He woke up in the middle of the night. After two days of excruciating pain, it was the first time he had slept more than two hours in a row. Next to him, his wife was sleeping peacefully. She was his companion during that nightmare. But it was now over —no pain, at last! He was thirsty and decided to go for a glass of water. He took his first step… and collapsed. “What happened?”, said his wife, suddenly awakened by the noise. “Nothing. I’m fine. I just fell, but I’m fine.” He got up and proceeded to the kitchen. He came back to bed, and fell asleep again. She couldn’t.
She knew something was wrong. Very wrong. Despite the strong painkillers he had been taking, he didn’t seem groggy, or confused. A terrifying thought crossed her mind: What if this is neurological-related? What if this is weakness in his lower limbs, were he felt this agonizing pain? After all, two days before, the ER doctors couldn’t find neither the cause nor the location of his pain, and sent him home with a prescription of painkillers.
In the morning, he was very happy, pain-free, enjoying his first normal day in 72 hours. She kept watching him, looking for signs. His hands were a bit shaky, but maybe it was the painkillers. But he seemed… weak. “Well, that too, can be the painkillers”, she thought, trying to convince herself that her fears were unfounded. She encouraged him to call his primary care physician to let her know he had fell the night before, but he just wanted to enjoy his newfound normalcy, and decided to take a nap. She offered to call his doctor and he reluctantly agreed, convinced she was overreacting.
After talking to the doctor, she decided to let him rest as he was going to need his strength: The doctor had ordered him to go back to the ER.
An hour later, they were on their way. This time, she instinctively packed a bag, as if anticipating a long journey. She left the kids with their nanny. His mother would arrive from overseas within two days as she, too, had noticed something on her son’s voice, and wanted to come check on him.
He was admitted to the hospital that fateful night of April 19. Doctors started him on high doses of intravenous steroids. By the morning, he couldn’t walk or lift his left arm, and his right arm was weak.
They stayed at the hospital for two weeks. The diagnose: Acute transverse myelitis, a rare disease that causes inflammation of the spinal cord.
He could not walk. He started physical and occupational therapy on day two of his hospital stay. Even the most common of tasks was an ordeal for him.
When plans for his discharge began, they learned another disheartening fact: He was not going to go home. He needed to be moved to an acute rehabilitation facility where he would focus on his physical and occupational therapy to help accelerate his recovery.
Upon arrival to the acute rehabilitation facility, he was only able to walk 20 feet with a walker. He moved around on a wheel chair most of the time. He could not work for five months.
Today marks the one year anniversary of their journey through transverse myelitis. Just yesterday, he walked two miles. He no longer needs a cane to walk, and he can do just about anything. His personal goal is to be able to run again, and he is fighting hard to achieve his goal. In fact, he has never stopped fighting. His perseverance and disposition are praiseworthy.
And I have had the privilege and the honor to fight alongside him. He is my hero, my inspiration.
I love you, Fernando.