June-10-2020 | Gary Walters
The last two years of my life seem to have disappeared from my memory. Gone. Holidays, weddings, a funeral, birthday parties, Christmas and New Year. Friends and family keep telling me things I’ve done and the way I’ve behaved, some of which are very embarrassing to hear. It’s just not me.
This is the result of the disease Autoimmune Encephalitis (AE), the symptoms of which I was clearly exhibiting without my even realizing. Hallucinations, involuntary movements (which developed to 20-30 movements over four or five minutes), insomnia, loss of inhibition, memory loss and finally seizures, none of which I can remember. Apparently, I had two massive seizures at work (a Secondary School where I teach Physical Education), one of which resulted in the police being called due to my resisting all help. I’m told this was the last of a number of smaller seizures as the disease continued to develop and take hold.
The last seizure resulted in hospitalization for more than two months and being seen by a number of doctors and specialists who put me through a whole host of MRI scans, EEG’s, blood plasma analysis and other tests I don’t recall. I was eventually transferred to another hospital, where a specialist identified AE straight away, where I stayed and was treated for more than three weeks.
Lots of my friends and family traveled to see me, none of which I can remember and feel very guilty about admitting to. I do have a memory of very small flashes of shouting inappropriate comments at some female staff and having to apologize the next day and some very small flashes of walking around on other wards in my underwear looking for my ward. Again, it’s very embarrassing and most of it I can’t fully remember.
I’ve been told of other embarrassing events I performed, which eventually resulted in my being placed in a room by myself and given sedatives to help me “relax.” I was given all sorts of medicines, went through a whole host of tests and discussions with specialists on how to treat and control this very rare disease, and no one knew the right answer. It was a case of controlling the disease from worsening and monitoring my condition very closely.
Eventually, I was transferred back to my local hospital and continued to have a wide range of tests, blood samples were taken every morning to be analyzed and, after three more weeks, I was released to go home with a cannular inserted into a vein in my wrist with 24 tablets to be taken during the morning and 12 at night. I also received IVIG treatment to boost my immune system every morning at the local hospital.
I am now awaiting a decision from my consultant regarding the next steps. He has to speak with specialists in London as he is also unsure about what to do. I’ve been signed off work until after Christmas, which I also find frustrating as I feel back to 100%, but deep down I know that is the right decision.
I hope this article gives other sufferers of this very rare disease assurance there are other people out there experiencing similar symptoms of this confusing and inexplicable disease for which hopefully leads to further research and ultimately a successful pathway to complete recovery.
Since I wrote the above piece back in late December 2019, I’m feeling back to 100%. The doctors, specialists, occupational health therapists are all very surprised how quickly I seem to have fully recovered, and it’s all down to the support and treatment I’ve had.
It’s now early May, I’m still taking a large dose of meds including Lamotrigine, Levetiracetam, Prednisone, Adcal etc, which to be honest it’s now a case of a gulp of water and down the hatch. It’s now about 10 tablets in the morning and eight at night — massively down from 24 and 12.
I went back to work in early January on a carefully monitored and phased return, building back to full-time before the dreaded COVID-19 hit. I’m not going to lie, going back to work has been tough. The school I work at has moved on, which has is expected in the 12-18 months I’ve been in and out (mostly out). Different students. Different staff. Different expectations. It’s been hard for me, but harder and more frustrating for the brilliant people I’m lucky enough to work with.
When I got back into work I tried to pick up where I left off. It didn’t work, because my expectations of myself are so high. I wanted to know why, how, what had happened to this, that, and the other. I tried to rush back too quickly, and it didn’t work. I wasn’t listening or asking for help enough.
I thought I could pick up where I left off, but I couldn’t. My brain needed time to click back into action. Those billions of neurons needed time. Time, I thought I didn’t have. Fortunately, my employers have been incredibly understanding. They’ve supported me so much, something for which I am eternally grateful.
This is where I know I’m so lucky. I’ve read so many stories of people that are struck with different forms of encephalitis and other life-changing illnesses where they haven’t recovered enough to be able to return to work, or their employers haven’t been as understanding. At times, I feel guilty reading their stories.
As I write this I now only see my specialist twice a year and my meds are being reduced every 10 days. I’m back into full-time work in my original role and physically fit again, running at least three times a week, with lots of sport and the gym. I seem to have a “small” gap in my memory of about 12-18 months, but it could have been a lot worse.
So, it is very possible to make a completely successful and long-lasting recovery from AE and other forms of the disease. I read so many stories of people who have suffered from this terrible illness and are still suffering, so I wanted to write this to let people know there are success stories and you can — with the correct treatment and support network around you — return to full health and look forward to living the rest of your life.
Become an Advocate by sharing your story. It may result in someone receiving an accurate diagnosis who is suffering right now and is yet to be correctly identified. Submit your story with two photos to IAES@autoimmune-encephalitis.org
International Autoimmune Encephalitis Society (IAES), home of the AEWarrior®, is the only Family/Patient-centered organization that assists members from getting a diagnosis through to recovery and the many challenges experienced in their journey. Your donations are greatly appreciated and are the direct result of IAES’ ability to develop the first product in the world to address the needs of patients, Autoimmune Encephalitis Trivia Playing Cards. Every dollar raised allows us to raise awareness and personally help Patients, Families, and Caregivers through their Journey with AE to ensure that the best outcomes can be reached. Your contribution to our mission will help save lives and improve the quality of life for those impacted by AE.