- Maximilian Nowak
How a view seen through my MS ‘dancing eyes’ changed a lifelong view
I grew up in Germany. To be more precisely, a suburb of Frankfurt. The city of Frankfurt is one of the biggest German cities and neighbour to a smaller city called Offenbach. Frankfurt is known as one of the major financial centres of Europe, has one of the world’s largest trade fairs and Frankfurt Airport is one of the world’s busiest airports. A major highlight of the city is its skyline, shaped by some of the tallest skyscrapers of the continent. And Offenbach… well, what can one say about Offenbach?
Offenbach has always been the ugly little sister compared to Frankfurt. If you had asked me a few years ago which sister I would choose, within a nanosecond, I would have said “Frankfurt”. I was born in that city. I have relatives and friends living there and I would have only entered Offenbach when I had a very good reason. For example, to watch a football match.
Of course there’s always been neighbourly rivalry between the two cities, which is also reflected on the football pitch. The team from Offenbach is just called Kickers and reaching the final of the German Football Championship in 1959 was one of their greatest successes. Well, they lost the final and guess to whom? Right, Frankfurt. Decades have passed and today Kickers is playing in the fourth tier of the German football league system, while Eintracht Frankfurt is a top-10 team in the Bundesliga, won the German cup (DFB Pokal) and reached the semi-finals of the Europa League over the past three seasons. But the rivalry is still alive. I’ve been to matches of both teams, never really taking sides. Nevertheless, one of my most treasured football memories is of a packed stadium in Frankfurt, and the crowd was bouncing up and down to the chanting “Wer nicht springt ist Offenbacher, hey, hey!” – “If you’re not jumping, you’re from Offenbach, hey, hey”.
A few years ago, on a Saturday morning, I woke up and something was not right with my vision. I waited until the afternoon, in the hope that the symptoms would go away. But they did not and therefore my mother drove me to the nearest hospital with a department of neurology, in Offenbach. “This cannot be good” was my first thought, infected as I was by all my prejudices. On reflection, however, having specialists to check what was wrong with me seemed to be a particularly good reason to enter this ugly sister city. “Let’s get there, do the check up and get home quickly.” This was my original plan, but in the end, I had to stay in the hospital in Offenbach for over a week.
During these days, I first felt a numbness in the left side of my body and the visual problem became worse. My eyes were constantly moving up and down. A so-called Nystagmus. Do you remember the old television sets where the picture would not become steady due to some malfunction? This is what I saw. The world around me was jumping up and down, once a second, for 24 hours a day. Watching TV or reading a newspaper or a book was impossible, but I was still able to walk around the fifth floor of the hospital, where the department of neurology was located. It was a nice hospital, a modern one to my surprise. When friends and family came to visit me, we usually went to one of the terraces on the fifth floor, where we could get some fresh air. From there you can see a tall chimney belonging to the hospital, with red and white stripes in the middle and the letters “OFC” - “Offenbach Football Club”. No surprise that Kickers was the obvious home team of the hospital.
After a few days where I underwent a range of different of tests, I was finally diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. One day I took a walk around the fifth floor and went onto one of the terraces. I looked down to the streets and houses surrounding the hospital and tried to identify some details while my eyes where still moving up and down constantly (little wonder some call Nystagmus ‘dancing eyes’!). I looked up, turned to the West and what I saw made me smile. I was looking towards Frankfurt and saw the skyline, with its skyscrapers bouncing up and down as though being dropped on a giant trampoline. And my head was ringing with the chant “Wer nicht springt ist Offenbacher, hey, hey!” – “If you’re not jumping, you’re from Offenbach, hey, hey”!!
You don’t expect to laugh while you’re in hospital, but this was just hilarious. I couldn’t and had no wish to stop myself laughing and laughing and laughing. From there my symptoms improved and finally disappeared completely and to this day I have not had any relapse. No more trampolining skyscrapers, bouncing up and down to the chant of “Wer nicht springt ist Offenbacher, hey, hey”!
Some things did not change, however. Frankfurt is still “my city” but I must admit that I have a better opinion of Offenbach now.
And my approach is, tackling my MS with humour. Ricky Gervais once said, “humour kills the beast”. He is so right.
Maximilian Nowak Relapsing Remitting MS