Tuesday, 23 April 2013
you better learn to crawl...
I can't speak for anyone else, but one of my great fears about multiple sclerosis was that I would inevitably end up physically incapacitated, and perhaps in a wheelchair*.
*This was before I knew that MS could also potentially screw around with my mental capabilities too. Truly this condition is the gift that keeps on giving.... but one thing at a time.
One of the first things that I did when I was finally diagnosed with MS was to join the MS Society. It only costs £5 and it's a fantastic resource and provider of practical care and advice. As part of your membership, you get a subscription to their monthly magazine. As well as informative articles on the latest research and interviews with well-known people whose lives have been touched in some way by the condition, there are also lots of adverts for wheelchairs, walking aids, foot braces and all kinds of all-too-real reminders about what this disease can do to people.
No two people experience MS in the same way, but simply walking into the waiting room at my local clinic at the QMC hospital gives me a tangible reminder of what might lie in front of me. If you let this kind of thing get to you, then it must be very depressing indeed. Me? Well, I just stopped reading the magazine and never renewed my subscription, and when I walk into those clinics, I tend to just focus on how lucky I am to be so lightly affected by my MS.
The thing is though that I've started to hobble.
For most people, MS progresses in fits and starts: it's usually a relapsing/remitting condition where you go through a cycle of having a relapse and the onset of new disability, then a slight -- but not complete -- recovery, then a period of stability before your next relapse. What varies is the distance between relapses, the severity of the disability each attack brings and the amount to which you recover - the drugs I inject each week are to try and lengthen those gaps and to minimise the relentless march of disability.
Let's make no bones about it: I'm one of the lucky ones. Apart from the onset of my first symptoms, I don't think I can confidently say that I've had another clear relapse and my symptoms tend to vary around a theme, coming and going without getting significantly worse and without new symptoms being added to the mix. This is a good thing.
Just recently though, my tendency to "drop" my left leg when I get tired (an MS symptom) has been causing a series of mechanical problems. The dropping of my leg affects the way I carry myself when I run, and over the years this has taken its toll on my body, leading to problems in my foot, ankle, calf, knee and hips.
Now, clearly I'm not going to give up running without a fight, but I've been forced to dramatically cut down my mileage on the road in an attempt to minimise the physical impact on my body. I'm now down to one short run a week and a lot more swimming and cycling. I've also just been referred to a sports injury clinic to have the whole thing assessed. Perhaps there's something they can do, perhaps there isn't. Either way, I guess I'll soon find out. In the back of my mind, I'm starting to prepare myself for the day when I can't run: if the underlying problem is neurological, then there's going to be a limit to what the doctors can do. If it comes to that, I'll be gutted, but life will go on.
So far, so phlegmatic. The problem is that I went running yesterday evening, a mere 3.78 miles at a pretty gentle pace, and today I caught myself hobbling - not just protecting my poorly knee, but also swinging my hips weirdly, as if they're stiff or something. After my run last night, I iced and stretched and did all the things I'm meant to be doing, and this morning my knee wasn't too sore..... and yet today I'm walking funny. I like to think that I'm a pretty stoical guy and I'm not really one to dwell on a future that may or may not ever happen. Today though, I just couldn't help myself: I saw my wonky walk and had a sudden flash forward to a possible future where this was the start of a growing immobility; a future that involved walking sticks and ankle braces and things like that and certainly wouldn't involve any more half marathons.
It will be what it will be. Very little I can do about that. What I can guarantee is that I'm hardly likely to go down without a fight.... even if sometimes thoughts like these can give even the most iron-willed person a momentary pause for thought. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow with a session in the pool using the pull buoy. Even if one day I can't use my legs, I could still do that, right?
One day, I might not be able to run, it's true. But - today at least - I can run, and while I can run, I will run. And you know what, if I can't run, I'll crawl if I have to.
I. Will. Not. Be. Beaten.