As she sat in a rocking chair, perspiration drenched her head and upper body, soaking her shirt and dripping onto the 4-week-old infant.
“I burst into tears,” Ruddock recalled. “All I can remember is the feeling that I’m wet, this poor baby’s wet and a moment you should always remember is ruined. You’re never going to get it back. “
For Ruddock, that event precipitated a suicidal depression. For the previous eight years she had undergone tests, taken drugs and endured the bafflement — and skepticism — of a parade of doctors she consulted about the extreme, unpredictable sweating that engulfed her head and upper body.
After confiding her despair to a relative, she began seeing a psychiatrist. By chance, a few months later she learned about a woman whose experience mirrored her own and provided her a much-needed road map.
“It’s a fascinoma,” said retired Washington internist Charles Abrams, using the medical slang for an unusual — or unusually interesting — case. “You usually hate for patients to come in and say, ‘I found this on the Internet,’ ” said Abrams, who treated Ruddock until his retirement last year. “But every once in a while, something is brought to your attention.”
‘Not what the rest of us get’
Ruddock, whose husband, Frank, is a Canadian diplomat, had tried to live with what she assumed were hot flashes, which began sometime in 2001.
While sitting at a friend’s cottage that summer, Ruddock suddenly experienced a drenching five-minute episode.
“What was that?” her friend asked, concerned. Ruddock, who had not experienced a similar problem while living in three African countries to which her husband had been posted, replied that she assumed it was a classic symptom of menopause.
“That’s not what the rest of us get,” Ruddock remembers her friend saying. “What does your doctor say?”
Ruddock hadn’t consulted her doctor, assuming that the episodes — which ranged in severity and lasted from a few seconds to more than five minutes — would dissipate with time. But after a year the sweating showed no sign of abating and she became increasingly embarrassed when it occurred in public.
She saw her longtime general practitioner in Ottawa, where her family was then living. The doctor performed a complete physical but found nothing amiss. Ruddock was prescribed hormone replacement therapy, which is sometimes used to treat severe hot flashes. When the first drug failed to help, she began taking a second, which didn’t seem to do much, either.
Ruddock kept a symptom diary, but noticed no pattern: Her sweating was not triggered by temperature, stress, activity level or time of day. And unlike many menopausal women, she never experienced night sweats. Some weeks were better than others, containing days with only mild episodes, while at other times the sweating was so severe, Ruddock said, that “I looked like I just stepped out of the shower.”