Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Calculating With The MS DUMB Factor...

I wasn't born an idiot...but I seem to be developing INTO one quite nicely these days. No, as a matter of fact I *USED* to have an IQ in the triple digits...hovered somewhere slightly above average...I managed to lie, cheat, and steal my way into becoming valedictorian of both my graduating high school and nursing school classes. From a bird's eye view early on, it appeared I had been given enough brain matter to last me well into old age, give or take a decade or two from hard living and alcohol saturation!

Then, along came Multiple Sclerosis. And with the disease, I slowly began losing several million brain cells with each popping lesion that appeared in my head. But even WITH MS, we all know each of us possess several BILLION brain cells...what's a few million gone over a life time when the ratio is THAT high?

Well, I'm here to tell you...yes, I'm quite certain I STILL possess that gazillion ratio of firing brain cells up in my noggin (MRI proves it...I DO still have a brain), but it seems those several million cells that have vaporized into MS lesions may have accumulated in some important areas of my brain. Like speech, and word-finding, and calculating critical or complex problems.

For all practical purposes, my MS seems to have stopped boiling my brain of late and is instead running at a very low *simmer*. Whether it has been the effect of the Tysabri, a change in my routine, or simple planetary alignments, my personal brand of MS appears to have stabilized for the time being. **Insert big WOO HOO here** I am happy to report a stabilizing of physical symptoms currently in my life...this is a "good" thing, by anyone's standards and I am certainly NOT complaining. Far be it for me to annoy the MS gods with balloon-squeaking, fingernails-on-chalk-board whining. LOL

What has NOT stabilized and appears to be worsening over time, are my speech patterns...my ability to THINK in words and construct meaningful sentences. My friends poo-poo my notion that it is my MS causing me to bumble/mumble like the town idiot...they sight OLD AGE, hormones, and stress as primary factors, telling me they, too, have a similar experience. I personally think *they* have lost much of their long-term memory and can only recall I have recently celebrated a birthday...it's what's on *their* minds right now and *their* only point of reference. But I also know I have friends who are 10-15 years OLDER than me, and THEY do not appear to be experiencing the degree of aphagia I have developed.

For those of you not in the know or just too lazy to Google *aphasia*, the word loosely refers to having difficulty producing or comprehending language. It comes from the Greek word, "aphatos", which translated means "speechless". Aphasia can be a primary symptom in certain types of traumatic brain injuries (strokes, TIA's, physical trauma, etc.), where the ability to speak meaningful sentences is interrupted. More often than not, an aphasic person can KNOW what they want to say, but cannot WORD FIND or pull up the word(s) that represents the concept they are trying to form. This, of course, is NOT true for all types of aphasia and *aphasia* is just too large a topic to cover here...seriously, Google it (can I use that as a verb?!?) if you want to know more! G-O-O-G-L-E.

Our primary speech centers are located (usually) more in the left hemisphere in the frontal cortex (Broca's Area) or in the posterior temporal lobe (Wernicke's Area)...both of these speech-producing and comprehension areas are not that far from the corpus callosum (relatively speaking...pun intended). And anyone with half a brain and Multiple Sclerosis knows what the CORPUS CALLOSUM is famous for, right??? MS LESIONS!

OK...before everyone with MS who reads this starts panicking and signing up for American Sign Language courses (in the event you can't speak, right? Sorry folks...if you develop expressive aphasia, you STILL won't be able to formulate sentences even with your hands!), let me say this: The human brain may be small in size (about 3 pounds normally...you won't notice drastic weight loss from losing brain cells), but millimeters between areas in the brain are like MILES on a road map...THOUSANDS of miles. And our brains are always working to form new pathways around anything that sets up a road block in the communication process between parts of the brain (see NEUROPLASTICITY for an entire WORLD of information about this subject...that's right...GOOGLE it!). So just because you might develop a MS lesion in a particular area of the brain, does NOT mean you will necessarily lose functioning of that area...but you might...and like me, you "might" blame a particular problem/symptom you are having on MS. Whew...I think I've come full circle to the topic again...I think.

The ability to speak and comprehend speech is so very important to me...it is, after all, a necessity in my job. I have to be able to speak to patients and comprehend what they are saying back to me...no matter how off the wall or crazy they may sound! And even then, I have to RECOGNIZE that what they are saying isn't making much sense. Confused yet?!?

I have noticed my word-finding abilities tend to worsen when I am tired or more stressed than usual...this is typical of almost ALL MS symptoms. Because our nerves/axons slow down their firing processes as WE slow down or become distracted. And yes, (for all you naysayer-it's-just-old-age friends that might be reading this) this simple fact IS true for everyone, not just MSers. But piggy back onto NORMAL aging processes/tiredness the idea of MS FATIGUE or MS SYMPTOMOLOGY, and you've got a higher than average probability word-finding is going to be a *betch* (used that spelling for YOU, KoKo!). And I find I am *betching* more and more about my inability to formulate meaningful sentences these days.

Typing for me has been a godsend of late...I can use a thesaurus or GOOGLE (there's THAT notion again) concepts to find the appropriate words I am looking for...then, plug them into sentences that have blanks in them. This unfortunately does NOT work for public speaking! The thesaurus in my brain often appears to have white, unused pages blowing in the wind that whirls around in my noggin. I struggle to find a SIMILAR word to the word I CAN'T find in my head. And sometimes, I will find a word that SOUNDS LIKE the word I originally wanted to use, but it is soooo far off, I end up sounding/looking like a complete dunce. Like "feline" and "feminine" or "extrapolate" and "extricate"...or much worse, "masturbate" and "masticate". Those last two words are certainly NOT words ANYONE would feel comfortable misusing!

Fortunately, in many situations, these same naysayer-it's-just-old-age friends will finish my sentences or fill in the blank(s) FOR me...my life becomes a game of "sounds like" charades. Everyone readily participates in coming up with whatever word they THINK I mean or I'm wanting to use. This is helpful...to a point...but much of the time, the only *point* I readily feel is the one at the end of my cap...


Shauna said...

Aside from fatigue, my worst symptom is what I have been calling "tip of the tongue". It first appeared 3 months after diagnosis and I feel it has progressed.
And in my line of work, well.....like you, it's vital I not lose the ability to communicate. I have taken to writing down as much as I can before going on air.
It's extremely frustrating though when out in public and it happens. You and I both know we are intelligent beings, yet we can feel so stupid when we can't think of the word for that thing you sit on....you know, that.......that chair.
I hear ya' sister. Better still, I understand ya'.


Denver Refashionista said...

I think your IQ is ok. You are still a gifted and entertaining writer. The brain often produces new pathways to work around the lesions. It is possible that your abilities may return or that new ones may emerge. That is what happened to me after my relapse. I can do things now that I could not before. Hang in there, all is not lost.

I do find that fatigue makes me feel really dumb too. Yesterday my husband said he talked to me for 5 minutes until I said, "What?" I never even noticed he was speaking. Is that the MS? Bizarre stuff this disease...


You just put into words the experience I shared recently as well - Watch It, Smartie Pants.

This is something which fluctuates with me. Lately (knock-on-wood and my hard head) it is not been as bad. But place me in a loud, over-stimulating environment or in a heated situation (figurative and literal), I become the deaf/mute person. And this without noticeable lesions in the brain. What's with that?

The People History said...

I think that is one of the things that gets callie most , when she is precepting new nurses she finds it hard to not let it get to her at work but comes home very frustrated , because she like you is not stupid but she feels so frustrated over it

glad your keeping ok sorry we have n't visited for a while

steve and callie

Spaz Attack said...

you clever little brainiac -- always showing off how many brain cells you've still got!
I soooo understand and identify with EVErything you wrote, and as a former talented journalist I wish I HAD written it! But MS has screwed with my brain to the point I ALWAYS feel as if I'm living in the Twilight Zone.
How many of you haven't recognized your MS Neurologist enter the room when you are in HER office, waiting for an Appointment with HER??? I've been a pesky patient of hers since 04 so you'd THINK I'd recognize her!
I've always been grabbed by the arm while walking by a person on the sidewalk who said, "Don't You snub me!"
I looked at her dumbly, shook my head and said, 'I'm sorry...?"
Yep, I'd recently spent a few hours with her yet didn't recognize her or hubby at all.
Moments like that go on and on, including loss of words and getting lost while driving through my home town with ONE main street. Mostly I try to fake my way though.
Yet I want to SLAP people silly who say, "Oh...I get that too."
If you don't have lesions or tumors or ANY other chunks of molten lava in your brain than YOU HAVEN"T got a CLUE. So just shut up and be sympathetic, please.

I HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAte not being smart, competent and full of energy. I HATE this person I've become with a brain and body full of Multiple Sh*T.
And that MS society motto that 'I may have MS but it doesn't have me???' What a bunch of CRAP. MS has zapped me and my spirit.
I USED to have the motto of RIse Above it -- that was before I was stricken and was forced to acknowledge I usually can't rise above it, and I certainly am not able to be the person i used to be or want to be.
umm.. i'm venting too much negative crap here. I must be tired and need to go lay down, again.

Blinders Off said...

I envy you because you are still at the top of the class. I was frustrated when I lost many of my words and my writing became simplistic.

I let the frustration go because I am fortunate that I can put sentences together with only a few grammatical errors. That is better than giving up and letting my brain waste away.

Joan said...

I'm sorry, could you repeat all that again?

atlantis said...

I say you are more than fine. Your posts pack a punch of satire , eloquence and I just plain get a kick out of reading them . Remember there is no great communicating genius without some touch of madness, so I guess I am dismissing MS myself, it’s the insanity of middle age in my case .(Every time I talk to my mother I pray that the gene of lunacy is not in my pool , that’s how discombobulated conversations with her are , and she’s one of the smartest people I know … )

Sara said...

thank goodness for Google, not sure how i lived without it before (LOL)

Merelyme said...

i am so glad you are talking about this. when you find out that you have MS...nobody tells you these things. cognition is definitely involved with this. i will have to post about my recent experiences...i am not sure what to make of them.