I Was Seconds Away from Calling the Medics

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

Share this article:

Share article via email
Ponesimod, telemedicine

My nose started running about a week before the sledgehammer hit. Then came a chesty cough, not yet as serious as the one that had my wife wheezing, but I was worried that I’d soon catch up with her. I didn’t usually develop severe upper respiratory problems, but as you probably know, for someone with multiple sclerosis, even a little cold can pack a big punch. It soon did.

I’d been bragging about my improved nighttime bladder control, and then suddenly I found myself waking up two or three times a night again for bathroom trips. It didn’t help things that our dog had recently taken to rising at the crack of dawn to eat because he really likes his new food. And it certainly didn’t help that the weather on Maryland’s Atlantic coast had turned biting cold. It was either sunny with a windchill in the teens or warmer with clouds, rain, and winds blowing 15-20 miles per hour off the ocean. I’d get chilled either way, and I overcompensated by cranking up the heat in our apartment and wearing a turtleneck inside. Then, I’d overheat.

The hammer drops

The sledgehammer hit the Friday before Christmas. My cough was getting worse. I was tired and dehydrated. My legs were weaker than usual, and I even had some cog fog. I hadn’t felt this way since about two months after my first round of Lemtrada (alemtuzumab). Finally, I listened to my body and put myself into bed. That helped me feel well enough to make the three-hour drive to see our grandkids for Christmas, something I didn’t want to miss.

But after returning home, with only a few days to get ready to travel to Florida for three months, I went downhill again. My hacking cough was still with me, giving me short coughing fits. But this time when I’d begin to cough, I’d have to think about the activity and gather the lung strength to accomplish it.

This was the situation I was in as I walked to our condo after tiring myself helping to load the car for the trip to Florida the following day. I started coughing, but this time I couldn’t complete the cough. It felt as if I was trapped between inhaling and exhaling. I had a lung-full of air, but I couldn’t get it out. I could barely speak, and I felt as if I was gagging.

Time to call the medics?

My wife, Laura, told me to lie down, and I slid to the floor. In that position, I could move a small amount of air through my nose, but nothing through my mouth. She asked me twice if she should call 911, but I shook my head, “No.” I figured I didn’t need them as long as I could move air. Over the next five minutes, my nasal breathing slowly improved, followed five minutes later by oral breaths and speech. I was scared and probably should have called the medics. It was close. Laura says I now know what a severe asthma attack can feel like.

Was this MS-related?

Interestingly, the day this happened to me, Professor Gavin Giovannoni was writing in the Barts-MS blog about something similar. He reported on a Norwegian study that showed that people with MS are much more susceptible to complications from the flu than the average person. He pointed out that, among other things, people with advanced MS may “have weakened respiratory muscles” and “on average pwMS have reduced resilience to infections.”

While I don’t consider myself to have advanced MS, his post made me wonder about my respiratory muscles. My neuro doesn’t think that my trouble breathing was MS-related, and now that I’m feeling better, I’m guessing that she’s right.

Florida is great medicine

I’ve never been so glad to get to Florida. Even after three hard days on the road, the moment I got out of the car, my entire body started to feel better. My hips, which had ached for months, are hardly bothering me. My cog fog is gone, my energy is back, and I’m walking more than I have in months. I even slept a full seven hours the other night — no trip to the loo. I know it sounds crazy, but my wife says her medical ills also feel better. Even the dog has more pep to his step.

So how do I document the three months in southwest Florida every winter as a tax-deductible medical treatment?

You’re invited to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Ruth Hoham avatar

Ruth Hoham

Ed -
Glad to see you back here - wondered where you were! I am familiar with the breathing problem you described - don’t understand why it happens, but it’s scary. Enjoy your stay down south!

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Ruth,

It's nice to know someone notices when I haven't been writing. :-).

Between the holidays, being sick and getting us all down to Florida I had to put writing aside for a bit. But now I'm back at the keyboard and feeling a lot fresher than I did around Christmas time.

Hope your holidays were nice and that your new year will be a good one.


Pedro da Costa Pinto avatar

Pedro da Costa Pinto

Hi Ed, regarding the cough I never had such problems, weak immune system to fight infections is my problem !


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.

Dancing Doodle

Did you know some of the news and columns on Multiple Sclerosis News Today are recorded and available for listening on SoundCloud? These audio news stories give our readers an alternative option for accessing information important for them.

Listen Here