MS, Pregnancy, Shingles: Oh my!
Multiple Sclerosis: It’s different for everyone and is not fun for anyone. For me, MS has been challenging with moments of near-breaking, but overall tolerable. Most people would never know I have MS. Those closest to me can o
ften tell if I’m having a “rough day” with my regular MS symptoms. For the most part, you will never hear me complain. I have learned to cope, adjust, overcome, and talk about it only when I need to.
The National MS Society explains that MS is a disease that impacts the Central Nervous System (the brain and spine), specifically the protective coating (Myelin) around the CNS nerves. The myelin damage causes a communication disruption, which results in varying symptoms, usually painful (https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS).
There is no cure for MS, and the symptom-suppressing drugs are not guaranteed to work. Every person’s experience with MS is different.
So, for me, MS means symptoms including:
Pain and numbness in my hands and feet (like someone is chiseling at your limbs with a needle)
MS Hug: suffocating tightness around my chest (like, am I going to suffocate or nah?)
Crushing fatigue (this is WAY different than being tired or exhausted-it is painful and dangerous)
Brain Fog (trouble hearing or deciphering sounds, blurred vision, memory issues, overwhelming confusion or drowning sensation)
So, MS sucks. But from my MS journey, which started somewhere around the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015, I have learned just how strong and capable I am, if we are looking at the bright side.
Fast forward to 2021. My MS symptoms were worsening at the close of summer. I was convinced it was due to stress because I work in education, and the start of a new school year brings avalanches of stress. Then, in September I learned I was pregnant, 3 months pregnant actually. It was very unexpected and very welcomed (and scary) for my husband and I. I prepared myself for a very scary time of feeling unwell, but was pleasantly surprised by the opposite.
Pregnancy and MS
This I will keep short and sweet- MS during pregnancy has been almost non-existent for me. It isn’t like that for everyone, but for the first time in a long time I felt normal again. I had more energy, my symptoms were mostly gone, my head felt clear, my mood was good. I was able to continue working out every day, as I was before, and I was never sick or symptomatic! It was like my body knew my boy needed me at my best and that I needed an MS break while I worked on growing a human.
COVID and MS… and Pregnancy
Fast forward again to the end of 2nd trimester- January 2021. I found out in late January that I was COVID positive. I work from home, took all the precautions, and had been vaccinated very early on, so I was surprised but knew it was inevitable I’d have it at some point. COVID for me was really no worse than a bad cold. I very rarely fall ill, even with MS, so it definitely wasn’t fun, but it could have been way worse. Because I’m pregnant, I was giving the antibodies infusion and recovered rather quickly. Then, just when I thought COVID would be the worst part of my “easy” pregnancy…
And finally, the grand finale…I hope:
Shingles and MS…and Pregnancy
It’s third trimester. I have had literally the easiest pregnancy I could ask for. I somehow still haven’t enjoyed it, and I know it’s because I am a very fit and active person, so it has been very difficult for me to adjust to body changes and activity level adjustments (having trouble sitting, standing, and walking is so obnoxious to me). My husband and I are so excited to meet our little man, though, and that has been the main focus.
In early April, I noticed a pain developing in my back. It was a cramp-like pain right around where my kidneys are. It was noticeable but very dull. I was at the point in my pregnancy where practice contractions are expected, so I assumed that’s what it was. I noticed a small rash in the center of my back, which wasn’t itchy at all and was also to be expected at this time in my pregnancy. So, having experienced way worse sensations in life, I dealt with it and really kind of over looked it.
Somewhere between five and seven days passed, and the pain grew much worse. I was convinced I had a kidney infection or kidney stones, so my husband drove me to the OB Emergency Department at my hospital early on a Saturday morning. All my test results were normal, my blood pressure was normal, literally I was still the healthiest a pregnant person could possibly be. Then, I showed the doctor my rash which had worsened overnight and had spread across my back and around my side.
Shingles. What the heck is shingles, and can’t only old people get it? I know that sounds extremely ignorant, but be honest, you thought that too! According to Catherine A. Kernich, shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the Varicella Zoster Virus, so anyone who has had the chicken pox can contract shingles. While it is more likely for someone older to contract shingles (Kernich says the risk is greater with age), people who are immune-suppressed at any given time are also more likely to get it (Kernich, 2007).
I’ll be the first to tell you that the rash is not the worst part of shingles. No, it is the extreme pain. Remember when I thought I had a kidney infection or kidney stones? That was nerve pain caused by shingles. You see, shingles forms in the nerves and then displays its ugly face on the surface in the form of blistery rashes.
I am not a doctor, but for me, I wonder continuously if my shingles is worsened by the nerve misfiring caused by my MS. The nerve pain is unbearable most of the time. It feels like someone is chiseling at the nerve-endings in my back and side while holding a blow torch of fire to them simultaneously. It is mid-April, and my rash is slowly healing, but the pain remains. I took a seven day intensive medication to treat it, though there is no cure for shingles. It takes a lot to make me cry, and I can say confidently this pain has caused me to cry multiple times a day since it started.
My baby, Jhet, is due on May 4. I’m 3.5 weeks out and pray this pain goes away before delivery, though shingles can take weeks to heal. I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone but especially not on someone already overcoming Multiple Sclerosis and pregnancy!
Whatever your daily struggle, remember you can and will overcome it. If you need a reminder that respite is near, even if only momentarily, this is it. I have moments where I wonder how much more of this I can take, so in those doubtful times I remember all I’ve already overcome in life. Do the same. You can and will overcome, learn, grow, and be a stronger and more successful person than you ever imagined because of the pain you feel in this moment.
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to share your experiences and hopeful words!
Please take a moment to visit my author website to check out my fiction and non-fiction published works, learn more about MS, or learn more about programs in place to help youth and adults overcome and succeed: https://www.supergauthor.com/
Kernich, Catherine A. MSN, RNC Shingles, The Neurologist: January 2007 - Volume 13 - Issue 1 - p 43-44
National MS Society: https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS