• Nigel Bartram

Being no longer sure-footed can sometimes have bizarre consequences

by Nigel Bartram

Most, if not all, of us MSers know we get progressively less sure footed as our balance deserts us. Most of the time it is a cause of frustration, difficulty and sometimes worse - but just occasionally, the consequences can be pretty funny. I was 7 years into my primary progressive MS and still able to walk reasonably well in terms of distance (albeit with the assistance of that brilliant invention the FES/Stimustep), when I took a short cruise with my wife - from Helsinki to St Petersburg. The bulk (a word I use advisedly, as you will see shortly,) of the passengers were Russian ladies of a certain age having a riotously, but entirely good-natured, fun-time. The reason I say bulk is because of their trademark physique, which was large - and not to put too fine a point on it – adorned with the most ample of bosoms. All of which became evident almost every time I came to use the lift in the boat - which, given my lack of mobility, was frequently.

I can best describe the experience by reference to adolescent memories of frenetically jabbing at the flippers of a pinball machine - to keep the ball in play as it pinged from one bumper to another. But back to the cruise boat. The lift door would open to take us up to the restaurant, or wherever, and oft times reveal two or more, very generously proportioned, Russian ladies dressed in their finest, on their way to the next jolly. When I say generously proportioned, I’m thinking of the “upper deck region” (this was on a boat after all) and in terms of size, well …. the Urals come to mind.

I’m sure MSers will already know where this is headed, but for the benefit of non afflicted readers, when you have MS and lose your balance, you involuntarily lurch forward, zigzagging from one side to the other, every bit the caricature of a drunkard. So momentary panic would set in, as the mind raced to try and work out the best route forward, knowing there was absolutely no way I could successfully tack round the dense cluster of elbow-high, mountainous cleavages. So just as when I was a petrified child on the top diving board for the first time, mesmorised and staring down at the watery abyss, I knew I just had to draw a deep breath and take the plunge.

Unlike the painful smack of hitting the water at the wrong angle, here I was buffeted - with surprising force - from one lady to another in true pinball style. Unable ever to regain my balance and stand up straight. I grew redder and redder and more and more flustered by the nanosecond. Thankfully, the ladies didn’t seem to mind – perhaps the same thing happens back home, only with lurchers (lechers even) fuelled by alcohol rather than afflicted by illness. Although this happened quite a few times on the cruise, I can’t say it ever became exactly routine!

That, however, isn’t quite the end of the story. A few months later I was visiting friends whom I hadn’t seen since my “boob cruise”. One of their guests was built on the same lines as said Russian ladies of a certain age. This only became apparent to me when the other guest and her husband were leaving and I was in standing in the hallway saying my goodbyes. I started to lose my balance - thanks to the MS - and I momentarily swayed headlong in the direction of her capacious frontage.

Fortunately, I managed to check myself before contact was made, so there was no damage done physically - but I immediately found myself blurting out how it reminded me of my experiences on the cruise from Helsinki to Petersburg.

It was just like an awful slow motion crash – you can see where you are headed but are powerless to escape. I struggled manfully to carry on telling the tale whilst frantically searching for an alternative ending. Of course there wasn’t one and since I’m no standup comedian (or indeed a stand up anything these days), it petered out into what the French would so aptly call “n’importe quoi”. The woman obviously thought I was either demented - or drunk - but we MSers are quite used to that.

Cheerfully yours,

Nigel Bartram (Primary Progressive MSer)

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