My wife Heather may be the happiest person to ever receive an MS diagnosis.
“Yes!” she shouted after the doctor’s call came in Wednesday afternoon. “I told them I was sick! I told them I was sick!”
Regular readers know that we’ve been searching to an answer for Heather’s “mystery illness” for some time. The symptoms have been a regular cavalcade, including fatigue, pain, loss of coordination, foggy eyesight, foggy memory, a foggy day in London town …
Ahem. Sorry about that.
Anyway, after being introduced to a spinal tap that’s not nearly as entertaining as the Christopher Guest version, Heather can now definitively tie her troubles down to two words: multiple sclerosis. Yes, that ugly disease of the brain and spinal cord, the one that can’t really be cured, only contained.
Of course, anyone who saw our huge, relieved grins after the diagnosis would probably conclude that there wasn’t much brain left to affect, anyway. But in a weird way, it’s exciting.
At long last, something makes sense.
Any chronic pain sufferer should recognize the feeling. You can spend weeks, months, even years in shadow boxing, going through the medical motions without hitting anything solid. You get told that you’re fine, even when you know better. You get medicines that don’t help, tests that don’t show anything, advice that fails to illuminate. Sometimes people will suggest you’re a hypochondriac. After a while, you may start to wonder if they’re right.
And then, BAM – you hit something solid. Or it hits you. Either way, there’s a reality that can no longer be denied. You’re not crazy, you are in a fight, and even if it’s one against Mike Tyson himself, you can finally see the other fighter in the ring.
You don’t even need to be a patient to understand. We see the same thing every day in the political world, or the business world, or in military strategy, or in the thousand small-scale issues we deal with every day. To solve a problem, the people involved have to agree 1) That a problem exists and 2) What exactly the problem is. What you cannot define, you cannot defeat.
Put down a name and you can have objectives. Goals. Tactics. Hope.
Heather has a name. A nasty name. But a real one.
That means we have a road forward.
Even better, the road may not have as many potholes as we feared. The tests caught her MS early. That’s one reason it slipped through the early scans undetected, and it means the disease may be at a more manageable stage.
Still better: this is something we know from the outside. We have good friends who have been through this, people who still live full lives despite the need to recharge and recover. One even kept up a position in the Navy Reserve until fairly recently.
I know, there are stories of worse as well as better. But again – what you can name, you can know. And some of that knowledge is encouraging.
We’re not alone.
Not that we ever were. But now our friends and family have something to rally around as well. Unease and uncertainty can drain a caregiver as well as a patient; a lifting of the fog can be almost rejuvenating.
Is it any wonder we smile? And even laugh?
No wonder at all. Not when there’s a purpose that can outweigh the fear.
It will not be unremitting joy. We know that. We’re looking at a hard struggle, probably a painful one.
But we’re looking at it. And that makes all the difference.
I hope someone out there can take encouragement from this. The fog can someday lift. The light can shine. The battle lines can be drawn and defended to the inch.
Victory is never certain. But knowing, really knowing, is a victory all its own.
It’s time to celebrate.