• Sheila Excell

A few of my MS induced and funnier falls from grace

I was diagnosed with Primary Progressive MS at the tender age of 33. The road to my diagnosis started with my brilliant GP. He listened very attentively as I recounted what I thought were THE most bizarre incidents which had befallen me in recent years, more of which in a second. My GP felt I might well have MS and so got me an appointment at Guy’s Hospital, London in double quick time. He was brilliant not only for being spot on with his suspicions, but also for the fact that he was very honest and upfront about my prognosis. He said that whilst there is no cure for MS, he could give me things to ease the symptoms. It was just the right blend of realism and reassurance for me.

Anyway, at Guy’s the neurologist duly confirmed the diagnosis and said I’d probably had MS for eight years or so. MS was the most likely explanation for why my legs had mysteriously got progressively weaker and because of that, why I had to give up my beloved netball. I used to love playing all sports.

Learning that I had MS and understanding the symptoms, a lot of other things immediately fell into place, in a very literal sort of way, as you’ll soon see. My balance had been getting decidedly wonky for some time. Certain mishaps now made sense, which was reassuring in a strange sort of way. Before going into detail, however, I need to wind the clock back a few years further.

When my husband and I set up home we did so in what today would doubtless be considered a very old-fashioned sort of way. He was the breadwinner and I was the homemaker. But even after the children had come along, I found I still had time on my hands. I definitely wasn’t somebody who was happy unless I was a busy bee and physically active (oh that the MS would permit me to be that way still!). We live in Kent, the Garden of England of course, and in our village I found seasonal work, apple picking. I absolutely loved it; being in the great outdoors, the social interactions, so many laughs and the money came in handy too with a growing family. I found I could fit it in with fetching and carrying the children, feeding them and my husband, doing the housework etc.

All was rosy in the garden, as the saying goes, until, that is, I started falling out of the apple trees! It didn’t just happen once, or even twice, but time and again. One moment I was busy plucking ripe fruit off a tree and the next I’d find myself on the ground, bemused and wondering what had happened to cause my ‘downfall’. Why was this happening when I was perfectly fit and healthy? Much to the amusement of my fellow pickers, I also found myself getting increasingly caught short. Thank goodness there were plenty of hedgerows round and about! And thank heavens also that the apple trees weren’t very tall. Not only was I never hurt, but my Newtonian exploits didn’t cost me much downtime, in both senses of the word. Just as well given I was on a sort of piece rate system.

At my daughter’s primary school sports day I joined in the mother’s race, feeling quite confident. As I said a moment ago, I enjoyed my sport and was quite good at running. However, pride comes before a fall, as the saying goes. That was me. I came last! My legs seized up and I simply couldn’t get going. I was devastated, but again I couldn’t understand why. Like many other MSers, I think, I also started to be accused of being drunk. As God is my witness, my performance wasn’t due to the effects of alcohol, rather MS causing my balance to go to pot.

Hence when my MS diagnosis was made it actually came as a bit of a relief. I wasn’t going off my rocker and I now knew why the weird things had been happening to me over all those years. Diagnosis could do nothing to improve my physical state though, although as I said, my GP was armed and ready to help.

Shortly after my diagnosis I was invited to a family wedding, which meant a new dress, of course! My husband kindly took me to a shopping centre to buy one. I soon spotted a long sleeved, blue and whited spotted number, with a high collar. So, off we went to the changing rooms. I say we, because with my dodgy balance I reckoned I’d need my husband’s physical as well as moral support.

There was a step up to the changing room which I all but glided up, no problem. I drew the curtain shut and all was well to start with. I stripped down to my bra and pants, but as my husband was trying to help me into the dress, disaster stuck. He was squatting down so that I could rest my hands on his shoulders for support. Suddenly, I over-balanced and we momentarily swayed this way and that. My husband did his level best to resist my forward momentum, but the struggle was very short lived. Gravity won! We unceremoniously tumbled out of the cubicle, arms and legs flailing like a demented windmill and ended up on the floor. Imagine the sight we made, my husband’s body spread eagled over mine, for all the world to see! Not the kind of scene one would normally expect to see in our tranquil, conservative little town.

We had no time, and certainly not the presence of mind to find out if either of us was hurt. Instincts took over, with my husband hissing very forcefully, “get up, get up!!” We staggered to our feet and positively lurched back into the cubicle, drawing the curtain to hide behind it, giggling every bit as though a couple of very naughty little children would.

Having recomposed ourselves, well, a little at least, we sneaked furtive looks around the changing room curtain until, at last, the other shoppers had gone. The coast was now clear for us to came out with no obvious danger of being spotted as the shameless couple. We paid, hoping our blushes didn’t betray us to the cashier, and skedaddled out the shop.

In case you were wondering, the dress was perfect. The wedding went very well, and I don’t even remember being accused of being drunk!

Sheila Excell, Primary Progressive MS

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