Determination breeds inspiration to handle fibromyalgia

Woman, 77, manages chronic pain by getting in pool 5 days a week

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter



Teckla Shaylor didn’t grow up with much.

Shaylor — the ninth of 13 children — was born in Wisconsin to her daddy, who was a railroad guy, and her mama, a woman devoted to her kids and the church. In November 1946, the family moved to North Dakota in a box car.

They lived in that box car for a month because their home wasn’t ready. Kids from the nearby town of Drake, N.D., would trek outside of town to get a glimpse of the poor family living in a box car.

“We weren’t rich at all,” Shaylor said. “We had some really skimpy Christmases.”

But that never deterred Shaylor and her siblings from having a good time.

One year, they decorated a branchy tree missing its pine needles with tin cans and ribbon. One of Shaylor’s older sisters used baby-sitting money to buy a couple of candy bars. She cut the chocolate into smaller pieces and wrapped them in tissue — one for each of her siblings.

“We always had a really, really happy childhood,” Shaylor said. “I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything.”

Shaylor’s positive attitude and the stories of her childhood have earned her a following of admirers, people who say they’re blessed to have the 77-year-old in their lives.

“I’ve known her a number of years, and my life has been enhanced because of it,” said her friend Myrtie Sullivan.

“Teckla is a treasure to know,” she added.

Shaylor and Sullivan got to know each other in the lap pool at the Marshall Community Center. Shaylor has made it a point to work out regularly in a pool for the past 15 years. She uses the pool as a way to manage the chronic pain that can, at times, make leaving her bed impossible.

For Sullivan, who also swims to help with pain, seeing Shaylor working out every morning provides a dose of optimism. Shaylor has valid reasons to be despondent and overwhelmed by the cards she’s been dealt, Sullivan said, but she maintains a positive attitude.

“She sets an example of behavior that represents grace through life’s trials, with hope and expectation of a positive outcome,” Sullivan said.

Fibromyalgia strikes

Shaylor, then in her mid-50s, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1995.

“I was always a really hard worker,” she said. “I think I overworked my body, now that I look back on it.”

Growing up, Shaylor would babysit kids and mow lawns to make money. As an adult, she operated her own cleaning service and, when she first moved to Washington, worked as a fish clipper, counting fish and clipping their fins. She went to beauty school and launched her own salon-on-wheels business.

Later, she went to work for Vancouver Public Schools, where she cooked meals for 1,500 to 2,000 kids every day.

In 1995, though, Shaylor began experiencing pain and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. She took medication to manage her pain, but over the years, the pain worsened. After work, Shaylor would come home and put her legs in 5-gallon buckets full of ice water to soothe her legs.

Then, one morning in 2000, Shaylor tried to get out of bed and realized she couldn’t lift her arms. She was in severe pain and feared she was having a stroke.

Shaylor tried treatments and trials but couldn’t find relief. She would lie in bed as every muscle from her toes to her head tightened and seized. Doctors identified the episodes as a condition called complex muscle discharge.

“Overnight, my whole world fell apart,” she said.

Shaylor went on disability, took pain management classes and medications, wore leg braces and was forced to use a walker.

“I just went cripple over night,” she said.

But Shaylor told her husband, Merle, that she wouldn’t live her life from her bed.

“I told Merle, ‘I can’t live like this. I’m going to go to the pool. I’m going to get well,’ ” Shaylor said.

So, she did.

That first day, Shaylor walked into the Propstra Aquatic Center and spent 15 minutes in the warm water of the therapy pool. Slowly, she increased her time in the water to 30 minutes, then 45, then an hour. After the time in the warm water, she would hop into the cooler lap pool.

Each day, Shaylor noticed she could do a little more physically. She could move easier. The painful episodes came less frequently. After two to three years of near-daily workouts, Shaylor was able to shed the knee-high leg braces and the walker. Instead, she uses only a cane to help with balance.

Shaylor has continued those workouts five days a week at the Marshall Center. Every weekday, Shaylor wakes at 5:30 a.m. and is at the center from 7 to 9:30 a.m. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, she does water aerobics classes. Tuesdays and Thursdays, she and a friend do their own pool workouts.

“Every morning, I set that alarm clock because I know how good I’m going to feel when I get in that water,” Shaylor said.

“I come home, and I’m just raring to go,” she added.

If not for the pool workouts, Shaylor is convinced she would be limited physically. The “electrical storms,” as she calls them, make it impossible to move and leave her muscles aching after.

“I would be absolutely full of pain,” she said.

The episodes are less frequent, but they’ll never go away completely, Shaylor said. That’s why, she said, she’s stays as active as possible — to make the pain more manageable.

That determination is what makes Shaylor an inspiration to Sullivan and others at the Marshall Center, a role Shaylor is happy to fill.

“I like to inspire people because life is so short,” Shaylor said. “You have to live it to the fullest.”