down at heel –
you rarely complain through the day’s
Never moan, hardly ever
Squeak a protest
until the moment of repose,
the lull between extinguished light
and feathered landing – that moment
you choose to register your grievance.
Too subtle to call it pain.
Bearable – yet not negligible,
like a loose tile or a dripping tap
or a door that bangs in a distant hallway.
I twist and turn and rub and writhe and
wonder what alien from a distant galaxy
has hijacked the neural network to transmit –
signs of life or threat of war?
Listen to this poem HERE
My foot has been itching for a year and a half – that’s a long itch. It started innocuously enough – a mild irritation when I got into bed at night. After six months of applying every skin crème under the sun, I began to suspect that my nerves rather than my skin were the problem. At this point I should have gone straight to a neurologist – a nerve specialist – but I did what every 21st century Internet junkie would do – I googled it instead. I discovered that my condition was neither rare nor mysterious – it had a name – “peripheral neuropathy” and a definition “itching, tingling and pain sensations associated with the peripheral nerves.” Unfortunately a definition is not the same thing as a diagnosis – nothing near in fact. Moreover, it transpired that there were so many things that could cause it that I was bewildered where to start. “Why not start with the neurologist?” you might ask. Well, that was one of the more expensive options (I suspected) involving scans and nerve conduction tests. There were many cheaper things that could explain my problem. So I started with a blood glucose screeening test (diabetes is the most common cause of peripheral itches and nerve pain). Nothing there. I moved on to Vitamin B injections; blood tests; pelvic X-rays; more blood tests; a wide range of supplements (iron, vitamins C, D, E, calcium, zinc and magnesium); manipulations of various kinds. By this stage I had consulted two GPs, two physiotherapists, a gynecologist, a chiropractor, a homeopath and a vascular surgeon. The surgeon was in many ways the kindest and the most devastating – he had no doubts about his diagnosis: “you have perfectly good circulation – I have no idea what your problem is but I’m sorry I can’t help you further.”
I should explain that the itching had, by this point, escalated to other weird symptoms like tingling legs, muscle fatigue, lower back pain and occasional stabbing pains across the top of my toes as if I had scraped them across broken glass: nothing unbearable – just profoundly annoying. All the more so because the diagnosis still eluded me. I did discover a variety of other health issues along the way: low ferritin, which indicates a lack of iron stores in the body – easily addressed by iron supplements; reactive hypoglycemia (I felt really awful after the glucose tolerance test – but I’m not actually diabetic, so even though the low-GI diet will help, it won’t get rid of the itch.)
Every time I unearthed a new issue I explored new avenues of possibilities on the Internet. I didn’t find any answers – but I did discover a whole fellowship of frustrated people who like me had symptoms that medical science could not explain. I began to connect every ache and twinge to my mysterious illness and to doubt that the professionals would ever get to the bottom of it. When my tooth began to ache, I seriously questioned the point of going to the dentist – maybe it was just another nerve getting twitchy!
Eventually – yes, you guessed it, I succumbed and went to the neurologist. After much patient questioning, review of all the other results and hitting me with her hammer she agreed with the homeopath – “restless legs.” It was a confident assertion but, as she explained to me, still not a diagnosis. “It’s a set of symptoms,” she said. “It’s probably triggered by the low ferritin and might get better as the ferritin levels improve.” She also gave me some hectic medicine – “this will either make it better or worse” (which was comfortingly diagnostic.) My friend, the pharmacist who dispensed it, warned me that either way it had the serious side-effect of narcolepsy. My husband read the package insert as well and was alarmed to discover that the other side-effect was compulsive gambling.
And so, I am still awaiting a remission of the symptoms but I did find this small grain of comfort – if I’m restless during the early hours, no one can really blame me for heading off to the Casino – just hope I don’t fall asleep on the way.