Philip Jordan: 'If I had the dizziness and numbness on its own, I wouldn't even have gone near a doctor, it wouldn't have entered my head...'
FOUR-time Allstar former Tyrone footballer Philip Jordan has urged people to be vigilant of the possible symptoms of multiple sclerosis after two health scares since 2019.
The Moy man, widely regarded as one of the best wing-backs in Gaelic football history, was thankfully given the all-clear but said that after the second incident occurred, he was “99 per cent sure” he was going to be diagnosed with MS.
He had exhibited two of the most common symptoms but brain scans not only showed no indication of the disease, but suggested he is at reduced risk in future.
MS is an auto-immune condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of symptoms.
It is possible to treat symptoms and its effects can vary in each case, but there is no cure.
Philip Jordan knew practically nothing of the illness until early November 2018, when he woke up one Wednesday morning with a headache.
He had laser eye surgery in the days afterwards but the pain persisted until, having visited his GP several times the week later, he left work on the Friday afternoon and was told by his doctor to go to A&E.
They placed him on three different drips and it was only when the last one had finished that any relief came. He was discharged just after 3am and drove back to Belfast the following morning for a routine check-up for his eye surgery.
“There was a wee book they show you as one of the tests, there were numbers among wee pixels and I couldn’t see the numbers at all.”
He returned to the Royal Victoria Hospital and after more tests was diagnosed as having optic neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve.
“They went away to get a more senior doctor and, as you do, I decided to Google what optic neuritis was. It’s an inflammation of your optic line, and the second line says it’s one of the first symptoms of MS.
“It’s like a hammer hitting you. You’re going ‘Christ almighty, what is this?’”
He was referred to a neurologist who informed him the chances that it was a sign of multiple sclerosis was “more than 50 per cent”.
“I went down and the first thing they said was ‘have you Googled it?’ ‘Yeah’ ‘Well then you know what it could potentially be’.
“They sent me for a brain scan the next day and two weeks later I went back to see the neurologist and thankfully, the scan was all-clear. It was just complete and utter relief.”
Having gone from knowing nothing about MS to the torture of thinking he might have it, his awareness of the condition was heightened.
He was brought back for another brain scan six months later and that showed up clear too, giving him peace of mind in the summer of 2019.
But one night last June, he woke up in the middle of the night with a shooting pain in his back and when he turned on to his right side “the whole room was completely spinning”.
The following morning, his right leg had gone numb. Even though he was aware that numbness was another potential symptom of MS from his reading after the first scare, and that a second episode of any kind was something doctors looked out for, he put it to the back of his mind.
But while visiting the physio a few days later to have a bad shoulder looked at, he mentioned the discomfort of a few nights previous. The physio did some tests that were “ringing a bell” and told him to go back to his GP.
The doctor agreeing to see him in person during the middle of a pandemic was worrisome enough. He sent a note back to the neurologist and with a wait time of around a week, Jordan had plenty of thinking time.
WHEN he went to see a shoulder specialist for an injection in between times, there was no prior knowledge of the first bout but when the dizziness and numbness was mentioned, the specialist said he’d send Jordan for a brain scan as well as a shoulder scan.
“He didn’t know the history of the first time. Then I said to him about the previous scare and he said the first thing came into his head, even without knowing that, was MS.
“At that point, I was convinced I had it. I thought this is certain, this is the second episode, there’s no doubt.
“I was 99 per cent sure I had it.”
It was a long few weeks until the results of the scan came back. He was so convinced by the fact it was a second episode and the gut reaction of the medical professionals he’d seen that he’d even started to prepare how to break the news to his family.
He told one friend during that spell, and that was the only other person who knew. A few people knew of the optical neuritis 18 months earlier, but he didn’t even tell his parents of the potential link to MS at the time.
“It’s one of those things I could suffer on my own and people weren’t able to pick my mood as much in the house.
“You put on a brave face at work when you’re wondering what it is, but when you’re at home you can sulk and be depressed and shed a few tears if you need to where nobody was able to see it, then get the brave face on for work.
“I had to do that for a couple of weeks but thankfully it worked out in the end.”
As he sat in the waiting room before the results came back the first time in November 2018, the thoughts raced through his head. The second time, it was a phonecall from the shoulder specialist who simply told him: ‘Good news’.
His brain scans had come back clear a third time.
“The relief that day was huge.”
For Philip Jordan, the message is simply to be aware of the signs. He admits that had the numbness episode happened first, he probably wouldn’t have gone to the doctor given that it faded fairly quickly.
The optic neuritis – “you wouldn’t have wished the pain of it on anyone” – would have forced him to A&E at some point, but they had sent him home that night with anti-inflammatories and steroids to settle it down.
It was only because of the follow-up laser eye surgery appointment that he ended up going back the following day and being referred for a brain scan.
He was very lucky in so many ways. His own awareness to go and get checked, particularly on the second occasion, was massively heightened by having become aware of the symptoms.
“My first episode was that extreme that I had to go to A&E. If I had the dizziness and numbness on its own, I wouldn’t even have gone near a doctor, it wouldn’t have entered my head.
“That’s the lesson for me – if it had happened in reverse, I wouldn’t have got it checked out. It was nothing to do with MS but I’m sure there’s plenty of people would think the back pain and the dizziness is away fairly quickly, there’s a bit of numbness that will clear and don’t think much of it.
“Ultimately that could be something that’s more severe, and it’s just to be aware of what it could potentially be.”