Living with RLS

About 10% of the population is estimated to be affected by Restless Legs Syndrome, (RLS), also known as Ekbom’s syndrome. A more precise figure for the number affected is difficult to obtain, for many sufferers will not even be aware they have a problem. You could go for months with no indication at all, then one morning you are greeted by your partner with the words

“Why did you kick me last night?”

You stare at them in disbelief. “Kick you? I did no such thing!” you protest, but in all probability you did exactly that. The difficulty is that you were asleep at the time, and of course don’t remember kicking them. But sure enough, there will be some sign of physical contact by a fast-moving foot to verify their story.

You splutter an apology, perhaps an abject one – depending on how remorseful you feel at the time – and then forget all about it. Or perhaps you are not feeling remorseful at all, and brashly state that it is an expression of your “caveman instinct”, and better to be kicked than beaten about the head with a big club, and subsequently dragged away by the hair. (Not an approach I would recommend, particularly).

However you choose to handle the odd incident, it is quickly forgotten unless serious injury has been done to either yourself or your partner. This can happen!

Imagine that instead of kicking your partner, you kick the wall – and hard.

In a flash, you will be wide awake, I guarantee it.

The pain will be excruciating, I guarantee that too.

At this point I recommend stillness. You may find breathing quietly requires intense concentration, but as your partner has not been victimised this time, it would be a shame to wake them. In the meantime, while waiting for the pain to subside to tolerable levels, try to mentally explore the state of your foot, without actually moving. Can you feel that all the parts are still there, and in their normal positions?

If all seems well, gently uncover the foot, and if there is not enough light to inspect it visually, lightly run your fingers over it to confirm if your mental estimate was correct. If you need to hobble to a light switch, you may well have to wait a few minutes more to be able to do that.

Now, with the light on, make a more thorough inspection. Is anything broken? Can you wiggle all the toes? Any cuts, or abrasions to the skin? Does anything unusual poke through the skin?

If you are fortunate, your foot will look more or less normal for a while, but two things will change shortly – it will get bigger, and its colour will become darker.

So, what to do with the rest of the night? You will probably not bother to try to sleep, the pain will not let you anyway. You could try some powerful painkillers if you absolutely must, but you may find it more practical to make better use of the time. There is, for example the question of prevention to be considered.

Prevention? Of course. What is the very last thing in the world you need within the next few days, until your foot has completely recovered? Yes – now you are catching on – another kick at the wall!

Experience suggests that RLS-sufferers, beds and walls do not mix very well. If you can move your bed away from the wall altogether, that is the solution you would normally choose. If you cannot move the bed, then you should sleep on the side furthest from the wall, and let your long-suffering partner continue to buffer you from the worst of your excesses.

Do not, however, fall into the trap of thinking that by moving your bed away from the wall, all your troubles are now over!

Imagine what happens when, in sleep, you take a good swing with your leg, and it meets no resistance at all… the momentum of the swing could be enough to tip you completely over the edge, and you end up on the floor.

This cannot be guaranteed, there are too many variables, but it has been known to happen. The problem here could well be much more serious than a damaged foot. Statistics show that the life expectancy of an older person with a broken hip is about 6 months, if they are lucky, and I hate to think what they suffer during that time.

At this point there are some further options you could consider.

A) Remove the bed completely, and just put the mattress straight on the floor. If you have surplus cash, you could buy a Japanese futon, which is effectively the same thing. (If you don’t have the cash, just tell everybody you are changing your lifestyle to Japanese if it is a sensitive issue).

B) Install deep padding on the floor, or perhaps you want to go the whole hog, and install padding wall-to-wall, a la “padded cell”.

C) Try a hammock. I understand that sailors used to sleep well enough in them, so why not RLS-sufferers?

Of course, there could be a further difficulty to all of this – your long-suffering partner. To be reasonable, they should be in agreement with the solution you finally choose to adopt, and I hardly think a hammock would be acceptable. If this proves to be problematic, you have one further option – consult your doctor. There are medical treatments available, but here I can make no comment, as I have no experience of them.

And when the time comes for you to finally depart for “the great unknown”, you might like to play it safe, and order a padded coffin?

In fact, you could get it early, and try it out – you know – get used to it – like ‘breaking in’ a new pair of shoes. You might just find it is the answer to all of your troubles. Mind you, in this case, your neighbours might need a lot of convincing when you tell them you are adopting a Japanese lifestyle.

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