The on-going, first-hand tale of a journey through medical oncology... and what happens after.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Peripheral neuropathy

There's a thousand-dollar pair of words, wouldn't you say? Doctors throw words like these around like they're common enough, but I had to look them up (twice) on the Internet before I really thought I understood them. Oh, and having experienced this condition a few times now, I really do understand the term. So, let's have a quick vocab lesson before we get into the proverbial "meat" of this post, shall we?

From MedlinePlus ( we have this: "[noun] a disease or degenerative state (as polyneuropathy) of the peripheral nerves in which motor, sensory, or vasomotor nerve fibers may be affected and which is marked by muscle weakness and atrophy, pain, and numbness." Chock full of additional big words and concepts... so let's begin with the basics. In one's nervous system, there are the central nerves (spinal column and it's profound linkages to vital organs in your abdomen, but including the brain, Joel) and the peripheral nerves (uh, the rest of the body - especially the skin and arms/legs). Neuropathy, then, would be the "disease or degenerative state" described above, where motor (moving around), sensory (feeling, smelling, tasting, hearing, seeing, and whatever your sixth sense happens to be today), and vasomotor (uhhhh, the constricting of blood vessels to move your blood in the proper direction) nerve fibers may be affected, and which is marked by muscle weakness and atrophy (loss of muscle mass and strength), pain, and numbness. Chemo-therapy with the drugs I am on has a side effect of inducing short-term peripheral neuropathy.

So, inquiring minds are dying to know, "what peripheral neuropathy are YOU experiencing today, Ed?" I am glad you asked. Today, so far, has been very mild in the PN (that's gonna be my shorthand for peripheral neuropathy for the rest of this post) department. Just a little bit of hiccuping and dry belching. But, yesterday was pretty fun in the PN department. First off, I awoke with spiky, tingling in the fingertip of my pinky on my right hand. Made typing the "p", double-quote, and question mark key a little exciting, but that wore off after I had something to eat and warmed up my hands a bit on the walk to work. The MOST exciting PN symptom, though, was opening my mouth to take a bite of scrambled eggs and feeling like my jaw muscles were cramping (both sides, severely, at the joint connecting my upper and lower jaws). YOUCH! It went away after a minute or so, but what a surprise. And it only happened that once yesterday - though I can't WAIT to try again today. :) The last PN is regular, extended bouts of hiccups... yesterday I had five or six rounds, each lasting from five to twenty minutes, and all very loud and distracting. But sure better than any retching (dry or wet).

When I was in the hospital for my abdominal resection, I had some PN related to the epidural (completely numb left leg, for example), but this stuff is both smaller and bigger at the same time. I can function with my current PN, whereas a numb leg, say, prevents walking around - which I was being encouraged to do so that I wouldn't get blood clots in my legs. But now I find myself wondering about every single little signal from every part of my body. It can make you a little nutty (or nuttier, for those who know me...) constantly thinking about things like this. I'm glad I have other distractions.

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