Friday, July 19, 2013

ME/CFS and Polio -- similarities that should not be ignored

"Among the first signs of polio are fatigue, vomiting and back pain." 
Hmm, same first symptoms I had.  But because most US doctors haven't seen a case of polio since the vaccine came out in the late 1950s, it wouldn't have rung a bell with any of the ones I saw, all of whom had been to medical school after polio was considered eradicated in the US..
It intrigued me when I first heard the proper name, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, that it shares a root word with poliomyelitis.  I have a friend with polio, and learned by experimenting that what her doctors were telling her (to rest and not overdo) worked better for me than the usual exhortation "no pain, no gain."
The more I read about polio, the more I saw commonalities with what I experienced myself. 
I have a distinct recollection of lining up to receive my polio vaccine on a sugar cube as a child.  But the vaccine only protects against the three most potent variants of the disease, leaving several dozen varieties you're not protected against.  No one ever tested me for polio; not only it wouldn't have crossed their minds in the 1980s, but I wasn't paralyzed. 
If it was a strain of polio, the aftereffects were seemingly mild. 
Until a dozen years of pushing my body to work full-time and do all the housework myself caught up with me; in 2000 I did start experiencing paralytic muscle weakness until I learned to stay within my limits.  Half an hour of typing -- no pushing through, "I'm almost done", finishing what I was writing had to wait until I'd rested my hands for a couple hours.  Walking short distances -- no pushing through, "I'm almost home" -- when I reached my limit, I found the nearest place to sit down.  If I was lucky, I was near a cafe where I could sit in air conditioning for an hour; if not, I sat on the sidewalk in as much shade as I could find. 
Fortunately, I do have that friend with polio, so I steadfastly defended my decision to rest muscles before they reached paralytic muscle weakness against ignorant doctors and laypeople who insisted that I had to exercise my way back to health.  Been there, done that, saw that it made the paralytic muscle weakness last longer.

Meanwhile, those who had never seen that happen insisted that they were right, I was wrong, and that my refusal to exercise my way back to health was pure laziness ... unwilling to accept that I would have liked nothing more than to go out for a long walk or dancing the night away, but my body rebelled -- not only my legs became too weak to hold me up, but my other symptoms increased.  Not for a few hours, but for weeks afterward.  The more I toughed it out, the sicker I got.
"Then there's polio: Only 223 cases were reported last year, down from 350,000 in 1988. Islamist extremists in Nigeria and Pakistan have murdered vaccination workers, but the disease is still inching toward eradication."

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