Tribulations on a Trial

Published 11, Jun, 2012

Denis Robinson with news of a recent heath scare.

A few weeks back I developed a strange numbness and tingling sensation, located mid-back. It wrapped itself around my torso and caused a little discomfort. Although there were no topical signs of inflammation I at first thought I might be developing shingles, but having witnessed this on other people, after a while of waiting for a rash to appear, I realized that it wasn’t. 

This sensation went on with various levels of discomfort for about two weeks. T he best way I have to describe it is as if I had used ‘Deep Heat’ on my skin, the stuff you use when you have muscular pain that heats up and relaxes the muscle. But when you blow on it, it is actually freezing. It felt like I had been burned somehow, not sunburn but like prickly heat,

I did my best to ignore it despite the occasional blasts of pain it caused, but there were times it was quite uncomfortable and I made a mental note to get it checked out. I had pretty much convinced myself it was a trapped nerve, something I have had before in a different area of the body, which can cause major pain and discomfort, and although this particular incidence felt like nothing I have had before, I reminded myself that there are many different nerves running through the body and each of them would react in a different way depending on location and the nature of the ‘trapping’. 

So I was pretty much just getting on with stuff and managing to ignore it when on Monday May 7th I blacked out while at home alone. I have no idea how long I was unconscious but when I regained it I couldn’t move my right arm and had lost vision in my right eye, which of course panicked me somewhat but the sensation in my arm started to return after approximately 10 mins and the vision returned even faster. 

Now you would think that at this point I would have rung the emergency services and gone to the closest Accident and Emergency, well you would be wrong, due to the fact that that particular day was a public holiday I knew that the emergency services would be overrun with people, with general practitioners being closed for the holiday the emergency rooms end up seeing everyone for every sniffle trip and spill, and the thought of sitting for hours on end awaiting being seen put me off. Add in the fact that like my father before me, I have a tendency to over play anything not serious like a bruise but underplay anything that could have more serious health ramifications like paralysis and blindness even those of a temporary nature. 

My father was the type of man who when he had a cold took to his bed and the whole street would know of his malady. But when diagnosed with terminal cancer shook it off and told the world he was great and never felt better. So I guess the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree after all. 

The course of action I choose was to wait until the Tuesday and go see the doctor on call at the clinic I attend. That morning despite a residual heaviness in the arm and another bout of blurred/loss of vision I went to the gym and afterwards went to the clinic. I checked in at the front desk and went to see the triage nurse. Turns out the research nurse from the clinical trial I am on just happened to be around as well, so I ended up explaining it to both of them, looks of horror and major concern struck both their faces, all the while I was still being most complacent and apologizing for most likely wasting their time. They insisted I see the doctor on call and have it all checked out. So off I trotted to another part of the building and took my seat in the waiting room. It took a while to see someone due to shift changes and handover, so I carried on reading and waited. 

The doctor I was assigned to called me in after a while and I began to explain the symptoms, although remaining outwardly calm she started to question me very hurriedly, asking the next question before I had completed the answer to the current one, and when she clearly felt she had heard enough she started to talk about strokes, how she was concerned that I may have had a T.I.A (transient ischemic attack), and that she was sending me to the stroke unit at the main hospital the HIV clinic is affiliated with. She encouraged me to go eat as it was going to be a long day. 

Now at this point I did begin to feel a level of concern I had so far managed to avoid, the chicken salad sandwich I tried to eat, despite being coated ever so generously with mayonnaise, tasted like dry cardboard as I choked each bite down, and the Skinny Wet Latte I accompanied it with did little to ease its passage. When I returned to see the doctor after about 20 minutes she advised me that the HASU (Hyper Acute Stroke Unit) was overrun that day and that they wanted to see me at 8am the following morning. She ran two ECG’s; the first one threw up the age old question of whether indeed I actually have a heart. And a referral letter was given to me to hand in on arrival the following morning, with the advice given that even the smallest twinge I felt I should call an ambulance. 

Well of course you can guess that I spent the night analyzing nothing but twinges and talking myself out of calling anybody except my poor mother who ultimately ended up getting high blood pressure. 

On the journey the following morning (no gym prior to this visit) I was in a bit of a state, readying myself for the worst possible prognosis, everything from brain tumors to god knows what flying threw my head. It wasn’t helped by the fact that when I arrived on the ward there were 3 nurse awaiting my arrival. I was put to bed, had a mild altercation with a male nurse with very unsettling purple hair and over plucked eyebrows called Stephen about the fact he had pulled the incorrect notes from the hospital records. (Turns out there is a very strong firewall around HIV patients and can only be accessed internally at the clinic) the records he had were from an emergency room visit about 20 years prior. 

I was seen by a consultant and his retinue of attending doctors and students, (no Patrick Dempsey for me, unfortunately, the consultant reminded me more of Larry David). A rather long discussion was had about whether they should cannulate me for a CT scan as it was felt that due to my rather violent allergy to shellfish (you couldn’t make this stuff up) they would be unable to flush the dye required for contrast into my system, the dye contains iodine, and iodine contains traces of shellfish, but it was decided I should have a Cannula, I was then asked to wait in reception as the bed was needed for another patient and thus I waited 5 hours to go and have the scan completed and then another 2 hours to get the results, I read the current issue of Vanity Fair cover to cover and am as such now much more educated on the origins of the British Labour Governments Olympic bid for the games we are about to host in little over a month. 

Ultimately they found nothing that would indicate I had had a T.I.A or was at risk from one and I was sent home. Actually feeling quite despondent as it happens, as I had built myself up for God knows what being wrong. It was quite the anti climax when nothing was forthcoming, but happy that I wasn’t in a high-risk category. The odd tingling sensation was still there but I assured myself that it was a trapped nerve as I had said all along. 

Until this week! On Thursday I attended the clinic for my routine appointment, saw yet another new doctor who is on rotation on the Clinical trial I am on, went through all the usual questions and forms to be filled out when I happened to mention my visit to the on call doctor and subsequent visit to HASU. He referred to my notes and embarked on another raft of questions, HASU hadn’t as promised sent the results to them as discussed and I am certain they will have been sent to a GP I haven’t seen for approximately 20 years who I can only imagine is somewhat nonplussed as to why. 

Lewis (rotation doctor) went to access another computer terminal where he could read the notes and on his return explained the previously mentioned firewall (very reassuring) but also to tell me about his concerns that my ‘episode’ was epileptic in nature. So now I await the call from the clinic to inform me that I have been booked for an MRI, an EEG and a visit to the Neurologist, where a much more in depth look will be taken at my body and brain to rule out, hopefully, damage caused to the nerves by my HIV medication that could result in epilepsy. 

I still believe it was a trapped nerve, in fact I am certain of this as I felt it unwrap about 5 days ago giving me a rather strange feeling of sea sickness while laying in bed one evening.

But I guess I am very content at the levels of medical attention received in trying to get to the bottom of this strange tingling sensation.