“Maybe you have MS” – by Dr. Susan Payrovi

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Even doctors get MS.  So why the shocked when I received MY diagnosis in 2011?  I was in the prime of my life, finally done with medical training, recently married, and enamored by my new baby. I felt invincible, working around the clock caring for my little boy and practicing anesthesia full time.  Accustomed to working 80 hours + per week, I prided myself on not needing sleep, subsisting on free hospital food, and getting in my daily cardio by practicing anesthesia at a Los Angeles trauma hospital.  I didn’t smoke.  I didn’t drink.  I was the healthiest person in my family.  Until I wasn’t.

Just one month into motherhood, I missed work (adrenaline) terribly so I went back. Immediately, I noticed I was having trouble hanging IV bags and holding up my arms over a sterile field.   One day I dropped an entire tray loaded with hospital food, which was the first time I thought something was wrong.  I kept telling doctors my left arm was weak, but it was all chalked up to painful wrist tendonitis I had developed from holding and nursing that sweet baby. But I remembered clearly from medical school that weakness was NOT a good neurological sign so I started my tour of neurologists who chalked it all up to motherhood. The fourth neurologist actually told me it was all in my head, which ironically was totally accurate.  

It wasn’t until my mentor, a plastic surgeon casually said “Maybe you have MS” that I felt the warm rush of knowing spread through my body because I knew he nailed it. I was too close to the problem to see it (which is why doctors should never play doctor to themselves or their family members).  I called my primary doctor, who ordered the MRI. I got the phone call from her at 4 pm on a Friday, telling me I have MS, and then asking if I was OK. I was standing in the OR, with a patient under anesthesia, and my mind went blank as the gravity of the news seeped in.

I was actually relieved that after 6 months of symptoms I finally had an answer. I remember thinking “I’m glad it’s not THAT disease. Did I just make a terrible decision having a child? What if I can’t take care of my kids, or worse, can’t brush my hair to teeth by myself?  Would I rather lose function in an arm or a leg?” 

It took about 6 months for the hopelessness and bargaining to calm down as I transitioned to acceptance and could finally think straight.  I quietly broke up with anesthesia because clearly it was malpractice to care for patients in the OR with a weak left arm.  

This was the beginning of a series of training and board certifications as I tried to find my new home in medicine.  It wasn’t until I landed at an integrative medicine conference that the course of my life and career changed. I learned evidence-based strategies to counter autoimmunity – tools I never learned in medical school, which actually ended up having the biggest impact on my symptoms. Within a couple of years, I regained most of the strength in my arm. Most importantly, II developed the belief that if I take the best care possible of my body, I will be OK.

My advice to anyone newly diagnosed is to take in the words of Rumi: “The wound is where the light enters you.”  Be curious and hopeful about what is possible, and then do the work to get there. Belief supersedes any therapy out there so if you can see it, you have a shot at getting there.  Seek the knowledge you need to find your way and take an active role in your care.  Strive for comprehensive care that includes lifestyle strategies in addition to your neurology care to get the best possible outcome.


Things I do to manage My MS

  1. Aim for 8-9 hours of sleep per night, asleep by 10 pm
  2. Move my body everyday, even if it’s a 5 minute yoga routine
  3. Limit my errands to on more than 2-3 per day
  4. Engage in work that I love that inspires me every day
  5. Let go of negative thoughts, beliefs, situations, people, information

Favorite Books:
Nothing Grows By Moonlight by Torborg Nedreaas
Paleovedic by Dr. Akil Palanisamy
Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Favorite Diet:
Anything plant based, organic, fresh

Must check out:
MS.Understood podcast
MS Confidential And art by Elizabeth Jameson

Susan Payrovi

Instagram: @truemedicinems