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Agony of living in constant body pain.

B OB Stewart grimaces in pain. He feels as if he has a migraine... all over his body.

He suffers from a recently discovered condition known as Fibromyalgia.

It means he is in chronic pain. That pain is as intense as a migraine, but covers every inch of his body.

It is often unbearable, and the 53-year-old former senior manager isn't afraid to admit he often breaks down and cries.

To help him cope, he goes into hospital for a full week of pain relief once every six months.

He has painkillers literally pumped into his system every day for six days before going home.

Afterwards, he enjoys three months of "reduced" pain, although he is never completely clear of it.

He has lived with the condition, through gritted teeth, for eight long and tortuous years and knows it will never end. Because Fibromyalgia is thought to be for life.

As yet, there is no cure.

Fibromyalgia is caused by an imbalance in the central nervous system, a lack of a chemical called serotonin. It is symbolised by chronic widespread pain, fatigue and a loss of quality sleep.

A number of the symptoms are very similar to ME or other conditions of the central nervous system, such as lupus or multiple sclerosis.

The UK Fibromyalgia Association, set up in 1994, already has 14,000 members. It is estimated that as much as one to two per cent of the population could be sufferers, albeit unknowingly.

In America, the figure has already risen to five per cent - millions of victims.

The average age of sufferers is between 41 and 50, but the association's youngest member is just nine.

Bob, from Stourbridge, is unlucky... because he lost the battle of the sexes. Fibromyalgia affects more women than men, with a ratio of 12 to 1.

Despite the odds being in his favour, Bob still fell victim. And it changed his life.

Before his diagnosis, he was a hectic workaholic, managing to run two factories miles apart. He would never sit still for a moment and was driven to achieve.

Now he is unemployed, having been forced to give up his job because of ilealth - constantly in pain and exhausted.

He has sticks to walk around, even within his own home, and uses a wheelchair whenever he leaves the house. He sleeps very poorly, just cat-napping, and often wakes up feeling as if he has been kicked all night.

Some sufferers also have Raynaud's Syndrome, where the blood supply to fingers, toes, ears and nose is interrupted. The arteries spasmodically contract and fingers can become ulcerous or gangrenous.

There may also be considerable pain, numbness or tingling, triggered by changes in temperature.

Bob said: "It took me 18 months to be diagnosed. I went to the doctor and was referred to an orthopaedic consultant and then an expert in rheumatology, before being sent to a consultant in pain relief.

"He finally diagnosed me.

"To be honest it was a relie although a little scary. I finally knew what was wrong with me.

"However what I didn't know at that point was that I would eventually have to give up my job. That was very hard.

"Psychologically, I went through the worst six months of my life making the decision to leave fulime employment.

"I'd been gainfully employed since I was 16 and I'd gradually worked my way up. I had done well. I had got to senior management level with a company car and the package that comes with it.

"I was always described as a workaholic. I'd work ridiculous hours and never clock-watched.

"Ironically, this condition often affects very active people, such as myself and teachers, nurses and doctors.

"I was really down after I gave up the job but activity exacerbates the condition and I was becoming very ill, so I had no choice.

"Even now, three and a half years on, I still miss work.

"And some days the pain is so bad, I can't stop myself from crying. I'll sit in the chair and everything will get on top of me and I'll just start to sob."

But, from the low point in his life, he has fought back. He now does voluntary work for people with learning difficulties; is the chairman of the Fibromyalgia Association and a member of Dudley Community Health Council.

He said: "They are my work substitutes. They give me the same satisfaction, but they don't have the same pressure.

"I am learning to cope with the condition and am a very positive person.

"I refuse to be beaten. I try to look on the bright side of everything.

"This is a relatively new condition, only recognised by the World Health Organisation in 1992, and hopefully one day, after research, we will find a cure."
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Aug 9, 1998
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