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Yet, as Sophia’s treatment by the medical establishment had underlined – she was forcibly sectioned for a spell in 2003 – many doctors handle ME (also known as postviral or chronic fatigue syndrome), as if it were a mental condition. She went up to him and said, “If you hurt the dog again, you can come outside with me.” He didn’t kick the dog after that.’ Criona’s smile wavers.
‘I failed Sophia big-time,’ Criona says in her soft Irish accent. I failed to stop the doctors and psychiatrists sectioning her. ‘I don’t talk about Sophia often.’She remembers the first signs of the drawn-out illness that changed everything in 1998. I went to collect her and halfway back she said she couldn’t continue, the car was making her desperately ill.
I’d be out on the streets crying, because if I cried in the flat she’d hear me.‘She asked me not to let a doctor near her who didn’t agree with the WHO. [Even so] once a week I made a point of asking her, “Would you like me to get the doctor? She ended up outside the bedroom door, listening to Sophia’s laboured breathing.
” and she would say no or shake her head if she couldn’t talk. ‘Her breathing got slower and slower…and then she stopped and I couldn’t go in because if I did it would make her more ill. So I stayed outside the door for a while, and then I went in and out of respect for Sophia I didn’t put on the light.
The coroner ruled that the 32-year-old had died of complications due to myalgic encephalomyelitis, a landmark verdict in the UK. ‘It didn’t occur to me because it was character that was important.
A neuropathologist told the court that Sophia’s spinal cord was inflamed, with three quarters of her sensory cells displaying significant abnormalities. Looking at Sophia’s photograph now, I see she was beautiful but she never traded on it. In the pub one day, this big man was kicking his dog.
When her youngest daughter mysteriously became unwell, she had a feel for the diagnosis. When Mrs Gilderdale was acquitted of murder at Lewes Crown Court earlier this year, Criona was sitting in the public gallery. I think she is a very good person and a very brave mother.’ Lynn Gilderdale had told her parents that she wished to die because of her constant suffering from severe ME, which had left her unable to feed herself or even to speak.
‘Although I’d never nursed anyone with the condition before, looking at Sophia I said, “I think you have ME.”’Eight years later, in 2006, Sophia Mirza’s inquest dramatically supported her mother’s instinct. Her experience had many similarities with that of Sophia, who was a spirited and gifted young art graduate until the condition reduced her horizons to the drawn curtains of a darkened bedroom.‘When they were born, people said to me how beautiful they were,’ Criona says of her four children by her Pakistani ex-husband.
There was no way she would have lied about her condition to stay in such horrible circumstances.’ Initially, the doctors agreed.
Her GP wrote that her symptoms were compatible with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Unable to stand light or noise, she used a wrap for her eyes and ear plugs, and Criona put up heavy black velvet curtains.