INSTEAD of planning her 40th birthday party five years ago, Ruth Shaw had another, more daunting project to face. She had to learn to walk again. A viral infection, Transverse Myelitis, had rendered her limbs helpless.
“June 26, 2013, is a date forever etched in my mind,” says Ruth, from Passage West, who works in retail.
“I was back home from a shopping trip to the Kildare Village outlet centre,” says Ruth, who is a follower and a fan of fashion, working part-time in the Douglas boutique, ‘itsome’.
“I went to bed around 11pm or 12am,” says Ruth. “My legs started to shake and I had severe back pain which was unusual.”
What was a minor thing turned into a catastrophe.
Transverse Myelitis is extremely rare, published incidences are one to five in a million.
“I had no power through my right leg and that feeling spread to my left leg,” says Ruth.
“I thought it was bizarre, but I didn’t think that it was anything serious.”
Aware her mother might worry if she alerted her, Ruth rang her brother, John, at 6am.
“He has taken every step with me,” says Ruth. “John took me to CUH where I had to use a wheelchair. I had numerous blood tests done and an MRI.”
What was going through her head then?
“I imagined had tumours or maybe MS,” says Ruth. “Either way, I knew I was in trouble.”
Ruth had contracted the neurological disorder, Transverse Myelitis, a viral infection causing inflammation to the spine and interrupted messages to the brain.
She was in big trouble.
“From T10, the vertebrae at the base of the spine, I was paralysed,” she says.
“My bowel and bladder shut down. It was a 50/50 chance if I’d make it or not. The more sudden the onset of the virus, the worse the recovery process.”
What was the next process for Ruth, who was in a daze from the unexplained paralysis that had struck her body?
“I was given an intravenous drip with steroids to reduce the inflammation,” she says.
She was reduced to a helpless infant again.
“I was like a baby, the damage to my legs was immense,” recalls Ruth. “I had to have intensive physiotherapy for two hours every morning.
“I had a colostomy bag and I had to wear pads. I should have been planning my 40th birthday bash.”
Instead, Ruth had a major battle ahead of her.
“No-one knew how to react,” says Ruth. “I didn’t know how to react. The neurologist said my recovery was 95% mental and 5% physical.”
Ruth got battle-ready.
“I went from using a wheeled gutter frame to two crutches to two walking sticks, then to one walking-stick unaided.”
It was an uphill battle, requiring steely determination and a can-do attitude. Ruth had both in spades.
“I didn’t want to go to the NRH (National Rehabilitation Hospital),” says Ruth. “My physiotherapist advised that I should. It was the right decision. I got the tools there that I needed to try and recover.”
But the journey back to health and mobility seemed never-ending.
“There were some very dark days,” admits Ruth. “The rehabilitation I had to go through was very tough and it was very daunting. It tested me to the limits. The panic was often unbearable, it was horrendous.
“Some days I felt like screaming with the pain. I learned to cope with the coping mechanisms I learned. I knew that I was one of the lucky ones.”
She had people cheering her towards the finish line.
“My brothers and my sister were really supportive,” says Ruth.
“I knew if they fell apart, then I’d fall apart. My mum, who is 84, never cried. She is from a tough generation!”
And the determined, tough family trait saw Mrs Shaw’s daughter rally slowly, but surely.
“Every day was a physical challenge,” says Ruth.
She rose to that challenge.
“I was used to getting up every day, putting on my make-up and going to work,” says Ruth.
“In the NRH, I wondered why the psychologist didn’t come near me when she saw everyone else. One day I asked her and she said, ‘But you get up every morning and get ready for the day! That is a very good thing’. They were the first steps on the road to recovery.
“I found a strength of character I never knew I had,” says Ruth. “I never gave up. My life had turned upside down just out of the blue. A nurse had to wash me, I was so weak. But I picked myself up again and again.”
And she kept her game face on.
“When the neurologist woke me up every morning to go through the gruelling exercise regimes, I was always smiling,” says Ruth.
“I had a complete mask fronting the feeling that deep-down, I was falling apart. It was a roller-coaster of emotions.”
She dug down deep into reserves she never knew she had.
“You realise what you can and cannot do,” says Ruth, who today has driven herself from her home to meet me, and who looks a million dollars.
“You learn to live a different way.”
This remarkable lady certainly has learned to live a different way, with some help from her friends.
“My first contact with Spinal Injuries Ireland was when I was a patient in the NRH,” says Ruth.
“At home, I was put in contact with Outreach officer, Phillipa, who has been a great help to me. She sorted out my disability as
The Cork Jazz Ball in aid of Spinal Injuries Ireland takes place in the Clayton Springs Hotel on Saturday, October 27. Prosecco reception, four-course meal with wine. Prizes, music by Thank Funk and dancing.