• Ali Gwilliam

Anyone For Coffee and Tut, Tut. Spot the MS connection

Before retirement took me along a different path, I worked as a radiographer in a very busy, ever expanding oncology centre in Plymouth Hospital. Although I loved my job, MS-enforced retirement had a big plus point: FREEDOM. After years of working hell for leather I was free to do what I liked, when I liked. I could go out and meet somebody, free to do nothing if that’s what I fancied - not that I’m in the habit of lounging around but knowing I could was great.

At the time of my mishap it had become very clear that the department was in desperate need of an injection of money. Our X-ray and scanning equipment was far from ancient but nor was it up-to-date which meant we couldn’t do the best by our patients. So a meeting was set up for some Very Important People. This meeting, unusually, was set up to take place on the shop floor, so to speak, in one of the oncology X-ray rooms which needed a complete overhaul. That was the point as the key non clinical decision maker VIPs had little idea of the technicalities, being in a room choc-full of ageing technology meant the arguments could be put over much more graphically.

I was in the wrong place at the wrong time as it turned out. I happened to be passing the door of said room and one of the consultants popped his head out of the door and very politely asked if I could make some coffees for our guests. I need to say that I had told the hospital of my MS but that was quite a while ago and as there was no visible sign of the disease, life carried on as before and as time passed everybody just forgot. So there was no reason for the consultant not to ask me to make and fetch the coffees.

Anyway, I did so willingly, albeit with some trepidation when I considered the doors and corners I would have to navigate - not a given being a ‘person with MS soon to be in charge of a tray of hot coffees’.

Imagine my delight and being SO impressed with myself (and could say giving myself a pat on the back but that would really have been tempting fate, even for a fully able bodied person) as I approached the door of the meeting without having spilled a drop. Phew! All this self-pride was about to be my undoing. Very much my pride before a fall.

At the time I suffered from slight drop foot. For the unitiatated, foot drop is exactly what it says on the tin and happens when a Person with MS (PwMS) goes to lift their foot up while walking, in the normal reflex motion, except the signal from the brain telling the foot to lift is interrupted on its way through its neural pathway, or is out of sync. Normally when taking a step the muscles of the ankle tighten, keeping the toes tucked up during the step and relaxing when the heel touches the ground. For many PwMS instead of the toes lifting up with the step they drop, causing the tip of toe to point downward. It doesn’t take much imagination to know what the consequences can be and often are.

My concentration lapsed momentarily, my foot drooped in mid-step and as a result my toe got caught on the floorcovering. Over we all went, in what felt like a slow motion movie scene. Me projected through the air first, the tray next, followed, finally, by five cups of piping hot coffee. The coffee cups disgorged their contents onto the floor and the tray crashed into the door but my self-preservation instincts, accompanied by a good deal of arm flailing were good enough to prevent me from going the way of Newton’s apple. Oh S**T I thought but thankfully managed to not blurt it out.

Later that day I happened to see the consultant who told me that inside the room the VIPs heard a shriek, a crash, then the murky brown liquid – only part of which had been soaked up by the carpet in the corridor - had oozed, unhindered, across the vinyl floor of the room housing the VIPs! Mrs Coffee had promptly morphed into Mrs Mop, sponging up the mess with paper towels. Doubtless the VIPs must have thought it wasn‘t just the equipment and infrastructure which needed updating!

My tut, tut moment happened on a beautiful, sunny Summer’s evening, again in Plymouth, but this time in Wetherspoons in Mutley Plain. As an aside, when I wrote this story for Nigel - this book’s creator - he asked me where the story played out and, when I told him the name of the street, he asked which came first: the dog or the street? Whilst I immediately knew the dog he was referring to (the cartoon character created in the late 1960’s as the foil to Dick Dastardly in Wacky Races) I’d never made the association. For me it was a road where I grew up. In fact the road dates back to Bronze Age times, so many centuries before the dog was created. In any event the latter is spelt Muttley so not the same family!

Back to tut, tut. Mutley (with one ‘t’) was busy with people enjoying a relaxing weekend. I was meeting with some friends in the as ever very crowded and lively Wetherspoons. My friends were behaving as if they hadn’t a care in the world, happily enjoying the local cider and ale. I was on soft drinks, not because I was driving but because ever since being smitten by MS the merest whiff of an alcoholic drink gives me a splitting headache and sends me off into the land of nod. As the evening wore on I became fatigued and, more to the point, not with just any fatigue but MS fatigue, an altogether more troublesome beast.

When MS fatigue sets in I start to stagger around whereas even with MS I can still usually walk in a normal fashion. In company, as this was in spades, I get neurological overload and just zone in on myself, all but zombie-like to those around me. To give you an idea of the irresistible power of my MS fatigue I’ve always been a very keen (motor) biker and many’s the time I’ve nodded off whilst riding pillion holding on to husband! Fortunately it’s never for that long and I’ve never let go!

Back to Wetherspoons. As anyone who has remained sober in a group of drinkers will know, there comes a point where one is not on the same page as one’s companions. So, time for me to go, still stone cold sober. I walked out into the still light evening and fresh air on my own, onto the street busy with pub goers and late shoppers for the unholy cocktail of fatigue and dropped foot to kick in (ha, ha). I promptly tripped over my own foot, falling flat on my face with a resounding splat as my hands hit the paving slabs followed by a thud as my torso followed in quick order. These sounds were loud enough to make passers-by turn around to see what was happening. Shocked people kindly came over to help, picked me up and dusted me off. I thanked them and very red-faced limped off to my bus stop to mutterings of “she really shouldn’t drink that much” and “doesn’t she know when to stop?” and “Tut, tut”.

Coming away I was totally peed off with my MS and by what it had caused to happen but, by the time I’d got home, sat down and reflected on the episode, I could see the funny side. Laughter really is such a brill therapy.

Ali Gwilliam

0 views0 comments