Finding Out I Have EDS

By Crystal Lindell, Columnist

It turns out pain has been running through my veins all along. It has been a part of my bones since the day I was born. I just didn’t know it.

I have recently been diagnosed with something called hypermobile EDS, which is a subtype of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Basically, my connective tissue is weaker than it should be.

It explains why I spent the last five years feeling like the bones in my rib cage were cracked. It explains why my legs and arms are often painted blue and purple and shades of Army green with bruises from injuries I have no memory of. And it explains why my ankles gave way so often over the years that I ended up with an entire dresser drawer full of beige ankle wraps.

It also explains why everyone who ever loved me would describe me as clumsy. And why I got tendonitis at such a relatively young age. It explains my vision changes and my “bad veins” and my soft skin.  

Readers have privately messaged me many times to get checked for EDS, but I thought it was too rare. I thought my doctors would think I was stupid or crazy for asking about it. And I didn’t think it ran in my family.

I was devastatingly wrong about all those of things.

And at every crossroad over the last few weeks, at every opportunity to find out that maybe I was overreacting, my worst fears were confirmed.

First by the osteopath, who asked if I could touch my thumb to my wrist, and when I showed her I could, said plainly, “Oh yeah, you could definitely have EDS.”

Then by my cousin, who herself has suffered from unexplained pain and health issues for years. When I asked if her doctors had ever thought she might have EDS, she replied, simply, "Yes, they have."

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Next came my mom, who I tried to avoid involving in all this for as long as possible, because I knew it would be harder on her than it was on me to find out I might have EDS. As she sat on the couch across from me, she scrolled through the list of signs and symptoms on her phone and then abruptly stopped.

“I think my dad had this,” she said.

A revelation. An epiphany of the worst kind.

Her dad. The man who died when I was 3. The man everyone always said spent his life dealing with unexplained pain. The man I was haphazardly compared to whenever I popped pills. The man who I had no memory of. It was him. He was the link. 

And then the dots just started connecting themselves. Like when you watch an eight-part Netflix show and it takes the characters until the very last episode to realize that the killer was in the house all along and you’re screaming at the TV to try to tell them, but they just don’t see it.

Then, finally, they see it. 

It turns out his mom likely had EDS too. My mom’s grandma, and my great-grandma, Hazel. The family lore is that she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 26 and spent most of her life miserable and in horrible pain. I have now discovered that her RA was probably, at the very least, an incomplete diagnosis.

When I talked to her son, my great-uncle, I expected him to prove me wrong. To say something that countered my suspicions. But he did exactly the opposite. The last year of her life the doctors had told him that her body was like a bunch of bricks and the cement holding them together was deteriorating. EDS explained with a construction metaphor.

Even more heartbreaking was that he said all they ever gave her for her pain was aspirin. That’s it. Aspirin. And it did not help.

I had been hoping -- since it was so long ago --- that they were more generous with the pain medications at the time. That they had gladly given her all the morphine she wanted. But, as with so many things lately, the opposite of what I believed was actually true.

I told my pain specialist at the university hospital in Wisconsin about all this. And until the very end I hoped he would prove me wrong. That he would accuse me of being hysterical. But instead, he said simply, “Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a possibility, based on your reports and my prior examination. Best bet would be for you to come in for a visit.”

And that’s when I knew. That was all I needed to finally understand that the killer was in the house the whole time.

“Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a possibility.”

“Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a possibility.”

“Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a possibility.”

It played over and over and over in my head. I let myself think for a second. There it is. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a possibility.

I scheduled a visit for March 15. And this week, after spending about 45 minutes bending me like a Gumby doll, he confirmed it. I have hypermobile EDS – or hEDS for short.

I am fairly certain that all of those wonderful, strong people out there who live with EDS will know how devastated I am by all this. And how sad it makes me. I cannot talk myself out of the grief I have been feeling. Because now, not only will I likely never get better, the odds are high that I will get worse. There is no cure, only treatments that manage the symptoms. And physical therapy to prevent others.

All I can think about is the doctor at Loyola from the very beginning. The one I first saw with shooting pain in my wrists five years ago. The one I went back to a few months later hoping to find answers for the new pain in my ribs.

The one who looked right at me and said, “Please stop coming in. There is nothing I can do to help you.”

The one who could have found this so easily, if only he had taken the time to look for it. The one who pushed me into piles of medical bills and doctor visits and nights with unexplained pain because he thought I was making it all up. Or at the very least, overreacting.

I want to go back to his office and show him what I learned. I want to yell in his face, “IT’S EDS! I WASN’T BEING CRAZY! I WAS IN PAIN!! I NEEDED YOUR HELP!!!”

And then I want to cry. Again. Because crying seems like the only appropriate response to all of this right now.

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Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Illinois. She eats too much Taco Bell, drinks too much espresso, and spends too much time looking for the perfect pink lipstick. She has hypermobile EDS. 

Crystal writes about it on her blog, “The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.”

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.