By Matt Cavallo
In November of 2010, I was still recovering from neck surgery. My neck had been a problem since 2005, when Transverse Myelitis made my spine swell up. The swelling pushed my vertebrae and discs out of alignment. Eventually, just the stress of daily activities caused a piece of vertebrae to fracture causing severe stenosis of the spine. My neurologist told me that if I didn’t consider surgery that there was a pretty good chance that I might become quadriplegic.
I worked for a Neuroscience clinic at the time and was friends with the neurologists at the clinic. I had them each independently look at my MRI films. All of them agreed with my neurologist- surgery was inevitable. I had my cervical spinal fusion surgery in early September of 2010. In order to prepare for the surgery, I had to stop taking my MS medicine. I was also instructed to stay off my medication after the surgery while my body was recovering. During my recovery period, I became less concerned with getting back on my medication and continuing treatment. I had hit my breaking point, and I just didn’t feel like fighting anymore.
As the calendar approached Thanksgiving, I started to become symptomatic. I hadn’t been on any MS treatment for ninety days and was noticing increased fatigue and weakness. At the time, I attributed my symptoms to working fulltime while enrolled in a Master’s program along with raising two boys, ages three and one, who weren’t exactly allowing for a full night’s sleep.
While the weakness and fatigue were troubling, I also started experiencing uncontrollable mood swings. I would break into hysterical laughter at inappropriate times and then break down and start crying and become inconsolable. I am not a person who typically shows intense emotion, so these kinds of outbursts were completely out of character for me.
Still, I didn’t think that anything was seriously wrong with me. I thought that the lack of sleep with a teething one-year old coupled with my ongoing recovery from spinal cord surgery was why my emotions wer running rampant. Then I started forgetting tasks at work that I typically would complete automatically. I was also dragging my leg and having problems with vision in my right eye.
During the week of Thanksgiving, the clinic was slow. The nurses had become worried about me. The day before Thanksgiving, we had very few patients and my practice manager called my neurologist and got me an order for an MRI. I was resistant. I attributed my symptoms to the stress that I was experiencing at work and at home, saying that having to prepare Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow was the cherry on top of the cake. Still, she persisted and took me over to radiology at the hospital and got me a follow up appointment with my neurologist the following Monday.
My MRI studies came back with my lesions glowing like lights on a Christmas tree. I was defeated. When was MS going to let up? Now, I had to tell my wife on the day before Thanksgiving that I was having yet another relapse. However, when I talked to her about it, instead of crying, I started to laugh uncontrollably. During Thanksgiving dinner with her family, I was having emotional outbursts and crying about how beautiful the Turkey and potatoes looked. After dinner, Jocelyn talked to me and she wanted me to talk to my neurologist about my emotions, along with my other symptoms.
That following Monday, I found myself in the familiar chair of my neurologist’s office. He confirmed that I was having a relapse. He prescribed three days’ IV Solu-medrol to help with the exacerbation. I told the doctor that I was having these weird emotional outbursts and was concerned that the IV steroids would further complicate my already emotionally unstable state.
He told me that it sounded like I was having something called Pseudobulbar affect or PBA. According to a Healthline article, “Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) is a condition in which you suddenly start to laugh or cry. The reaction isn’t triggered by anything—like a funny joke or sad movie. You just burst into laughter or tears without any real cause, and you can’t stop laughing or crying.” He wanted to stay on course with the treatment because the PBA seemed to be related to my MS relapse, but to call him if I started to feel out of control.
Tune in for my next blog to find out how I was able to recover from my holiday relapse and strategies I used to gain control of my emotions and stress levels.
*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/