I’ve been afraid twice as a result of my multiple sclerosis. The first time, I was twenty. As I sat down on the edge of the bathtub one day, the backs of my legs felt oddly cold–even numb. I ran to the library and looked up MS, and my heart began to race. Yes, odd sensations of hot and cold were among MS’s symptoms. Suddenly, I could see my future life as my grandmother’s–as that of someone who sat in a chair all day, used a walker and watched TV, not as that of the geologist I was studying to be.
My actual diagnosis came twenty-two years later, after I’d had three children and was embarking on a second career. By the time I received the news, I’d experienced enough incidents like the bathtub moment that I expected it. I wasn’t afraid then.
A few years later, I needed to accessorize with a cane. At the same time, I took what I thought was a leave of absence from teaching, but the departure turned out to be permanent. Then came a second cane and an inability to go for long walks, a pastime my husband and I loved. He bought me a cheap drugstore wheelchair and said, “If we’re going to walk together, this is the deal.” We downed a shot of whiskey and began a new phase. I could still drive and do errands with the kids. I still wasn’t afraid.
One day, my right foot flopped forward, rendering my right leg useless. That meant a walker and an orthotic brace for my foot. More accessories followed, including a customized wheelchair, in which I spent more and more time. With each year came more exacerbations, more losses. My left leg grew weak, my right hand numb, my bladder calls more urgent. But we were managing.
Now, however, for the second time, I’m afraid. Afraid that my children will graduate, that they will marry, that my grandson will grow up, without me as a witness. More frightening still is that a broken bone may put me in a nursing home, that my arms may stop working, that I may become unable to talk. And that the slow, steady progression of this disease means my husband will find himself doing more laundry, cooking, medication management, lifting, feeding, deciphering of my speech and working of my flaccid muscles than he signed on for in our vows.
He is such a fine man that it makes me afraid.
Iowa City, Iowa