My Lowest Point With NMO, and How a Four-Legged-Friend Saved Me
Last updated: September 2023
When I tell people about my condition, they expect that my lowest point must have been in hospital after my first neuromyelitis optica (NMO) attack. I was paralysed from the chest down and almost completely blind. Weirdly, that's not when I hit rock bottom. My lowest point came almost half a year later.
As I left hospital, the fresh air hit me as soon as the doors opened. Two months earlier, the ambulance crew rushed me in through those very same doors. My first attack was severe and I needed intense treatment and physiotherapy. However, I amazed my doctors by learning to walk again so quickly.
Hospital life was a drag though. I missed normality. I missed silly little things like making a cup of tea whenever I fancied one, or cooking a meal for my wife. I’d been counting down the days to my expected discharge from hospital. When I felt that fresh air on my face it was such a relief!
I thought that was the hard part over and done with, and that I could just get back to living my life. I definitely got back to making cups of tea ASAP, but other things weren’t so simple. We had to move home because I could no longer manage the stairs, So, we kissed goodbye to our beautiful city centre flat and moved to the outskirts of town.
We had a whole new, ground floor, flat to decorate! Before NMO, I would’ve been the one at the top of the ladder with a paintbrush in my hand. This time, I kept my feet on stable ground! We still had a lot of fun though, and before we knew it, our home was finished.
Depression creeping in
It was then that my days seemed to get longer and longer. My employer was making redundancies at the time. Because I didn’t know when or if I’d be well enough to return to work, I took the opportunity and signed to end my contract. At the same time, my wife was studying and working part-time, so I had long hours in the house alone. I felt depression creeping in, and soon everything became tinged with that recognisable darkness.
In a morning, I would just stay in bed and try snooze away some of the hours I had to wait until my wife came home. When I did get up, I couldn’t see a reason to bother getting dressed. I would try to read but drift off, uninterested. My mum tried to get me in engaged in some of the crafty hobbies I used to love, like sewing. Sadly, I felt like my creativity had abandoned me altogether. In the late afternoon I would close the blinds and sleep on the sofa. I found my escape in sleep.
NMO and adopting a pet
My wife had realised what was going on, and casually suggested one day, “Why don’t we get a dog?” I always had family pets while growing up, and had wanted a dog of my own for so long. Between travelling and full-time work, there’d never been the right opportunity. But it was the perfect time, and the perfect idea. I was at home all day so the dog would always have company, and regular dog walks would help build my strength.
A couple of weeks later we brought home Misty, the 8 year old Collie-Cross. An older, less active dog suited me perfectly, and we were soon the best of friends. Her needs shaped my routine. We were up early for breakfast followed by a gentle morning walk. In the afternoon we'd cuddle on the sofa. After dinner we'd play ball in the garden, and enjoy plenty of snacks and affection in-between. That routine kept me going, and before I knew it, it was a joy to live. I revelled in those walks by the river, stopping as often as Misty did to rest and just take it all in.
Lots of people have praised me for rescuing an older dog, but I insist that she rescued me.
Of course, if you’re thinking of getting a pet it’s important to consider if you can meet of their needs. It's sensible to have a back-up plan for times when you might be too unwell to care for them. If you would love the company of an animal but can’t commit to their care, many shelters are crying out for volunteers to walk dogs and cuddle cats.
Has NMO impacted your ability to keep a job?