I want you all to meet my good friend Rick. You can find him on Twitter as @El_Gandulito. I’ve known him now for about eight years. In the last three, he’s been through quite a lot with his health and ability to walk.
Through these trials, I, along with his family adapted to this and became as supportive and hopeful as possible. I saw him get into depression and hopelessness. he was one of the many reasons I created this website. By helping myself, I wanted to help others. I wanted to help Rick see that things aren’t really THAT bad, and that he would soon get better and get back to normal. Through positivity, support, and a little hope.
I would visit Rick, we would watch movies, eat, and play video games, like normal friends do. We would talk and I would be encouraging, and I even got him to go out to the tweetups in Chicago. He was opening up and it helped me show him that sometimes changing yourself helps your outlook in life.
Ultimately, he just got the right medication and is off his wheelchair and has such a happier demeanor. I am encouraging him to go back to one of his loves, cooking, and hopefully he will continue to make more friends online. Rick represents what it is to take the year and make it yours. He’s come from a low in life and is quickly climbing back up. Year of the Rick is in full force and he will relish his second chance at life. I am happy and excited to be a part of it.
Don’t take MY word for it though, here it is in his own words. I asked him to write up/summarize what he’s gone through in the past few years. Please take the time to read about his experience and keep in mind that right now he’s at the beginning of this new phase, of rediscovery, and of a better happier life.
“Easier to Run… My Fight Just to Walk”
By Rick Montanez
It’s hard to put into words the last three years of my life but, with a world of words at my disposal, the simplest way I could describe it would be…Frustrating!
I want to start at the beginning. The point at which my struggle should have, at least in my mind, been taken more seriously. Back in 2006 I went from walking “normally” to falling to the ground as I would walk. It just so happened that the months prior to March 2006 were a struggle just to find work. Walking to job interviews had become habit but, little did I realize, my walking was off. As I would go to interviews, there would not be one moment where I didn’t trip or fall at least once prior to getting to the interview office from my car. It wouldn’t be until a few months later that I looked back at myself and found that my “walking” was off and I just brushed it off as clumsiness.
It just so happened that, in March 2006, I was finally able to find a job after almost a year. Work became a weekly routine again and so did the falls. I began to notice, more consciously, that the normal task of walking from my car to my desk at work was beginning to be difficult. As I would walk from my car to the elevator, it was a mental fight just to keep my back straight and my posture upright. This would be the start at which I would trip over my own feet. At first, it was a weekly struggle. I would have to consciously make sure not to fall. Even worse, when I would fall, I would hope that there was an object that was sturdy enough that I could catch myself on so as to avoid injury. There were other times when I would try to avoid the falls in front of people so I wouldn’t injure them.
As time went by the falls would get increasingly worse. I began falling on a daily basis. At work, my legs would feel extremely weak and I would drop to my knees several times within the course of the day. I was finding it more and more difficult just to keep my balance. At home, I had to get dressed sitting down cause if I tried to dress standing up, my balance would falter.
After four months of falls, I was finally able to afford health insurance for myself as my job was only on a temporary basis and offered no health coverage.
It was in July of 2006 that I finally went to see my family doctor for my walking difficulties. I mentioned to him that I did some research on WebMd.com and felt that, at that time, the closest diagnosable match to my walking difficulties was Ataxia. He explained to me his thoughts on Ataxia and informed me that he would do some research himself but that he would help me to find an explanation for my walking. After two months of waiting, my doctor admitted me into the hospital for a three night stay so that he could run blood tests, MRI’s, etc. He explained to me that my difficulties could be the start of MS and wanted specific tests done to see what showed. He even referred me to one of the hospital neurologists while I was a patient so there would be more expert opinions available. A month later, October 2006, would find me hospitalized again for more testing. This time I would be in the hospital for almost the entire month of October. They ran blood work, did a spinal tap, which was one of the most painful and uncomfortable experiences I had to endure, and physical therapy. As a result of being in the hospital for so long, I lost my temp job because the company is not able to hold my job so, on top of being sick, I’m now unemployed.
After finding no answer to my walking difficulties through testing, I was released from the hospital on Halloween, of all days, and sent to Outpatient Physical Therapy. I was also put on muscle relaxant medication to see if that would help any. For a while the medication seemed to be helping. I was able to walk slightly better and had fewer falls but, two months into physical therapy, my symptoms returned. This time, the symptoms had gotten worse and, if that wasn’t bad enough, my health insurance dropped me from being covered due to a “Pre-existing Condition.”
Now its 2007, my condition has worsened to the point that I fall with every step, it’s difficult to get dressed, I can’t even stand up long enough to take a shower. My physical therapy has ended because I have no insurance and no means to pay the therapy bills so I’m basically stuck.
Months go by; my condition goes up and down. Some days I’m ok but not 100% stable, other days I just don’t want to be alive because my symptoms are just hard to deal with. I feel weak, tired, my legs feel heavy and hard to move, I get shaky in both my arms and legs. I just have no energy whatsoever to even initiate movement. I go through more testing at a third hospital as I was finally lucky enough to get state-sponsored health coverage. At this point it’s around the end of summer 2007 and I’m sent to a Movement Disorder clinic at the third hospital for more “help.”
It’s at this hospital where it is determined that the symptoms are stress-related. Basically, it’s all in my head and I’m sent to see a psychiatrist and psychologist. They put me on anti-depressants because of my thoughts of suicide but tell me that seeing these two doctors should help in getting my symptoms to subside. They also have me do hypnosis with the psychologist. About a year goes by and I’ve been seeing those two doctors with no improvement. My primary neurologist is no help so I seek another opinion. I’m referred to another neurologist at the same Movement Disorder clinic and she, after some time, runs more blood tests, sends me to see an eye doctor, and does a thyroid test. After all results come up negative, she looks at my file and says to me that she too believe my issue is stress-related. I think to myself, “She’s fucking nuts.” How can stress cause a person so many problems?
I don’t know what to do. I can’t move well and have been getting around for over a year in a wheelchair. My friends and family are supportive. They try to keep me positive. I’m at my wits-end though. No answers, no help.
So, it’s nearing the end of 2008, I’ve been to 6 different hospitals, had an array of tests/procedures done, and nothing has come about. I’m still falling, still experiencing tremors, still feeling extremely weak, and have idea why. I return to the Movement Disorder clinic and am told by my neurologist that she recommends I enter into this research study where I see a more experienced psychiatrist on a weekly basis for three months to see if intense psychotherapy sessions can help. After the three months are up, my neurologist says to come back and see her. If there has been no improvement in my condition she will start me on Parkinson’s medication as a potential treatment.
It’s December 2008 and I’ve started my weekly psychotherapy sessions. About a month and a half goes by with no improvement. It’s now mid-January 2009 and my symptoms are getting even worse now. At this point, the tremors in my arms and legs have increased to the point that, when I fall, I can’t pick myself back up. Have to have help from others in my family to get me off the floor and onto a chair. Heading into February, I can’t take this anymore. I go back to my original, or rather primary, doctor for help. He informs me that he doesn’t understand why the doctors aren’t helping me and will do everything in his power to get me better help. Another month goes by, condition still horrible, and I see my primary doctor again. After my appointment, he has me checked into a hospital again will he will work with the neurologists there to try and find an answer or possible solution to my walking difficulties. I spend about a week in that hospital. More blood tests are run and, after the first two days, am told I will be moved to the Cardiac monitoring floor as they, the neurologists, are going to start me on Parkinson’s medication. I am told that my symptoms resemble Parkinson’s so trying the medication might help but that the medication affects the heart so they will have me monitored for a few days. Three days have passed while I was on the Cardiac floor and the medication has had no negative affect on my heart but, in a surprise turn of events, has had a positive affect on my symptoms. Into the fourth day of being at the hospital and on the Parkinson’s medication, I’m feeling much better. I am able to walk, with a walker, more stable, and my tremors and weakness has subsided slightly. It’s now that I have a more positive outlook and can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. After 3 years with the symptoms, I’m now happy.
It’s nearing the end of March as I write this. I’m still doing the weekly psychotherapy sessions and my condition is stable. I’m still on the Parkinson’s medication and it is still helping. I have had days where the symptoms nearly returned but, at least now, I have enough energy to fight back for my life.