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Pride before a fall – or kerb crawling MS style


by Andrew Lorrain-Smith

Well, not exactly, but at least with a title like that I’m guaranteed one reader – my wife!

Before I describe my kerb crawling though, a bit about me. I was diagnosed with Secondary Progressive MS about two years ago, with the neurologist thinking that I’d had the condition for possibly twenty-five years. I’d had back problems and a couple of operations over the preceeding six years before he eventually decided it was MS. I am a what? A dairy farmer i.e. the devil incarnate for my fellow “Overcoming MSers” as dairy is forbidden fruit in the OMs diet. My staff had become quite used to my stumbling and I would say “it’s not always alcohol”. I felt, however, that once I had shared the diagnosis with them, they were more likely to believe me.

As I write this, I am 70 and still farming, though perhaps doing a bit less that I did once upon a time. Always verging on the edge of MS related incontinence is, of course, a lot easier to manage when you live on a farm – plenty of hedges and trees to hide behind!

However, back to my story. Julie and I recently decided to attend a meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. They had advertised a lecture by two prominent neuroscientists, on the state of research into multiple sclerosis. The meeting was to be held at their offices in George Street at 6 PM on a Thursday evening, on what turned out to be a filthy wet night October night.

I had attended the annual general meeting of our organic milk suppliers co-op that day. As a friend had driven me, I was able to sit and blether comfortably as we journeyed for the two hours or so to get to our meeting. On our return to Edinburgh, Julie met us on the outskirts, and I took over the wheel as we travelled to our meeting in the centre.

As always when the weather is lousy, the traffic was terrible and it took much longer than I expected to get into George Street. We circled around looking for a parking space – along George Street, round St Andrew Square – all to no avail. Eventually we got parked in Queen Street, a good three blocks away from where we should have been. Edinburgh in a rainstorm is not a nice place. I once heard it described it as the only place in the world where you can walk the four sides of a block and the North wind blows in your face all the time!

Now in a hurry, we set off at a good pace (as fast as a 70 year old with MS can go!).

I urged Julie to go on ahead and keep the doors open, brushing aside her protestations for me to be careful (something she took great delight in reminding me of later). We eventually arrived on the wrong side of George Street, somewhat out of breath.

I had to circumnavigate the prostrate legs of a beggar girl as I made my way to the edge of the pavement and the Pelican crossing I needed to use. I inwardly cursed her with: “I never give anything to people begging on the street as it just feeds the habit!”. “Why doesn’t she get a job” I thought indignantly. “There’s me overcoming every obstacle that nature puts in my way and all she can do sit on her backside and beg!”

This was a traffic light controlled crossroads, with a Pelican crossing attached.

I pressed on through the horizontal rain, hurriedly looking to the right at the traffic, pent-up behind the lights, which were just changing to green. “Time to get across” I thought as I launched myself off the pavement.

Alas! All did not go well with the next few steps. In fact the very next step! I went over on my left ankle – weak, since I fell down the Waverley steps as a schoolboy running for the train home, a weakness now exacerbated by MS I now fell headlong! Have you ever watched somebody falling on a Tom and Jerry cartoon? That’s what it felt like as I somersaulted, ending up on my back and wriggling in the rain, like a black beetle trying to get over onto its front.

Acutely aware of the rapidly approaching traffic, I flailed around and rolled towards what I imagined was safety. Eventually, albeit slightly stunned, I accepted the pair of outstretched arms helping me to my feet, only to look into the eyes of my young beggar girl! I mumbled thanks and limped off to the lecture, assuring Julie when I caught her up, it was just a stumble.

After my meeting, a slightly more humble me, gingerly retraced my steps to the wee beggar girl. I thanked her and gave her a hefty donation towards her evening’s takings!

I went on my way thinking of the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers” – thank God she did have a choice, and exercised it!

Andrew Lorrain-Smith (long time MSer with Secondary Progressive MS)


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Edited by Nigel Bartram and illustrated by Olga Hendel