It started out as what I thought was going to be more of an annoyance attack. I woke up in the middle of the night and realized every single part of my body was numb - from my scalp down to the bottoms of my feet. I knew immediately that I was experiencing an exacerbation.
Creepy - yes, debilitating - no. I had after all experienced a similar attack seventeen years prior when I had my very first MS attack. Numbness I can handle; with numbness, I can still function - go to work, get things done, etc.
But, the next morning, a new symptom came to light - I felt "dizzy." Or at least I think I did, it was hard to articulate. I wrote it off as a head cold, something I could sleep off and be fine by morning. Morning came and my symptoms grew worse, now anything I looked at flipped around like a broken movie real - as the day progressed, the flipping got faster. I couldn't focus on anything, I couldn't think straight and I could barely walk.
I knew I had to see my neurologist and agreed to three days of high dose IV steroids in an attempt to shut down the attack. The neurologist explained that a lesion was attacking the optic nerves that control eye movement. So, while my pupils were fixed on an object, my eyes were constantly moving upward or side to side on their own. It was happening so quickly that it was hard to detect, hence the "dizziness."
The steroids stopped the involuntary eye movement, but by then it was two weeks later and after being on bed rest for that long, my muscles had atrophied and my endurance was shot. The rapid eye movement was replaced with severe headaches, and this time real dizziness. I began my long, slow journey to recovery. But, during this time, I had questions and doubts.
Why did this happen?
Is the McDougall dietary approach to MS not working for me?
Was Swank wrong about saturated fat?
Should I have stayed on the medication?
I was so perfect with the diet, how could this happen?!? Or was I?
The analyst in me kicked in and I started replaying the last six months of my life. Where had I been, what had I eating, what had I been doing - everything was under scrutiny. Six months prior I had gone to a new Japanese restaurant and despite ordering from the vegetarian menu and giving my typical animal allergy alert, I was still exposed to eel sauce and an egg wash. But I had been exposed to this minute amount of animal protein before and that had only resulted in a very minor flare-up that lasted only a few days. This recent exposure didn't add up to the severity of my attack given my history. So I kept digging and that's when I realized that I had done this to myself.
Under doctor's orders, I had been using an over-the-counter medicated cream to clear up a reoccurring rash brought on by candida. I had been using it twice a day, daily for over three months over my abdomen and back (large area). It has been the only cream I was able to find and it never occurred to me to read the ingredient label, but there it was in black and white - Cod Liver Oil and Lanolin Oil - double whammy.
Something I would never consume, I exposed myself to in large amounts of via my skin. After consulting with Dr. McDougall, we are certain that this is what caused my attack.
You see, our skin absorbs 60% of what we put on it and that goes right into the blood stream. That was all my immune system needed to wake up my dormant MS. I poisoned myself.
I immediately tore the house apart to see if I was being exposed to animal products in other ways. Sure enough, an acne cream I had been using contained lanolin (wax secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals) and Bonine (motion sickness pills) contained lactose. I hadn't been as perfect as I thought.
New rule, if a product doesn't say 100% vegan, it doesn't come anywhere near me! That goes for hair care, make-up, deodorant, facial/body wash, toothpaste, etc. The only thing not vegan in my house now is the cat's food - only because they refuse to go vegan. But, I am very careful when handling their food and cleaning their dishes to avoid any type of cross contamination.
I am not taking any more chances - as far as I'm concerned, this was my second wake-up call (the first was being diagnosed with MS). I need to be as diligent with the rest of my life as I am with my whole-food, plant-based, oil-free diet.
Friends have asked me if I set fire to the things that led to my attack. No, I have kept them all, piled up like a shrine as a reminder that just as important as what I put in my body is what I put on my body. Never again will I forget to read a label.