So, how did Multiple Sclerosis and I become such intimates? Unlike most of my other intimates, it wasn't over some cheap booze in a noisy saloon...
The first Saturday of March 2003 was a bitterly cold day, with temperatures in the teens. What better time, I thought, to take my best buddy Labrador Retriever pal Stella (who died two years ago, and who I still miss every day) for a long walk along the Hudson. Unlike my wife, who's literally allergic to cold, harsh weather doesn't really bother me, and Stella absolutely loved it, so off we went.
My dog friend and I walked north along the concrete jogging/biking path that runs along the very west edge of Manhattan, taking in the stark beauty of the river in winter, for about 1 1/2 miles until we got to 89th St., where we went up to street level and I took some photos of the The Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Stella was her usual goofy self, I was my usual goofy self, and all seemed well.
We started heading back home down Riverside Drive, when I realized that my right knee was kind of buckling backwards with every step I took. At first I thought this was just a result of the cobblestones we were walking on, but then we reached flat ground, and the strange buckling continued. I remember thinking, "OK, this is interesting, what could cause this? Most likely, a brain tumor or Multiple Sclerosis.".
Honestly, within 30 seconds of noticing I was limping, the possibility of MS was forefront in my mind. Can't really explain why, other than a lifetime of finely hewn hypochondria, which I can now proudly say was not a sign of neuroses, but of prescience...
Stella and I walked home, and my limp grew worse. When we got back to the apartment, I rested for a while, and everything returned to normal. Over the next several weeks, though, my knee would start buckling whenever I walked a significant distance, and that distance seemed to get shorter with every incident. I also noticed that my right arm was feeling strangely tired, kind of like I had just pitched nine innings.
After three or four weeks, I went to my primary care doctor, who assured me that my symptoms were most likely nothing, but he ordered an MRI just to be on the safe side.
When I returned for a follow-up visit two weeks later, my condition was the same, if not a little worse, and the doctor hadn't yet read the radiology report from my MRI. He started reading it out loud in front of me, as if he were certain there would be nothing significant in the report. He stopped when he reached the words "a region of probable demyelination". He looked at me over the pages of the report, and I said "Multiple Sclerosis". He looked a little ashen, and said, "Yes, probably...".
And so it began.
Almost exactly 6 years later, my right arm and leg are pretty much useless, both very weak and spastic. My left side, which was untouched by the disease for the first five or so years of my illness, is now starting to show significant symptoms as well, in the form of weakness, numbness, and tingling.
During these last six years, I've learned a lot, not only about medicine and medical research, but most strikingly, about myself and the things that matter most in this finite life. I look back on my healthy years and think about all of the wasted time spent being depressed or angry or anxious or distracted or preoccupied over things that, in the harsh light of real trouble, turn out to be of absurdly little importance.
More on the experiences and knowledge gained over the last six years in later posts....