Elaine Muldoon - Honour Your Heroes

Tuesday, 18 February, 2020

Elaine Muldoon recalls her symptoms beginning on a Thursday in August 2016. She was at home when she began experiencing unexplained pains in her arms. She put up with the pain for a number of days but by the weekend she could barely move so that Monday she went to see her GP who sent her for a CT scan in her local hospital.

Two days later, the pain had become unbearable and her GP advised her to go straight to the ED at Beaumont Hospital where she was admitted for further tests. In the following days, Elaine underwent a barrage of tests and scans but her condition continued to go downhill and by Sunday she no longer had power in her legs. She was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, the symptoms of which usually begin in the feet and spread upward through the body. In Elaine’s case, the presentation was different which delayed her diagnosis. A week later, Elaine’s body began to shut down. She was moved from the high dependency unit on St Brigid’s Ward to Richmond ICU where she was intubated when her lungs stopped working. Elaine then lost the ability to speak and began to communicate with her eyes.

Throughout all of this, Elaine was in terrible pain and on the highest doses of pain medication possible. As a result, she spent many months unaware of what was happening to her and the first memory she has is celebrations for her daughter’s 18th birthday party in November which the family held with her in the ICU. Elaine also remembers her family being with her on Christmas Day and the staff pushing her bed in to a room decorated with a Christmas tree and lit up with Christmas lights.

Elaine contracted pneumonia twice while she was intubated and each time the medical staff believed she wouldn’t make it. However in May 2017, Elaine began to show signs of improvement. She remembers the first sensation was her thumb flicking constantly as her nervous system began to reboot and she was stepped down from RICU for the first time in almost nine months. Each day, hospital staff would remove her breathing tube for a time, leaving it out for longer and longer until she was finally breathing on her own again.

Elaine went on to spend four months in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire before going home with the use of a walker. She followed her physio programme religiously and went swimming to build up her strength and today, she is fully recovered, something that medical professionals regard as nothing short of a miracle. The only lasting impact of the syndrome is that the feeling in her feet did not return and she is left with a permanent numbness. However, that has not stopped her from driving, swimming and walking again and she is back living her life to a level that she describes as “100%”.

Other than being on a lot of medication, Elaine now lives her life much as it was before she contacted the syndrome.

Elaine is thanking Dr Margaret O’Brien, Neurologist, Siobhan Tierney Pike CNM3 in ITU, and Pedro Vasquez, Senior Physiotherapist in Critical Care.