Day by Day
I might fall, but I won’t lie down for MS
March 13, 2017
By LIZ THOMPSON
Falling is hard. Suddenly my body is moving downward, either forward or backward, with nothing to grab onto to stop the fall. Impact is imminent and it will be painful.
I fall like a tree in the forest.
For some reason, many with multiple sclerosis don’t have the ability to react fast enough to fold our bodies for a closer fall or recover from a stumble, like the average person would.
I do know that imbalance, weakness and muscle spasms cause most of my falls. Other people with MS might have vision and fatigue problems.
Last year, I fell too often and fear of falling became my new reality. I’ve overcome that fear before.
After this last series of falls, I thought back at what I was doing when I fell to determine how to prevent a repeat.
I came to these five conclusions: I must always touch something when leaning over; carry nothing while walking; use my cane or walker; scope the landscape before that first step; and ask for help.
If you have ever fallen or watched someone fall when you couldn’t help them, you understand that helplessness is part of the pain.
All through our lives, we adapt — most of it’s good. Change and challenges are a part of life.
People with chronic illnesses, such as MS, tend to look at life with a unique perspective. As our illnesses wax and wane at their own volition, daily we learn to see what’s most important and are in a constant state of adaptation.
I see my circumstances as positive, urging me to make the most of each moment. When people ask how I am, I hope to be able to say, “I’m upright!”
So if you don’t have MS or know someone with it, why would you want to read about it? By writing about it, or sharing my experiences, I hope to build a bridge to understanding.
Years ago, when my daughter was in nursing school, some nurses were quietly joking about another nurse who walked like she had been drinking alcohol. My daughter saw this and asked them, “Did you ever think she might have MS?” I don’t know their response, but I knew my daughter showed compassion.
It’s easier to jump to conclusions than to learn the facts.
My MS was diagnosed in 1987 when I lost partial vision. Hindsight tells me I had symptoms as early as 1970. In 1987, there were no disease-modifying drugs for MS, proven to slow down relapses; now there are 14. There was no Internet. Today, patients easily can become overwhelmed with information. I always suggest to newly diagnosed people to talk with their doctors, and those with MS to visit nmss.org.
MS isn’t contagious. The immune system thinks the myelin sheath (a substance that protects nerve fibers) in the central nervous system, as well as the nerve fibers themselves, are foreign objects and attacks them, causing damage. The signals from the brain to parts of the body are interrupted, like a frayed electrical cord. The result can be vision loss, numbness, weakness, spasticity, motor-skill problems, fatigue and more, with varied degrees of disability.
My worst relapse since diagnosis was in the early 1990s. The numbness started in my toes and moved up my body. In a matter of minutes, my entire body was numb.
Six weeks later, the numbness disappeared, except for my right hand and forearm.
But I can’t live in a rubber room, so to speak. I have to be smarter than this disease and constantly reinvent how I go about doing the things I love.
I still cook, bake, garden, knit, read, write, visit and go to church, and I “walk” the dog using my scooter or power wheelchair to get around safely. Learning to adapt is part of life. I don’t sit home crying or being sedentary. That works against all reasoning for physical and emotional health.
I am one of more than 2.3 million worldwide living with MS. March is MS Awareness Month. The next time you see someone walking “funny,” offer a strong arm or a listening ear. That’s the kind of help we all need.