Stepping Back From the Edge

By Bill Ventres 12/16/2011

  I can walk.

It’s not pretty. It’s not easy. It’s not without assistance. But I can walk.

Six weeks ago, I wasn’t able to walk. A few days before that, I’d begun a visit to the city of Antigua, in Guatemala, and was enjoying its colonial ambiance with friends.

Then, after a brief bout of sore throat, I contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that afflicts the peripheral nervous system. My body’s defense system, its antibodies triggered by the offending virus, had decided to attack the nerves in my arms, legs and trunk.

Upon awaking at 7:30 am on November 2, 2011, I could barely get out of bed. On rubbery legs, I made my way to the bedroom door to call for help. Six hours later, I was 99.9 percent paralyzed from the neck down.

In twenty-five years of practice as a family physician, I had never seen a case of Guillain-Barre. And in all honesty, I couldn’t remember any statistics associated with the illness, such as the fact that it affects about two in 100,000 people. I only remembered that it came on quickly and could have devastating effects, which I was experiencing already.

The consulting physician at Antigua’s small private hospital [...] continue the story