In 2007, Judith Teys was 59 years old, very healthy, married with a devoted husband of 38 years, two lovely children, grandchildren, and two dogs. She had a great group of family, friends, and neighbours and a job she loved. It was from this lovely life she was pulled out of overnight by Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS).
On Monday the 3rd of April, 2007, Judy woke with a terrible pain in her left arm to her elbow, over the next four days the pain slowly spread through her body. She saw a number of doctors who advised she had a pinched nerve, and that she should go home. Her pain relief was gradually upgraded from nurofen, to panadene forte, to valium, and endone. All with no effect. By Friday, Judy was finding it hard to stand.
On Saturday morning Judy swung her legs over the side of her bed to get up, but fell instantly to the floor. She had no strength in her arms or legs to push herself back up, and was rushed to hospital by her husband.
Judy was x-rayed, had blood taken, put in the ICU, and had a catheter inserted. Several doctors were trying to diagnose her when a neurologist was called in. He asked Judy five questions, said she had GBS, and ordered a transfusion of Intragam (a blood plasma product). Judy had five, three-hour transfusions over five days.
After eight days in the ICU, Judy was taken to a private room where she lay paralysed from the chin down. She spoke with a whisper, taking a gasp of air between each word. She had lost all sense of taste, hated the smell of tea and coffee, and no interest in food. Everyday Judy’s husband fed her jelly, custard and Sustagen drinks, but it wasn’t enough to prevent her losing 10 kilos in the first month of her illness.
As she was completely immobile, Judy had to be hoisted in and out of bed, showered by someone else, and turned regularly to avoid bedsores. Sometimes these actions were comfortable, and sometimes they were very painful. As she lay paralysed in her bed Judy got quite hot, and rotated six wet face cloths over her face and thighs. Most nurses were great and kept wetting the face cloths for her, however one thought it was ‘not necessary’ and refused to – making Judy wait until she had visitors.
Toward the end of April Judy moved to a rehabilitation hospital at Mt Olivet for more specialised care, which is where she stayed for 23 weeks. She went to occupational therapy each morning, 5 days per week to relearn how to hold a spoon, pickup sticks, open pegs, do jigsaw puzzles, and play with plasticine. In later months she would learn how to hold a pen and to try to write, and cook biscuits and pikelets.
Throughout her time at Mt Olivet, Judy’s nerve endings were repairing constantly and she felt unusual sensations throughout her body that she describes as wriggling under her skin.
Judy’s voice slowly came back after weeks of speech therapy. At first she managed to talk without gasping, then spoke in a high-pitched like she was on helium gas, next she adopted a deep, gravely voice, and finally in September she regained her own voice.
Judy stood up for the first time on the 19th of July — four months after her diagnosis. Her husband had to buy shoes two sizes bigger to accommodate her walking splints and the fact that her feet were still very swollen and painful. She also wore ‘moon boots’ to bed each night for two months to correct her 'foot drop'. She slowly graduated to a rollator, then an aluminium frame, and a walker.
Judy is thankful to the dozens of physio patients she met during her stay who helped her get through the daily highs and lows. They provided an internal support system, and gave each other advice and criticism, encouragement and congratulations. Discussion in the dining room consisted of daily bowel successes or failures, and what the doctors, nurses or physios should or should not be doing. Judy especially thanks the many different patients who sat next to her at meal times, many between 80 and 90 years of age, who helped by cutting up her food, holding her cup, adding salt and pepper, and picking her cutlery up off the floor.
Judy had her exit appointment from the hospital on the 30th of October, 2007. In November she stopped using her walking stick, and was able to do light housework, walk her dogs (one at a time), and got her drivers licence back. By January 2008, despite still feeling pins and needles in her feet, Judy was able to return to work one day per week.
In April 2009, two years after her illness started, Judy had increased her work load to three days per week, could walk both her dogs, and get out of the bath and put her stockings on without any help.
During her illness, Judy says that the GBS and CIDP Support Group of south east Queensland was of great help. Click here to visit their website.