My Arachnoiditis Family

By Elaine Ballard, Guest Columnist

I live in the rural county of Somerset in England, UK. At the age of 22, I had a sporting accident which eventually left me 80 percent disabled and unable to lead a normal life. 

The accident caused several crushed discs in my spine and a great deal of nerve damage. Over the years multi-level disc degeneration set in, as well as osteoarthritis. I am unable to use a wheelchair, as bulging discs prevent me from sitting without severe pain. I am now 73.

 ELAINE BALLARD

ELAINE BALLARD

Since 1994, I have been confined to lying on a bed in my living room and only leave home to keep hospital appointments. I travel by stretcher ambulance.

Just over two years ago I had an MRI scan which showed I had Adhesive Arachnoiditis (AA) and my life changed drastically yet again. 

Arachnoiditis is listed as a rare neurological condition, but in fact many thousands of people all over the world have been diagnosed with it. There are also thousands of other people who have the same symptoms, but as yet, no diagnosis.

It is difficult for patients to get diagnosed as doctors are not trained to recognize this disease and often fail to even recognize the symptoms.

Arachnoiditis results from severe inflammation of the arachnoid membrane that surrounds the nerves of the spinal cord. It may cause stinging and burning pain, as well as muscle cramps, spasms, and uncontrollable twitching. The most common symptom is severe to unbearable neurological pain, especially to the nerves connecting to the lower back, legs and feet. This can lead to tingling, numbness, weakness and severe pain in the legs and feet.

Other symptoms include sensations that feel like insects crawling on the skin or water trickling down the legs. It can also affect the bladder, bowel and sexual function. Unfortunately for some, it may also result in paralysis.

As this disease progresses, the symptoms can become more severe or even permanent. Most people with Arachnoiditis are eventually unable to work and suffer significant disability because they are in constant pain. Pain is the most dominant factor and it is both chronic and acute. As the disease progresses, it can be relentless and unbearable and sadly suicide becomes an option.

Inflammation of the arachnoid membrane can lead to the formation of scar tissue, which may cause the spinal nerves to clump together and eventually adhere to the lining wall of the dura, the middle layer of the spine. The disease can then progress to Adhesive Arachnoiditis.

What Causes Arachnoiditis

There are a few different causes of Arachnoiditis. In the 1970's a dye used in myelograms was injected during spinal procedures directly into the area surrounding the spinal cord and nerves. The dye was too toxic for these delicate parts of the spine and was blamed for causing Arachnoiditis. This dye continues to be used in some parts of the world.

Bacterial infections and viruses in the spine can also lead to Arachnoiditis. So can complications from spinal surgery and invasive spinal procedures such as epidural steroid injections.

There is no cure for Arachnoiditis and there is little effective pain relief. This is a disease or condition for life. Opioids are offered by doctors, but are not specific to reducing neurological pain of this nature.

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It is very sad and cruel that opioids are being clamped down in America and that Arachnoiditis patients are being classed together with people who seek drugs for recreational purposes. We are not drug seekers but desperate victims crying out for something that will stop this relentless and overwhelming neurological pain.

The Facebook support group Arachnoiditis Together We Fight has been an important part of my education in understanding this disease. I am thankful to say it has become more of a family, where members can come in and gradually feel at home while we bring education, support and encouragement. This family atmosphere and great support has saved many lives, as people first arrive feeling suicidal and lost in a medical world that will not help them.

That is why I wrote this poem to show people how important support groups can be and to bring more attention to this rare but life changing disease.

"The Family"

By Elaine Ballard

Lonely, fearfully I knock at the door
Arac greets me, a smile, so kind
I want to die, eyes keep to the floor
"Welcome" she says, but what will I find?

"Welcome" repeated again and again
"Good to have you!" Are you kidding?  
"Family" really can it be true? 
Lost, lonely, rejected... what you too? 

I tell my story, they will never believe
"We understand, you're not alone"
Tears trickle down, I cannot believe
We are bound together by this dreaded disease

Files, inflammation, medication
Head's in a spin, where do I begin?  
Then a hand upon my shoulder
Guides me to those precious folders

Questions answered, hope is rising
Found some friends, pain subsiding
Flares still come but under control
No longer afraid nor out in the cold

We need each other, your pain is mine  
Strength in unity, love is the sign
Moving forward we are free
To Fight Together as one FAMILY

 

Elaine Ballard has written a book about Adhesive Arachnoiditis and how her Christian faith helped her through many difficult flares and times. It is called “The Furnace of Fire” and is available on Amazon. Click on the book's cover to see price and ordering information.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories (and poems) with us. Send them to editor@painnewsnetwork.org.

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