no crumbs, he wandered off once more.
My husband came back with hot coffee (bliss) and something to eat (we’d missed our lunch) while we waited for the cavalry to arrive. Over the second coffee and ready to put my tied-round-my-middle coat on for warmth, I untied it and found a little swamp shrimp wriggling in the hood! With small trees planted near the benches, he got the chance to learn to be more of a land shrimp ...
The car arrived (with black bin bags to sit upon) and we returned to the hotel. They have a back-door so we were able to creep up the back stairs and tiptoe to the room, straight into the bathroom with its tiled floor ... A rest in a hot bath with a cup of tea later, I was fully restored and able to walk perfectly again. Very strange.
On our way downstairs to join the others, I detoured via Housekeeping at the hotel front desk – to apologise for the state of our swampy bathroom and ask for black bags to wrap my soggy clothes in for the journey home ...
The rest of that clan-gathering weekend was enjoyed celebrating my parents-in-laws' Diamond Wedding Anniversary – none of us would have been in Oxford otherwise; and I wouldn’t have arranged to visit my doctor ...
Doctor was concerned, but not worried – he'd met it before – a mechanical problem in my spine; scan for it, find it, get it sorted. Long story short –
Had first scan to locate problem, found it and scheduled for major spinal surgery (disc bulge stenosis at L4/5).
Specialist spinal physio said he could see result of problem, but I had too many symptoms ...
Over the five weeks after the first scan, symptoms began to ramp up, so the orthopaedic surgeons called me in to A&E for an emergency scan – they thought it might be going off (Cauda Equina). No, spine is fine, but ...
A&E doctor spotted a kidney tumour half the size of the kidney that hadn’t been there 5 weeks before! Urgent surgery to successfully remove it, but ...
3 days beforehand, doctor phoned to say we know what the rest of it is – Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (‘PPMS’).
I walked into hospital visually completely healthy and busy with living, fully employed in two jobs I loved and somebody turned the page – I came out on two sticks. However for me, these three life-changing diagnoses came the right way round:
The mechanical problem set the assessments rolling
The kidney cancer was a death sentence, which got lifted
And the MS is only a life sentence -
I’m still here! I can do this!
All in all, I am a lucky, lucky girl.
As I said at the beginning – if it hadn’t been for my mother-in-law, I wouldn’t have fallen in the river...