It is what I’ve come to call “Atomic Spasms”
…And they started around March of this year (2015) while sitting one day after work and waiting for my bus to arrive. Without notice my right leg lifted up off the ground, as if my kneecap wanted to hit my chin. I was so startled and momentarily had such ‘eye watering’ pain that I let out a yelp, drawing attention from those nearby. What the &%*# was that? Another soon followed, and another.
Sometimes every day, sometimes every few days, these intense spasms continued. I realized that nature had added another horrific physiological device to my toolbox of torment.
These spasms were unlike the ones that I had experience in the eight plus years since a spinal cord infection had left me a paraplegic. While previously I would experience spasms in my right leg or left back & hip, the suddenness and intensity with which they presented themselves was different.
Previously, the first sign that spasms were imminent was with a ‘creepy’ feeling in my leg, particularly in the calf, which, though hard to describe, felt something like an overall electrical buzzing. The neurogenic burning was turned up several notches and my leg felt as if it was filled with sparkling hot soda water with the millions of bubbles bursting as they rose to touch the inner skin surface. An imaginary coil spring in my leg would be wound to a point where it would slip and suddenly unfurl, only to start winding again. That ‘spring-winding’ feeling gave a second or two warning of an inescapable leg-jerk. The leg would raise, kick, and fall back to whatever surface it was resting on. When in full spasm, the leg could not be pushed down using all my strength as the contraction was so powerful. Spasms might last only a few minutes, but more likely they would torment for hours – the longest being about seven continuous hours of rhythmic jerking, about once every five or six seconds. Pure hell!
So I bring the issue of spasms up with my family doctor. “Why, you’re already taking anti-spasm medication” (Baclofen). That was that. When I previously sought relief with Botox injections, the specialist who examined me checked for spasms by holding my calf and foot, then quickly flicking or rotating the foot –up and down. He had a definition for spasms which was something like “tension through velocity”. The foot may move with ease when moved slowly, but when done quickly, tends to hang up or offer resistance. (my memory could be quite wrong on this). Baclofen reduces this sort of “spasm” but the “spasms” that were tormenting me, and those that athletes speak of, are totally another kind of affliction. I don’t believe General Practitioners understand this distinction.
These Atomic spasms ignited without warning. The range of motion the leg was driven was extreme. Lying flat on my black, the extended leg would violently fly up, again with my kneecap reaching for my nose. At the extreme contraction, the leg would freeze in place for two or three seconds then drop back down flat, only to be repeated again, and again. There was a rhythmic repetition to these spasms as well, but not quite as uniform as the usual, “run of the mill paralytic spasms”. They too may repeat, say, every three to seven seconds, but the Atomic spasms may miss a firing, or may double-up on firing with two closely spaced ones.
Try this. Take any appendage of yours, be it your arm (elbow), hand (wrist), leg (hip/groin), finger (joint) and bend it as far as it can possibly go – until your eyes begin to water from the pain. Now, move it another inch in the same direction! That is how these ‘Atomic Spasms’ feel acting on the joint involved joint! I am currently nursing a sprained groin from the repeated explosive spasms which have pulled against the ligaments anchoring my femur that I have sprained myself. What makes it worse is that the following night, the spasms repeat and I re-injure myself.
These ‘Atomic Spasms’ as the previous ‘regular spasms’ are curious as they almost always come on in the evening or at night. Just when the day is finished and you think you can relax, you find that nature will not let you. Whether the painful or regular spasm, they are annoying, detract from your attention to other matters, rob you of rest, and just plain ruin any quality of life you may still have.
Now, the ‘regular spasms’ which I’ve experienced almost every night since my injury, almost always came on at night, ran their annoying course and then allowed me to sleep the night without wakening me. These relatively new ‘Atomic Spasms’ start up anywhere from early to late evening. What is worse is that they often come back several times in the evening and often right at bedtime. You can well imagine that it is impossible to sleep with your leg pulling up and dropping down repeatedly for hours on end when you have to get up and go to work next morning. These ‘Atomic Spasms’ can start back up by simply rolling over in bed. Any movement may reactivate them!
Launched by an 'Atomic Spasm'
It was August 14th, 2015, almost bang-on 2:00 am. With a loud crash, I wake up and realize I am on the floor. The first time ever! I have fallen out of bed….no, more likely catapulted out of bed with a spasm! I am currently using a single hospital-like bed but without any railings – because in about eight years, I had not needed them. Well, what to do? I rummage around in the dark and locate the switch to my bedside light. The top of my mattress is only about two feet above the floor but it looks like Everest from my perspective. I have strength, but the joints have all tightened – ligaments and tendons have shrunk from limited use. I can get onto my knees but I cannot get my feet underneath to push up. I try to lift myself up using my motorized wheelchair’s frame but it shifts and tips. There is nothing around me that I can grab onto and hoist myself up. Grabbing the mattress only shifts the bed.
What is worse –my wife is out of town for a few days and I am on my own.
Now it is around 2:20 am and my knees already have carpet burns from the friction. I look around and near my stereo I see two metal ‘tradesman’ suitcases in which contain wires, cables, microphones, and various electronic paraphernalia. That might be enough to bear my weight if I use it to bump up a step closer to the mattress surface. So I pull out the suitcase and with it comes a small utility table spilling more electronics, a three-tier filing drawer filled with loose papers and a variety of pens, pencils, erasers and so forth. Here I now sit amongst fanned out papers, desk utensils and wires. I drag the suitcase next to the bed and try to climb up with my knees. No luck – and the suitcase has that fine-diamond texture which further removes skin from my knees and shins. Try as I might, I cannot get up!
At this point I am bathed in sweat and my heart is racing. I thought of writing a note in case I have a heart attack and those who discover me think I was beaten and bloodied during a home invasion. I regroup and give it another `all or nothing’ effort.
I turn on my electric wheelchair and position it parallel, with myself between it and the bed. I put my bare feet against the drive wheel and push up with feet and hands to bump my backside up onto the suitcase. With a second identical suitcase beside the first I try to twist around to replace my butt with my knees, still trying to hold my feet to the drive wheel so as to not slip back onto the floor. Struggling, I push with my feet and grab the far side of the mattress to slither aboard.
Somehow I make it...
Somehow I make it...
I lay there for a few minutes to catch my breath and cool down. Rolling my view to the damage, it looks like an Oklahoma tornado took a detour through my room. Everything scattered about but what now catches my attention is that there is blood everywhere. In the process of rescuing myself from the floor, I had abraded both my shins, skinned my knees and worst of all, I managed to tear out two toe-nails from my left foot. My foot was still bleeding so I wrapped it up quickly and decided to try to get some sleep. After my hour long ordeal, it was now just after 3:00 am. I had to get up at 4:50 in order to get ready for work.
A fitful sleep followed but I got up. Picked up what items I could to quickly straighten up. My science background came in handy. With a bottle of hydrogen peroxide from the cabinet, I poured generous quantities onto the bloodiest spots and watched red bubbles foam upwards. Dabbing with a wet sponge made the destruction I had inflicted on the room almost disappear. I do wonder what surprise hides in the underlayment when carpet is taken up during the next renovation.
So, I made my bus ride to work. The driver asked me if I had run over a small animal as I had forgotten to clean off the wheelchair tire I had pushed against with by bleeding feet. It was a bloody mess – but a lab always has some H2O2 around and I was able to retreat to the washroom to clean it off.
With summer shorts, it was hard to hide my scrapped knees from my wife. I mumbled something to satisfy everyone’s curiosity. Feet were easier to hide. No need to worry my wife with my expedition to the nether reaches of the floor. No need for her concern if I was ever to be left along again. So Sssshhhhhh!
A couple of more times I woke with a start thinking I was about to take that trip to the floor again. Perhaps I was, perhaps not. A physiotherapist once told me that a person’s leg consists of about 17% of their total body weight. Well, when lying on your side and the leg closest to the sheet suddenly explodes with a spasm shooting it off edge of the bed – the momentum just about takes the rest of you along!
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So what has changed some eight years post injury to cause these ‘Atomic spasms’ to start now?
And why do spasms of any kind occur much more frequently in the evening or at night? Does the body physiology change that much?
What I believe doesn’t affect my spasms:
-Position: Legs, whether hanging down all day as if sitting or up all day as if in bed does not seem to have any effect. Calves do feel harder at night – due to muscle contraction or fluid accumulation?
-Exercise: Whether spending a quiet day, having lots of activity or even exercising at the gym, seems to have no effect on the occurrence of spasms.
-Circulation: Some days the legs are warm to the touch, other days cold to the touch – with the same amount of activity. Regardless of perceived temperature, it doesn’t seem to affect spasms.
-Weather: whether, cold or hot, rainy or dry, etc. spasms occur at about the same rate and severity
-Hydration: drinking lots of fluids or remaining somewhat dehydrated seems not to affect spasms
-Pressure: whether there is pressure against my legs or my back at the site of the injury, there seems to be no correlation to the amount or severity of spasms.
So what, if anything, am I missing? Is it related to anything at all, or just one of nature’s little jokes on paraplegics?
Seriously, they are so devastating that I have lost it altogether and cursed my God for creating such and affliction. There is no quality of life...only torment!
Life really Sucks!
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