My TM Story – Wendy Greasamar

By Wendy Greasamar

Saturday, March 26, 2016, started just like any other day. It was my annual spa day with my mom. We had done this for years: massages, manicures, pedicures, lunch, mother-daughter time, and relaxation that this tired mother of an (at the time) 10-month-old and 4-year-old desperately wanted. We had a wonderful day, I remember commenting how the massage was one of the best I had ever had. Generally, after our mother-daughter spa days, I am SO relaxed that if I make it home during the kids’ nap time I will join them. On this day, I did just that, making it home in time to lay down in the recliner and rest with my son.

After a while, he woke up and needed a diaper change. I attempted to stand up with him and realized that my entire left arm had gone numb and I had a sharp pain in my chest. At first, I thought it was from laying down with him, though I had not been holding him on my left side. The numbness was not going away, and the pain in my chest was intensifying. I sent my daughter out to grab my husband, who was working outside. At this point, I thought I could be having a heart attack and told him I needed to get to the hospital. When I arrived at the hospital that evening, they began to run electrocardiograms (EKGs), computed tomography scans (CT), and blood work, thinking I could be having cardiac issues. When the results came back that I was not having cardiac issues but I was still in a lot of pain, I was given A LOT of medicine for pain, four narcotics, to be exact. In the emergency room, I lost function from my chest down. I was sent home, unable to lift myself into our car. My husband had to carry me into our house that night and upstairs to bed. I thought I was having a bad reaction to all the medication I received and that once the medicine wore off I would begin to regain function and feeling. I kept waiting and waiting.

I woke up on Easter Sunday, March 27, unable to walk. I pulled myself with my arms to our stairs and scooted down. I was determined, I wanted to see my son open his first Easter basket. I wanted to see my children in their Easter dress clothes. I wanted to attend Easter service with my family. I wanted to host Easter dinner. That was the plan. That was MY plan. However, it did not happen as I had envisioned. I can’t recall watching my children open their Easter baskets, as I was very tired and scared. I couldn’t focus on much else. I was not able to go to church, so my parents took our children. The most I saw of their Easter outfits was when I turned my head to my right and saw them sitting on the couch, as that was all I could move. Thankfully, I have pictures. My family, my wonderful support system, stepped up and made Easter dinner since I could not, and my husband focused on me. Using our computer chair, he wheeled me into the dining room so I could join our family for dinner. However I could not hold myself upright long enough to eat, so he took me back to the recliner. That night my husband had to “bathe” me by wiping me down with soap and water on a washcloth. I couldn’t take a bath or shower on my own. I could not even go to the bathroom as my bowel and bladder function had ceased. We decided if there was no improvement, we would go to a different hospital in the morning.

By Monday, March 28, 2016, there had been no improvement. I was up most of the night scared and uncomfortable. My mom came over to watch the kids while my husband took me to a different hospital’s emergency room (ER). I kept thinking to myself, “Maybe I am crazy. If I really think about it hard enough, maybe I can move.” I was wheeled into a room in the ER, where I met Dr. Lesley Perez. I thank God often that she was working on the day I came in. As she began to examine me and ask me questions, she mentioned a condition called Transverse Myelitis, and based on what I was describing, she was going to order tests to investigate that further. I had a CT scan first, which showed that my bladder was severely distended after not urinating for almost 48 hours. That was followed by a 3-hour magnetic resonance imaging
(MRI) from head to toe. I had never had an MRI before, so when the technicians asked if I was claustrophobic, I told them no. I quickly discovered that I was indeed claustrophobic. They asked if I would like to listen to music while I was “in the tube.” I chose my favorite genre: country. Things didn’t start out so well when the first song was Kenny Chesney’s “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven (but Nobody Wanna Go Now).” Brad Paisley’s, “When I Get Where I’m Going” followed shortly after. I had never heard so many songs related to death. I made it through the MRI, and by the time I got back to my room in the ER, my mom was waiting with my husband.

After an hour had passed, Dr. Perez came in to speak with me about my MRI results. Just as she had suspected, my MRIs showed lesions on my cervical spine (C5-C7), indicating that I likely had Transverse Myelitis. Dr. Perez and my ER nurse both knew about Transverse Myelitis but did not know much about it. Neither myself nor my family had heard of it before, so naturally, what did we ALL do? Get on our phones and Google it! I turned to my husband and my mom and asked if either of them read anywhere that this condition was fatal. They assured me they had not seen that anywhere. Dr. Perez came back to tell me that I would need to be transported to the Neuroscience Center at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. As Dr. Perez was about to say goodbye to me, she asked if I was a believer and if she could pray over me. I must admit that I was taken aback by this, as no doctor had ever offered to do this for me before. My initial thought was, “I must be REALLY bad off…or a goner.” However, as she prayed over me, and I prayed with her, I felt a sense of peace that I had not felt in almost 48 hours.

The road ahead of me was uncertain, yet I no longer felt the strong sense of fear I had earlier. My mind shifted from worry to, “ok, what do I need to do to get better?” My disposition was good, and most importantly, my humor was still intact. Upon arriving at Riverside, I gained more knowledge of the journey I was facing, at least in the short term. I would be in the hospital for at least a week receiving 1 hour, 1000mg intravenous
steroid treatments a day to reduce the inflammation in my spine. I also had physical and occupational therapy in the hospital, and a period spent in an in-patient rehabilitation facility. This all happened after a “welcome” lumbar puncture. I had no problem lying flat after that.

I decided to start counting the MANY blessings that I was experiencing in this situation and thanking God for each one of them:

1. I was thankful to be in such an amazing facility that had opened almost a year (to the day) before I arrived. It was beautiful. I had an amazing view of downtown Columbus. My husband could stay with me. If I had to stay in a hospital, this was exactly where I wanted to be.

2. I immediately saw neurologists and all kinds of medical personnel, and they had a plan for me. They told me I had generally good health and age on my side, and they anticipated 75-100% recovery.

3. When you are numb from your chest to your feet, you can’t feel a lumbar puncture!

4. Amazing insurance – enough said.

5. Music. I sought comfort in music that inspired me to believe I was strong enough for this new journey I was on. One of my go-to songs was Garth Brooks’ “Standing Outside the Fire.”

6. My Patient Support Assistants (PSA) and Nurses were angels to me. One of my PSAs really took to my daughter when she came to the hospital to visit me. She showed Amelia how to check my vitals, do some scans, and even gave her rubber gloves of her own. For a little girl who was very into Doc McStuffins, this was HUGE! My night nurse, Jasmin, would make my favorite “cocktail” of Shasta (hospital Sprite) and cranberry juice and bring me vanilla ice cream. We would make fun of my husband’s snoring during the ever-so-frequent checks in the middle of the night.

7. My family and friends: my parents and husband’s parents assumed childcare responsibilities immediately, allowing him to be with me full time. My parents brought my daughter down to see me every night. When I was in Dodd Hall Rehabilitation, they brought me dinner every night, and we all ate as a family. My husband’s aunt, who worked nearby, brought me breakfast and lunch every day to help me have the strength to get through my therapy. Family and friends who visited prayed for me and sent well-wishes. My best friend was on vacation when she heard about what happened. After her family returned home to Tennessee, she drove 8 hours to Ohio to be with me during some of my physical therapy sessions.

8. My husband. When we got married, he really took to heart the whole, “in sickness and in health” vow! I only hope that if the tables were turned, I could do for him what he has done for me. He was and continues to be my rock. I thank the Lord every day for him in my life.

9. My church family. We were truly blessed with hospital visits and meals for our family prepared with love.

Two weeks following my initial attack, I was walking on my own again. I struggled both mentally and physically at Dodd. I prayed daily for the strength to get through my therapy sessions so I could heal and get back home to my 10-month-old son, who I had only seen for about one hour since I left for the ER. I made it home faster than anyone, including my doctors, had anticipated.

Six years after my diagnosis, I continue to struggle with some of the effects of having a spinal cord injury. I still lack some sensation from my chest to my feet. I can’t tell the difference between hot or cold, or sharp or dull. I have muscle weakness that is exacerbated by heat – and a new-found appreciation for Winter – which can cause my legs to give out and for me to fall. Spasticity, headaches, cognitive issues, back pain, extreme fatigue, bowel and bladder issues, and anxiety are just a few of the symptoms that have become my new normal. If you didn’t know me, you might not notice because I do my best to mask my symptoms. I am eternally grateful for SRNA and all the information and resources I have found through them since my diagnosis. As a scared, young mother of two in the hospital in 2016 receiving this diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis, it was a blessing not only to find this organization (known at that time as the Transverse Myelitis Association) but to realize they were located so close to where I lived. This gave me a sense of comfort that I was not alone in this fight. There were others out there like me and close by.

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