Anna's deterioration was rapid and unrelenting. One moment the pretty, young Scandinavian woman was at the peak of youthful vitality, newly married and excited about the future. The next, that future was much diminished, her life limited to the environs of her bedroom, and dictated to by the illness that had overwhelmed her.
It had started with persistent fatigue, muscle pain, and a growing sensitivity to light after a honeymoon trip to Mexico in the summer of 2006. By December, she was in a wheelchair. Three months later she was bedridden, her face pale, her features shrunken, barely able to move or talk, and being fed through a naso-gastric tube.
Anna – not her real name as her identity is being protected at the request of her family – was the subject of a short film shown at a conference in London last week. Her case, according to Professor Kenny De Meirleir of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium, illustrates the worst ravages of myalgic encephalomyelitis/encephalopathy or ME, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome or post viral fatigue syndrome.
Once it was derided as "yuppie flu" because, following its emergence in the early Eighties, its "typical" victim was, supposedly, a high-achieving young professional. ME was also assumed by many doctors, and much of the public, to be psychosomatic in origin – if it existed at all.
In more enlightened times, ME is now accepted by the World Health Organisation, and Britain's medical royal colleges, as a complex, chronic disease of varying severity characterised by a complex set of symptoms. (In addition to extreme fatigue, and general malaise, there are musco-skeletal symptoms, especially muscle pain, brain and central nervous symptoms, evidence of immune system dysfunction, mood swings, depression etc.) According to the ME Association, there are 250,000 sufferers in Britain.