Monday, October 21, 2019

Celebrating 13 Years of Healing....Part I ... Receiving the Diagnosis

It's intriguing for me to think that I chose October, when World Polio Day happens, to take the first tentative steps on my healing quest.

The symptoms began ten years before I decided to do anything about them. In the summer of 2006, I realized that mind, body and soul were screaming for attention. I could no longer ignore the symptoms of a profound decline in functioning, chronic pain, having the limp from polio return and a myriad of physical symptoms that at times were quite alarming. I often wondered if I was having a heart attack or stroke. But then the symptoms abated and I would go on serving those who served in my role as a VA social worker.

I told my primary care provider about the symptoms. He dismissed them as empty nest syndrome even though my twins were still at home and PTSD. While my history of severe childhood trauma played a role in my physical symptoms, I knew the physical symptoms needed intervention.

I had known about Post-Polio Syndrome from the wife of one of my veterans. I googled it and discovered there was the Spaulding Rehab International Center for Polio and Post Polio Syndrome in Framingham, a thirty minute drive from my house.

I remember the day I made the call and an earth angel by the name of Anna Rubin answered the phone even though that was not her role at the clinic.

From "Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility":
As I sat in my office in between clients experiencing difficulty swallowing, my heart racing, pain and tingling down my right arm, pain in my neck, extreme fatigue and exhaustion and dragging my body around with me, I wondered whether or not I needed to go to an emergency room. Was I having a stroke or maybe a heart attack … but the symptoms would pass and I knew there was nothing acute happening with me. I would meet with my patients focusing on their needs. I allowed the members of my team to ventilate and provided them with emotional support. On one level I was functioning as a clinical social worker, an exemplary team member and being the most productive social worker in my department. On the inside, I was withering away dying a slow physical, emotional and spiritual death. I would pray to God that She take me home. I couldn’t bear the pain of this existence any longer. Guilt set in. How could I leave my family, my patients? But I was suffering and wanted a way out. I never thought about suicide. I knew all too well the pain that suicide leaves. My father had killed himself when I was 17 years old.

I finally decided I needed to pray and ask for help. The answer came to me. “Google post polio syndrome.”

Spaulding Rehab Hospital’s Outpatient Clinic in Framingham, just 30 minutes from my house came up in my search. Trembling I picked up the phone in October of 2006 to take the first step on my journey back into life.

“Post polio clinic Spaulding Framingham, how may I help you?” asked a warm voice on the other end of the line.

“Um I think I may have post polio syndrome,” I said as my voice broke.

After ruling out other possible causes for my symptoms through extensive diagnostic testing, the diagnosis of Post-Polio Syndrome was made sitting around a table in a conference room at the Spaulding Framingham Outpatient Clinic.

I was prescribed a short toe up leg brace:

along with a cane and told to use a wheelchair if I were going to be walking any long distances. Occupational Therapy gave me suggestions for energy conservation and wrist splints for carpel tunnel syndrome. Physical Therapy gave me suggestions to stay warm in winter given that one of the symptoms of Post-Polio Syndrome is cold intolerance. I was told that if I used it I would lose it and should prepare to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. I needed to either adapt our Cape house or move to a ranch. Speech and Language Therapy taught me techniques to avoid food aspiration and informed me that a feeding tube might be in my future. The left side of my esophagus was very weak.

I was told that if I had any hope whatsoever of stabilizing the symptoms where they were that I needed to quit my career as a VA social worker.

I sobbed with the OT begging her to help me find a way to stay at my job until I was eligible to retire in 3 years.

In January I was referred to a spine doctor who I call my master magician. Many of the "alarming" symptoms were taken care of as a "slam dunk" with cervical spine injections.

Because Spaulding Rehab downtown was closer to the VA than Framingham, Dr. El Abd referred me to an earth angel of a physical therapist who believed that I was not destined to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. Allison Lamarre Poole would be my guide back to my mind/body connection while encouraging me to figure out a way to leave my career to allow the benefits of rehab to fully take root.

I did what I had always done when faced with a crisis in my life (which was quite often given the environment I grew up in). I got still and asked for Divine Guidance. On a cold dark day in February during the dark night of my mind, body and soul, a poem flowed out of me called "Running the Race."

It was as though a spigot turned on in my soul and poems poured out of me. I wrote poems about gratitude, running unencumbered and free, imagining myself coming out of my leg brace and splashing in puddles and leaving my past behind.

I shared my newfound passion with Allison and realized there would be a life for me after the VA. I began to plan my exit strategy.

The Universe let me know that I was dragging my feet with my plan when:

I vacillated back and forth with my decision to leave the VA. I was planning to leave in October of 2007. In April I went for a routine mammogram. I spoke to the Universe, “I know that I cannot have an abnormal mammogram right now because I have enough on my plate.” I was all too aware of my risk for breast cancer given that my mother, her mother and my father’s sister all had breast cancer. My father’s sister died from breast cancer. “This is not going to happen to me,” I vowed.

The red light was blinking on my office phone indicating I had a voicemail message.

“Hello this message is for Mary McManus. It’s the Breast Center at Mass. General Hospital. Please call us at your earliest convenience.”

“Oh no – this isn’t happening, “ I thought to myself.

I felt the all too familiar clutch in my stomach and my sympathetic nervous system went into high gear. As a trauma survivor, I would vacillate between states of exhaustion and states of high alert. Years later I would learn from Peter A. Levine in his book, “In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness” that I was unable to regulate going from my sympathetic nervous system responsible for fight/flight and the parasympathetic nervous system which helps the body to return to a state of equanimity and calm.

With hands trembling, I dialed Mass. General. Even though Allison had taught me about breathing and the importance of taking deep breaths, my breaths were shallow. My hands sweaty. I had no control over what was happening to me.

“Hi. This is Mary McManus I received a call from your office.”
“One moment please – I’ll transfer you.”

“Hello is this Mrs. McManus?” a polite voice on the other end of the line asked me.

“Um yes well it seems that there is an abnormality on your mammogram. It looks like you have a mass of some kind. We need you to come in next week for a repeat mammogram.”

Okay Universe. What are you trying to tell me here? I examined my left breast and sure enough, I could feel a mass. I remembered the power of visualization from Bernie Siegel’s work and I figured I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by harnessing the power of visualization. I was on a mission – to heal whatever was going on in my left breast.

When I returned a week later, the tumor was gone and I set my date to leave the VA to heal my life although at the time I didn't understand the enormity of what that meant.

On May 25, 2007, I went through the VA's clearing out process and returned home to sit in the warm sunshine in my yard wondering, "What had I just done?"

To be continued....

To your health and wellness
From my heart to yours

Be sure to visit my website at

Hear my interview with Kendra Petrone on Magic 106.7's Exceptional Women Show by following this link

My books are available on Amazon and "Feel the Heal" and "The Adventures of Runnergirl 1953" are available in Natick Center Cultural District at Paula Romero Dunbar's Celebration Boutique Paper Fiesta coincidentally located on Mile 10 of the Boston Marathon Route.

No comments:

Post a Comment