Guillain Barre Syndrome – my experiences.


David Russell

Page 2

Monday 7th January 2002

For Eleanor and Cameron it was a normal working day. We, on the other hand, were on a sort of holiday. We certainly had no need to be up with the lark.

It was just after 9.00am that Ann got up, showered and went downstairs. I followed into the vacated bathroom, showered and shaved. It was a source of amusement to Ann that I often put my glasses on to shave. She maintained that I must, by now, know where my beard grew by touch alone, and so did not need glasses. In any case this morning I did not wear my glasses to shave by. I finished and walked downstairs, putting my glasses on as I got to the bottom of the stairs. I walked into the kitchen, a bit unsteadily. There was a cup of coffee standing on the work surface that Ann had made for me. I walked over to the edge of the work surface. The room looked odd. I could see two of everything. That in itself was disorientating, but what made it worse was that one of the images was inclined to the other. The edge of the work surface, for instance. I was seeing two edges. One looked reasonably horizontal, the other was at an angle of 35 degrees. I managed to get to the cup and lifted it to my mouth. I was confused and slightly concerned. I had had a good nights sleep. I did not feel ill, nor did I have a headache or for that matter any other ache. I took a gulp from the cup and swallowed. Most of the coffee dribbled out of my nostrils. I couldn’t believe it. I took another gulp with the same result. Now, I could not ignore it anymore. Something was seriously wrong with me. At that moment Ann came into the kitchen and saw me. “What’s wrong?” she asked. I replied saying I did not know but I think we should get me to a doctor.

This was easier said than done. Where was the doctor? Where was there any doctor?. We were not Irish residents and were not registered with a doctor. Ann’s first phone call was to Eleanor, who was at work 10 miles away. Eleanor gave Ann her doctors’ details. Ann’s second call was to the doctor, who agreed to see me immediately if I could be brought to her house. In the `meantime Eleanor had decided to come home to help.

Eleanor’s doctor was about 15 minutes drive away. This was rural Ireland after all. Dr Kelleher, a small slim woman with a reassuring air of confidence and unflappability, examined me. Did I have a headache? No. Was I suffering from any paralysis down my left side?  No. Did I have any tingling in my hands or feet? Yes in my hands. Could I stand? Yes. Did I have double vision? Yes.  I was to learn later that her accurate preliminary diagnosis set me on exactly the right course. She made a short phone call, then, wrote a note. Handing this to Ann she said “Do you have a car?” “I want you to go straight to Cork University Hospital now and take your husband to see Dr Sweeney. He is expecting you and he is a neurological specialist”. At this point I had no idea how significant this direction was. The Irish are even better at understatements than the English, but more on that later. I was aware that something was drastically wrong with me. Here I was, a very healthy and fit 61 year old man who just did not get ill. Sure, I caught the occasional cold, but the same cold seemed to linger or be far worse for others than me. The last time I had actually been in hospital was when I was 11 and that was the result of an accident. No, something quite nasty was happening to me. We left for Cork at 11.00am

At my age I had/have one overriding worry. Stroke! I earn my living as a senior computer programmer. I suppose it can be stressful at times but my friends and colleagues say that I manage stress better than most. I certainly need to have all my wits about me.  My perception, this can be challenged I’m sure, is that a person suffering a Stroke never makes a 100% recovery to their prior state. You get close, but close isn’t good enough to compete in my field. I would have to do something else to pay the bills. This is a constant worry.

Cork University Hospital is on the outskirts of Cork city. We were ushered through the Accident and Emergency department to Dr Sweeney’s consulting room just after 12.00am. He read the note from Dr Kelleher and started to examine me. His confidence and professionalism were infectious. This was a man who did not jump to conclusions. He sifted all of the evidence before deciding on a course of action. In short I had an instant empathy with him. He mentioned the possibility of minor stroke, explaining how some symptoms fitted whilst others did not. Several tests would be needed and he would organise these as soon as possible. In the meantime I would be admitted to an observation ward as soon as a bed became available.