Note: I am known for being organized. I suppose some of that is innate, but much of my careful planning is due to living with the limitations of MS. I have used calendars and planners for years.
This morning, interestingly, I found calendars from the early 1980’s, detailing those early years of MS symptoms. Looking back now, I find that it was my general physician, Dr. Marcell Jackson, who first mentioned the possibility of MS in May of 1980. I was experiencing a heavy feeling in my arms, pain in my hands, numbness, and problems with balance. Dr. Jackson was a no-nonsense, old-fashioned doctor who treated the whole patient. She first predicted a disease that would take almost three more years to confirm. Dr. Jackson was the first to put me on B-12 injections, with the hope of helping some of the nerve symptoms.
In those early months, I heard many suggested possible diagnoses, including Guillaume-Barre’, post-infectious polyneuropathy, pan hyponordrenergism, parasthesias with demyelination, and the insulting “bored housewife syndrome”.
I went through a good deal of depression, because it seemed the doctors were dismissing my symptoms. Test after test showed results within normal limits. Prescription meds caused side-effects that added to the problem. It was a very frustrating period of time. I was finding out that doctors don’t know all the answers, and that medical testing is not always conclusive.
Meanwhile, the quirky symptoms would come and go. Sometimes I felt fine and had remarkable energy. At other times I could barely walk. Sometimes there was numbness from my upper teeth to the top of my head. Other times, I was numb from my ribs to the soles of my feet. Vertigo, headaches, sleeplessness, and agitation were mixed in with dragging my left leg, stumbling, and veering into walls as I turned corners in a hallway.
It was a confusing time, and I still had two precious little boys to raise. I took refuge in Bible study. I look forward to sharing my spiritual journey in another blog post.
One of the multiple doctors I saw in those early months was a rehabilitative doctor named Robert Fu. Under his supervision, I went through a few weeks of physical therapy. He was kind and helpful, but in July of 1980 could also not confirm a definitive disease. It was in February 1983, after a pattern of relapsing and remitting symptoms for three years, that I was sent back to Dr. Fu for more physical therapy. I will always be grateful to this kind man who finally told me, “It’s time now to revisit the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.” I could have hugged him! At last I had confirmation that my symptoms were real and not a product of my imagination!
Dr. Fu then introduced me to the Lofstrand forearm crutch. I confess that my first reaction was one of recoil. The aluminum stick looked so clinical! It seemed like wearing a sign “I have MS”. That clinical aluminum stick shortly became my best friend. Dr. Fu demonstrated the proper way to walk with the arm crutch. I walked from one end of the room to the other repeatedly until I understood the mechanics of the motions. Suddenly I didn’t have to drag my left leg. I wore the crutch on my right forearm (my “good” side) and then walked normally. It was amazing! It didn’t take all my energy to walk a few feet. I had balance and secure footing, and I could walk much faster.
I have walked with an arm crutch ever since. It is funny how that crutch caused different reactions among my friends. Some were a bit shocked at first, but accepted it as normal. The more playful ones teased me about running races with them. A sensitive friend actually avoided me for a couple of weeks because she didn’t know what to say to me. Her sweet spirit and prayers for me have been a great comfort ever since.
Now, over thirty years later, I have a much classier looking arm crutch. It is light-weight and bronze in color. It is so much a part of me that people identify me with it. My husband Jim says I can walk faster than he can. I’ve learned to push forward with the crutch as I swing my left leg forward, so I actually can walk quickly for short distances. Now when I see other people with canes and crutches, I usually smile and ask them if they would like to race!
That very same crutch that announces my limited mobility has also become a tool in witnessing for the Lord. Many times people will ask if I hurt my leg. I am able to tell them proudly that I have Multiple Sclerosis. Their common reaction is immediate sympathy. Then I am able to say, “God has been so good to me. I am doing well. He has taught me many wonderful lessons through MS.”
I love to share about the goodness of my Lord!