Intended for healthcare professionals

Views And Reviews

The glass cage

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 19 March 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:797
  1. C Fleming

    I live in a glass cage. Often I seem to be well, so only those close to me see the extent of my disability. Indeed, within my prison of inactivity, there are moments when I feel relatively well. Yet the invisible walls around me are impenetrable. Beyond them lies a barrage of symptoms and the further I push myself, the greater the deterioration and the longer the recovery time: hours, days, even weeks.

    My cage is myalgic encephalomyelitis, one of the chronic fatigue syndromes. I was a general practitioner when the first symptoms appeared three years ago, shortly after I was immunised against hepatitis B. The following month I developed glandular fever and my illness began in earnest, with multiple symptoms, which continually varied in intensity: sore throat, swollen glands, fatigue, “brain fog,” malaise, myalgia, muscle fatigue, fasciculation, sweats, postural hypotension, alcohol intolerance, poor concentration and memory, emotional lability, and loss of atopic response.

    Words can lie comfortably on the page, distanced by medical terminology. But this list invaded my life. Myalgia: the pain and exhaustion of the walk from my bed to the bathroom took half an hour to subside. Fatigue: my husband carried me downstairs for Sunday lunch but after one course I fell asleep, exhausted. Poor concentration: reading or watching television was often impossible. Emotional lability: at random my usual …

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