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Graduate suffers agonising pain every time she washes

An ultra-rare pain disorder causes a graduate so much discomfort she has to shower ‘like s starfish’ to avoid water touching her skin and even a light breeze leaves her in agony.

Abi Harmer, 22, from Whitstable, Kent, mysteriously woke one day with such sensitive skin she is unable to sleep and has to use crutches to get around.

After months of doctors being clueless as to what was causing Ms Harmer’s agonising discomfort, with some even suggesting it was psychological, she was eventually diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) while still at university.

She said: ‘I usually tell my friends it feels like the affected area is in a bucket of ice-cold water.

‘But, instead of moving it, when you can’t stand it any longer, you just have to keep it there.

Despite her ordeal, Ms Harmer graduated from Canterbury Christ Church university last September and is slowly reintroducing the sensation of fabric and water on her skin.

She is speaking out to raise awareness of the condition and support other sufferers. 

Abi Harmer (pictured on her graduation day) suffers from an incurable rare pain disorder that leaves her in agonising discomfort every time she washes or gets dressed

Ms Harmer (pictured right) woke one day with such sensitive skin she is unable to sleep

Ms Harmer (pictured right) woke one day with such sensitive skin she is unable to sleep

Ms Harmer endured months of excruciating pain before eventually being diagnosed, with doctors initially thinking her discomfort may be psychological (pictured in hospital)

Ms Harmer endured months of excruciating pain before eventually being diagnosed, with doctors initially thinking her discomfort may be psychological (pictured in hospital)

‘I get two-to-five hours sleep a night because of the pain’

Ms Harmer woke one morning in January 2015 to find she had completely lost the use of her left hand. 

She first noticed something was wrong in the beginning of the year when she experienced what felt like water trickling down the inside of her arm and hand.

Ms Harmer initially put it down to the cold weather, however, on January 27, she woke with a burning sensation in her arm.

Her GP referred her for an urgent MRI scan at Kent and Canterbury hospital to check whether she was suffering from trapped nerves. 

Yet, the results suggested there was nothing to be concerned about, with certain doctors even questioning whether the pain was psychological.

A frustrated Ms Harmer said: ‘It was getting worse and worse and I developed a skin sensitivity that was so bad, I couldn’t even stand my clothes touching it. Any sensation at all was awful. 

‘I usually tell my friends it feels like the affected area is in a bucket of ice-cold water.

‘But, instead of moving it, when you can’t stand it any longer, you just have to keep it there. 

‘When I wash, I have to try to keep my foot and arm out of the water because it’s so painful. I have to hold them out and my body is in a star position.

‘My sleep is one of the things that is affected the most. I get about two-to-five hours a night because of the pain. I struggle to get to sleep and then if my limbs rub against the sheets or the pillow, it wakes me up again.’

Over the next four months, the pain grew steadily worse until, eventually, Ms Harmer struggled to stand and had to use crutches with just one hand. 

In May, Ms Harmer saw a physiotherapist to try to regain movement. After explaining her condition, he said she may have CRPS, which Ms Harmer researched online and found the symptoms matched her own.

In mid-August, she had an appointment to see a specialist at central London’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, who officially diagnosed her.

Ms Harmer woke  in January 2015 to find she had completely lost the use of her left hand

Ms Harmer woke in January 2015 to find she had completely lost the use of her left hand

The pain is so severe Ms Harmer is forced to walk with a crutch using just one hand

The pain is so severe Ms Harmer is forced to walk with a crutch using just one hand

‘I was scared I wouldn’t ever be able to walk again’

After months of uncertainty, Ms Harmer was relieved to finally be told what was causing her symptoms, but is aware some sufferers never improve.

She said: ‘I was only in my 20s and still at uni, so I was scared because I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to walk or use my hand properly again.

‘I was left-handed, so it meant I had to learn to do all sorts of things again. I had to learn to write with my right hand, eat and even do stupid things like brush my teeth.

‘My parents Claire and Mark, both 50, have had to help me wash as I can only use one hand now. I couldn’t do it without them.’

‘It looks like I have been burnt’ 

Despite her ordeal, Ms Harmer finished her religion, philosophy and ethics degree.

She has also been working to desensitise the areas affected by CRPS.

Ms Harmer said: ‘I can’t let any chemicals touch my skin or it comes out in a rash that looks like I have been burnt.

‘I have been introducing water and I have little patches of fabric that I have slowly introduced, which means now I am able to wear clothes over it. It means I can go out more as I can protect it from things like the wind or rain that cause a lot of pain.

‘My parents are amazing at looking after me and taking me anywhere I need to go, but it’s difficult to do things like going out with my friends. 

‘My pain is really unpredictable and I don’t want to take so many strong painkillers that I don’t know what is going on.’

Ms Harmer is managing her pain using ketamine infusions but doctors are considering whether to try spinal stimulation, which sends electrical impulses into the spine. 

Ms Harmer likens the pain to putting her hand in ice-cold water without ever removing it

Ms Harmer likens the pain to putting her hand in ice-cold water without ever removing it

Her skin is so sensitive even rubbing it against bed sheets causes her to wake up in agony

Her skin is so sensitive even rubbing it against bed sheets causes her to wake up in agony

Despite her ordeal, Ms Harmer (pictured left) graduated from university last September, and is slowly reintroducing the sensation of fabric and water on her skin

Despite her ordeal, Ms Harmer (pictured left) graduated from university last September, and is slowly reintroducing the sensation of fabric and water on her skin

‘Even medical staff don’t understand the condition’ 

The graduate is now speaking out to raise awareness of the condition, even among doctors.

Ms Harmer said: ‘I don’t think people, even medical staff, really understand the condition. 

‘For me, it was hard because I didn’t have any sort of injury, which is quite unusual, and it took a while to get a diagnosis. 

‘I’ve met a whole community of people online with the condition and we all support each other. It’s great to have people out there who really understand the level of the pain.’ 



Read more at DailyMail.co.uk