Friday, April 29, 2016

76 Things #17: Bruised but not beaten

A hundred years ago, doctors would sometimes misdiagnose multiple sclerosis as chronic alcoholism.

Sounds a bit bizarre but in defense of early 20th century medical professionals, if you were to consider some of the common symptoms associated with MS – loss of balance, dizziness, impaired vision and slurred speech – they have a “had a few too many drinks” ring to them.

Loss of balance is a common occurrence in my day.  I’m very careful going up and down the stairs and have learned to try and avoid other situations that might lead to a fall.

But even with this extra caution, bumping and knocking into things is still a regular part of my life.  What results are random bruises on my arms, shoulders leg and feet. 

The pessimist might consider these markings a painful reminder of living with a chronic disease but I’d rather view them as moments captured in time – ahhh, the time I knocked into the dresser…oh, that was when I stumbled into the kitchen table – temporary tattoos that create a work of art illustrating that living with MS isn’t a sometime thing, it’s an all the time thing.

It can be embarrassing...even during the middle of the summer I'll be dressed in a long-sleeved shirt to cover my MS-induced artwork might linger on my body for weeks, maybe even months. 

This unintentional body art is the #17 thing you might now know about (my) MS. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

76 Things #16: Cane and Able

I remember the moment I was diagnosed with MS.

Just three people in a room; the neurologist, my wife and me.  Angela was to my left and the doctor was sitting across from us.

He told me he'd answer any questions we had - no BSing - and just give it to us straight.

I don't remember the exact questions I asked but I do remember one of his replies was "What we don't know about MS far outweighs what we do know about it.  You could go the next 40 years, live a normal life with no relapses...or you could wake up tomorrow and be in a wheelchair."

It was honest...but it wasn't easy to hear.

Not many mornings go by when I don't think about his my I get out of bed and my feet touch the ground, I know it is something that is not to be taken for granted.

I'm blessed with mostly normal mobility still.  Do I stumble?  Of course.  I've had quite a few falls, too.  But I'm still able to get around and am thankful each time I go for a walk with my family or shoot some hoops with my children.

Standing...well, standing is not so easy.  I'd rather be walking than standing.  Last Wednesday, as bad luck would have it, events of the day required me to stand in place for about 5 minutes.

Five minutes.  300 seconds.  And I'm still paying for it today with agonizing pain in my left leg and foot. 

So, over the years I've become more accepting of my limits and bought a cane to help me get around - the #16 thing you might not know about my MS.

I use it sporadically - maybe I'm having a difficult day moving around or, in other situations, I know I'm going to need it (for example, when my family went on a trip to San Diego...which included a day walking around their zoo.)

I should use it more but sadly, my pride and stubbornness often prevail over logic. 

I fear my children will see it as a sign of weakness...or friends will pity my situation.  My competitive spirit refuses to let anyone think - for just one moment - that MS might be getting the better of me.

But, if I would have used my cane to aid me as I stood idle last Wednesday, I wouldn't be in so much pain still today, even as I type.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring, I learned that eight years ago when I was diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic.  What is still in my control is taking good care of my mind, body and spirit - and sometimes, my ego will need to take a backseat...or at least let my cane help keep it standing up.

My walking buddy


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Journey Back in Time

I grew up in Springfield, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Our home was 15 miles away from the White House but I didn't spend my youth that concerned about politics, I was too consumed by sports.

I was a big fan of the local professional teams but not the collegiate ones.

This was way before satellite TV and the internet. I still remember when my family got cable - that was a monumental day! Imagine the irony now...we were actually excited to wait all day at home for the cable guy.

So, TV viewing options were limited and when it came to college hoops, Big East basketball was about all there was to watch. I'm not quite sure why that bothered me so much but it did and I held teams in those conferences responsible. I actively rooted against Georgetown, Syracuse, Seton Hall, Providence, etc.

But there is one Big East team I devloped a soft spot for - Villanova.  And it's because of my 7th grade "World of Math" teacher, Mrs. Ward.

You might be wondering what kind of class "World of Math" is...and honestly, you probably don't want to know. All Math, all the time. It was an elective my parents made me sign up for. When it came to "electives," the harder the better was my parents motto.

On my first day in Mrs. Ward's class I was filled with trepidation. Her hair was pulled back tight as she scribbled away on the board. Any noise she heard...a pencil dropping, somebody exhaling...she'd look back at us with a glare as she scanned the room.

But part of every glare of Mrs. Ward was the tiniest of smiles. It's almost as she knew she was playing the part of the tough math teacher....and she enjoyed it.

By the end of our first class, she was cracking jokes and before long I was cracking jokes back. Our sense of humors were similar so I think she enjoyed our give and take.

After one particular test that most of us didn't do well on, she offered extra credit to help with our grades. She didn't provide guidelines on what the extra credit needed to be, other than we had to talk in front of the class about Math. Or at least that is the way I remember it.

I'm not sure how the inspiration struck me but rather than talk about Math, I decided to write a song. Ok, borrow a song. "Open Arms," by Journey. Below is a condensed version of what I sang to the class:  

Sitting in World of Math Class 
I'm so be learning
Loudly she teaches
She's so sincere 
How could we be so lucky? 
So now I come to you, Mrs. Ward
Nothing to hide, believe what I say
So here I am, Mrs. Ward
Hoping you'll see, what a "C" means to me, Mrs. Ward

When I finished, everyone in class sat silent, waiting to see what Mrs. Ward would do.

She didn't just laugh, she howled. She laughed so hard tears were coming out of her eyes.  I didn't earn any extra credit that day...but it was still worth it, seeing Mrs. Ward's gleeful reaction.

One day the topic of sports came up and she mentioned that her sister was married to Rollie Massimino, the coach of the Villanova Wildcats. I thought for sure she was messing with me, maybe as payback for my "Open Arms" tribute?

It was 1988; only 3 years after Villanova won the NCAA Championship, beating Georgetown in one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history. 

I was so confident she was just pulling my leg, I started making up my own stories in jest (I think I said the Washington Redskins coach, Joe Gibbs, was my uncle.)
Until one day, she handed me a Villanova game program, dated December 17th, 1988. She told me to turn to page 25. On that page, is a picture of Rollie Massimino with a signed note, "Mike, Best Wishes. I can't believe you doubted my sister-in-law"

I was stunned - Mrs. Ward certainly had the last laugh!

As I watched Villanova's thrilling championship victory on Monday - and the frequent shots of Rollie Massimino in the stands - I thought back to 7th grade and Mrs. Ward's class.

Luckily, I was able to find that Villanova game program that Ms. Ward gave me 28 years ago.

As I shared this trip back in time with my wife and children, the memories came flooding back.  World of Math?  I was only 11!  Spoofing  "Open Arms" by Journey in class - what was I thinking?  Excited to wait for the cable guy...on what planet was I living?

Flipping through the game program, I was surprised to see a picture of a much younger Jay Wright, Villanova's current coach.  In 1988, he was an Assistant on Rollie's staff. 

I hold on to mementos, a trait I inherited from my Mom.  So thank you Mom -  I know you are watching from above and I can hear you asking "What part of Italy is Rollie Massimino from?"

It's not just a game program, it's a snapshot in time filled with memories of who we were...and who we might become.

...I never doubted Mrs. Ward again!

Front Cover of Game Program

A flashback in time of Villanova's current coach, Jay Wright

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