with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
drove out of Vancouver, Canada, on a warm sunny day in mid-February,
I felt so unwell that I considered turning around and going
straight back to bed. It was the third time in six weeks
I had come down with flu-like symptoms, but this time they
seemed more intense.
years of age, I was extremely busy juggling university classes,
two part-time jobs and church involvement. There weren't
enough hours in the day for me to accomplish these tasks
and I certainly had no time for illness.
dizziness and blurred vision hit me with a vengeance, followed
by a burning sensation at the base of my neck.
drove past the Vancouver General Hospital, I thought I should
probably get examined at the emergency ward, but I dismissed
this notion as foolish. My parents lived a mere hour away.
A good night's sleep and some old-fashioned care would make
me feel better in no time.
continued to drive through the city, the symptoms gradually
became more severe. The burning in my neck climbed up the
back of my head. As I approached the Port Mann Bridge, a
tingling sensation enveloped my head. Suddenly I became
very dizzy and felt faint. I panicked! What if I fainted
out while I was driving over the bridge? I had heard of
cars crashing over the cement barrier and catapulting into
the Fraser River.
was racing and I began to gasp for air. The tingling rapidly
changed into a progressive numbness that cascaded over my
neck and down my upper body. I could see my arms, but they
felt like cotton balls. Was I becoming paralyzed? My panic
increased. I thought I might be having a stroke. I began
praying out loud, begging God to spare my life.
I was over the bridge in a minute. Relieved, I drove to
the lookout station on the other side. I intended to rest
for a while and then continue on, but the numbness had already
spread to my legs. I was so frightened I called an ambulance
and was rushed to the nearest hospital in Surrey.
began six years of confusion, questions, emergency room
visits and medical testing. My symptoms confounded over
40 doctors and specialists until I was finally diagnosed
with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
(CFS) as it is commonly referred to today.
I became sick in 1986, few physicians knew anything about
CFS. Many thought I was clinically depressed or concluded
my bizarre assortment of symptoms were emotionally induced.
On the advice of a doctor, I went to see a psychiatrist.
After three visits she told me my troubles were medical
and advised me to see a doctor. When I produced a long list
of the specialists I had already seen she merely shrugged
had understood more about the disease at the time, I would
have realized I was a "textbook" CFS patient.
According to clinical researcher and medical doctor, Michael
Rosenbaum, over 70% of people afflicted with CFS in America
are Caucasian women who are well-educated, affluent and
in their early 20s to mid-40s. Most people, like myself,
report a sudden onset of the disease with symptoms that
generally come and go.
many see a measure of recovery and some regain complete
health, others are severely disabled for many years. For
a few, the disease never goes away.
from being a very active, energetic, enthusiastic person
to bedridden in days. My symptoms continued in a cyclical
pattern from severe disability to various stages of remission
over the next nine years.
fatigue that plagued me was something I had never experienced
before. I wasn't just tired; I felt like I had 20 pound
weights attached to my arms and legs. This was combined
with a litany of other symptoms that included muscle pain,
heart palpitations, night sweats, cold hands and feet, numbness,
intense pressure in my head, inability to concentrate, insomnia
and nausea. I became intensely afraid of what was happening
to drop out of university and spent the next eighteen months
using the little energy I had to search for solutions.
Quick Diagnostic Tool
the multiplicity of symptoms I suddenly experienced are
now commonly used to define CFS, they also fit a number
of other diseases. Since no quick diagnostic tool is available,
most CFS sufferers undergo a plethora of medical tests to
rule out other diseases; I was no exception. I gave hundreds
of blood and urine samples as I was tested for lupus, rheumatoid
arthritis, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, cardiac problems,
cancer and a host of other ailments. I underwent a CT-scan
to rule out multiple sclerosis and the possibility of a
brain tumor. I endured three separate six-hour glucose tolerance
tests to check for diabetes and hypoglycemia. The doctors
reviewing these tests said I had reactive hypoglycemia,
but concurred it should not be this debilitating.
doctor encouraged me to "get on with your life."
I asked him how that was possible when simple tasks, like
sitting up for 10 minutes at a time, completely exhausted
me. He had no answers.
excellent book, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Treatment Guide,
authors Erica Verrillo and Lauren Gennman explain that this
is, "one of the most complex, multifaceted, baffling
illnesses the medical world has encountered."
has yet clearly identified the cause of CFS, found a cure
or even developed a good case definition. According to Verrillo
and Gennman, "It is hard to describe and even harder
to diagnose because its symptoms can range from allergies
to vertigo and can occur in every imaginable combination.
Most confusing, however, is the range in severity of CFS,
from mere inconvenience to utterly disabling disease."
myself, necessary functions became almost insurmountable.
Walking a few feet to the bathroom was so exhausting, I
felt like I was trying to conquer Everest. I began measuring
every action in terms of the energy it consumed and how
much recovery time I would need afterwards. Over the next
nine years fully half of my days were spent lying in bed,
trying to gather strength for eating, talking and bathing.
It was a living nightmare.
early 1990s, Rosenbaum estimated 90 million people worldwide
were afflicted with CFS. Like AIDS, CFS is recognized as
an acquired immunodeficiency disorder. Unlike AIDS, it isn't
deadly, but produces a paralytic fatigue that makes many
CFS sufferers wish they were dead.
first recorded "epidemic" of a CFS-like illness
occurred in 1934 in Los Angeles and affected close to 200
health workers. This outbreak followed on the heels of a
poliomyelitis epidemic and was initially, incorrectly diagnosed
as polio. To this day, similarities between these two diseases
have researchers searching to discover a mutated viral form
of polio, which could be the root cause of CFS.
no known cause and little understanding of the mechanism
of this confounding disease, treatment options have been
scarce. Although doctors now recognize CFS as a disease
and are capable of a relatively quick diagnosis (three months
to a year), their inability to effectively treat the disease
has caused multitudes to turn to alternative health care.
concludes that the results of this have been very beneficial.
Many people with CFS have been found to be plagued by parasites
and on-going candidiasis, a form of yeast infection, as
well as suffering from hypoglycemia. Appropriate treatment
for these problems has resulted in many sufferers achieving
dramatic results. Though not a cure, many people are able
to return to a semblance of normal living.
I found a good naturopath and allergist within 18 months
of my diagnosis. Adhering to a strict diet, fighting off
the candida and making use of massage therapy helped immensely.
Even though I had two severely debilitating relapses that
lasted at least a year in length, I have found a doctor
that keeps apprised of the current research on CFS treatments.
of B-12 injections combined with Magnesium Sulfate have
proven beneficial. A combination of prescription drugs to
help me sleep and natural remedies along with ongoing prayer
have helped keep me relapse-free for the last seven years.
though I was totally bedridden at one time and wished I
were dead, I am now so thankful to be alive. Although I
could have a relapse at any time, each day when I awake
with energy to work and enjoy life I am grateful. Without
the support of an amazing husband, caring family, compassionate
friends, and a church group that supplied meals and prayer,
I don't know if I would be alive today.
more information on CFS, The Nightingale Research Foundation
can be contacted on the web at www.nightingale.ca. Two excellent
resource books with solid advice on treatment are; Solving
the Puzzle of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome by Dr. Michael Rosenbaum
& Dr. Murray Susser and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Treatment
Guide by Erica Verrillo & Lauren Gellman.
Fleck is the Assistant Editor of City
Light News, a Christian newspaper covering
Calgary and south-central Alberta. She
is happily married to the publisher and
editor of the newspaper, Peter Fleck.
Doris enjoys writing, crafts and photography.
She also has a B.Sc. in Zoology that enables
her to take good care of her dog, Pokey.