Race for Time // My husband’s body was being overtaken by paralysis limb by limb

As told to Chaya Gross

A couple of weeks before my son’s wedding my husband told me that he was feeling a bit numb.

“Numb?” I asked in surprise. “What do you mean?”

“The soles of my feet and the palms of my hands feel weird,” he explained. He admitted that he had been feeling that way for the past couple of days.

I knew that when my husband says he is not feeling well, it was something to worry about, because he’s not the kind of person who complains. I was concerned about a stroke, aware that numbness can be one of the warning signs.

To my relief, our doctor ruled out a stroke. “It can’t be a stroke because the numbness isn’t only on one side. Just keep an eye on the situation.”

But the numbness wouldn’t go away. In fact, it got worse. An hour before Shabbos my husband told me that he wasn’t comfortable going into Shabbos feeling the way he did. With no doctors’ offices open so close to Shabbos, we went to the local urgent-care facility. The doctor took one look at my husband and ordered a car service to take us to the emergency room. “You’d better get to the hospital ASAP. It could be a stroke,” he said in a urgent tone.”

At the hospital, they took a CAT scan and numerous other tests. Everything came back fine, and we were given the all-clear to go home. When the urgent-care doctor heard that all the tests had come back negative, he was still concerned and advised us to see a neurologist.

The neurologist did something called an electromyography test, which is used to detect neuromuscular abnormalities. When it came back normal, he sent us for an MRI. The MRI showed that my husband had a herniated disc that could be treated by a chiropractor. We were ecstatic to have found the cause of the problem. After a lot of research, we found a good chiropractor and booked an appointment.

The day after his first chiropractic treatment, my husband started to feel a little better. We breathed a sigh of relief, but he soon began to feel worse. The next test was an MRI on the brain, but it came back clean. A short time later my husband started to have difficulty navigating the stairs. He could hardly walk. At that point he had undergone two MRIs and an EMG and he’d seen a chiropractor, but he was still getting worse. The numbness was spreading throughout his body. We had no idea what to do next.

I called Mrs. Chana Breindel Landau of Refuah Helpline, with whom I had been in touch since the beginning, and she made an appointment for us with a neurosurgeon the following Monday.

That Shabbos, my husband whispered to me that he couldn’t sit at the table anymore and went up to bed. I continued the seudah with the children, checking up on my husband every few minutes. At some point his breath became shallow. “I’m having a hard time breathing,” he rasped. “The numbness is spreading to my neck.”

I knew we had to get to the emergency room quickly, so I called Hatzalah. The volunteer who showed up was an acquaintance of my husband’s and he started joking around to diffuse the tension, but he soon recognized the gravity of the situation and had an ambulance speed off to Columbia Presbyterian. There the emergency-room staff was baffled, until one young doctor suggested a spinal tap—and that’s how they discovered my husband was suffering from Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). GBS is a rare neurological disorder in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks part of the peripheral nervous system, which consists of the nerves that are located outside the brain and spinal cord.

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