Does it stop?

The other day, my husband found a cryptic message scrawled on a Post-it note by his computer: “Does it stop?”
He looked severe as he passed the note to me—so severe, I just had to laugh.
The content of the note was ominous. The form was ominous, too—the writing barely legible. Why, then, was I laughing?
Our son came rushing over to inspect the note. “That’s Mom’s handwriting.” I couldn’t argue with him. “But worse.”
Those two seemed so serious. Too serious. I tried to remember why I’d written, “Does it stop,” but nothing was coming to mind.
Two matching sets of brown eyes were fixed on me intently.
No pressure.
Does it stop? Does it stop?
Surely, I could not have been writing about multiple sclerosis. It’s been sixteen years since my diagnosis. C’mon, people. Give me some credit. I wouldn’t scribble an angst-ridden message about that.
Does it stop? I’d recently been on hold with the phone company. Had I written the note then?
Being on hold could feel interminable. But no. That wasn’t “it.” I didn’t write the Post-it while I was on hold.
Then, when?
What was, “it?”
It.
I quit laughing long enough to confess, “I don’t remember writing that.” Which merely served to ratchet up the tension. Apparently, I was not merely angst-ridden. I was amnesiac. And to top it off, I wasn’t even disturbed about being an angst-ridden amnesiac. There was the question of my laughter. Was my laughter not disturbing?
Sorry.
My son hypothesized, “Maybe you wrote it in your sleep.”
The note was indeed sloppy enough to have been sleep-written. But c’mon. I can—and do—write sloppily enough while fully conscious, as all who know me can attest.
I just didn’t buy the sleep hypothesis. But try as I might, I couldn’t disprove it. I could not recall the exact circumstances surrounding the Post-it note, which in my mind was an argument against its emotional significance. Surely, if I had crawled out of bed to scrawl a message from the depths of deep despair, wouldn’t seeing the note trigger some dark association? I was certain the Post-it had a trivial origin. Yet clearly, I was the only person in the room with that certainty.
For years, my husband has carried around this hip little black book—a Miquelrius—designated for jotting down his observations of my MS symptoms. I’ve never been tempted to peek inside. I find it all a bit… humiliating. When I’d first fantasized about becoming this man’s muse, I was thinking he might fill the pages of a very different little black book.
There is nothing remotely sexy about a long slow decline.
I could tell by the mood in the room that my husband was way past considering whether to include the Post-it note in his little black book. He was considering whether he should categorize the note as a symptom of depression, or as a symptom of cognitive loss. Both depression and cognitive loss crop up fairly often in the MS population.
I am no stranger to depression. Which is why I was pretty certain that, had I been struggling with depression, I would have been the very first to know.
Whereas, if I were struggling with cognitive loss—I would be the very last to know. Which made remembering the origin of the note all the more important. And all the more inaccessible.
The answer came to me a few hours later, while I was brushing my teeth. With my new electric toothbrush. The old electric toothbrush had made a buzzing sound every 30 seconds. It had put me in the habit of polishing every surface of each successive tooth, slowly and deliberately, so that each time the buzzer buzzed, I was exactly another quarter of the way through brushing. Four beeps equaled two minutes of another round of pristine dental hygiene. I would be just finishing the final wisdom tooth when the old electric toothbrush would emit a final, conclusive sounding buzz, and would turn off. The synchronicity had been very satisfying.
Over the years, however, brushing my teeth with the old electric toothbrush had become less than satisfying. The vibrations would cause the toothbrush head to shimmy up and off the communal toothbrush post. I quit using our old electric toothbrush months ago, preferring an old style manual toothbrush that didn’t suck up electricity or spit itself out. By the time my husband came around and bought us a new electric toothbrush set, I was thoroughly out of the habit of the two-minute brush.
Even so, I felt like the new electric toothbrush was working overtime. The new electric toothbrush beeped…and beeped…and beeped…and beeped, but I wasn’t in synch with it, like I’d been in synch with the old one. It seemed to me like this session was dragging on to be an awfully long two minutes. And then the answer to that nagging question finally came to me.
When I had written the Post-it note, I’d had a vibrating toothbrush in my mouth for what I could swear had been more than two minutes. The darn thing would just not shut off. I’d tried pressing the off button with my feeble finger. It only buzzed the louder. And vibrated more. So I’d sidled up to my strong-fingered husband as he tapped away on his computer. I couldn’t very well pull a vibrating toothbrush out of my mouth to ask him if this new fangled electric toothbrush was on a two-minute timer, like the last one. I reached for a pen. And a Post-it note.
And wrote…

author’s note: As it turns out, my husband had not posted the note in his little black book. He hadn’t been as concerned as I’d thought. When I went hunting for the visual aid, he recovered the crumpled Post-it from the trash.

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That Which Doesn’t Kill You

December 29, 2010
Every day with relapsing/remitting MS contains a bit of suspense. I never know for sure what I’ll be up against.
Take this morning’s dog walk, for instance. For the past two weeks, my husband has been doing most of the dog walking. I’ve been fatigued; I imagine it’s because of holiday travel.

Today is my husband’s first day back at work, so this morning I decided to resume dog-walking duty. Problem was, my legs didn’t feel all that reliable. They were just a tad bit more tingly, a tad bit more wobbly, than usual. I wasn’t 100% certain they would hold up for the duration of the walk. But then again, I wasn’t 100% certain they would fail me, either. I hate to lose the opportunity to breathe fresh air and get some exercise. I hedged my bet by inviting our 14-year-old son Henry along as back up. He agreed to take the leash. This was brave. How brave? Read on.
There are a few extenuating factors I have to watch out for on winter walks. If I get too cold, my muscles tend to seize up and spasm. But here’s the rub: if I get too hot, my MS symptoms go into overdrive.
I found myself lagging behind the dog and the boy right from the start. My legs felt heavy, as if the heel of each boot contained a five pound weight. The dog had a good deal of business to attend to. I was able to stay within half a block due to their frequent stops. Both the boy and the dog kept looking back. I tried to hustle. The fastest tempo I could muster was a shuffle. Within a few blocks, my boots started to feel heavier, like they weighed twenty pounds each. I knew better than to take off my boots. I took off my hat.

I can’t afford to get a hot head. Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which renegade T-cells from my own immune system have attacked the insulating layer (myelin) around the nerves in my brain and spinal cord. When I overheat, my poorly insulated neural signals tend to misfire. This can lead to any number of complications.

I once lost most of the vision in my left eye during a dog walk. My vision gradually returned, but only after I’d completely freaked out…and completely cooled down. At the time, I hadn’t had an explanation for the world going grey. I thought this was the beginning of the rest of my life as a semi-blind person.

Today I know what to expect when I overheat…sort of. I can expect to get symptomatic. And I can expect the symptoms to be transient. I don’t get to pick which symptoms will arise.

My legs were getting more tingly, and more wobbly, block by block. Shortly after I decided we should turn around, my hips began to swivel madly. Then my knees began to buckle. My agency over my body was slipping away. I grabbed hold of my boy’s extended arm. Henry handed me the leash, in hopes our hundred pound lab mix would pull me forward.

No such luck. In wintry weather, the dog has learned to walk slowly, to match my pace along the slipperier sidewalks.
I pitched forward. Pitched backward. Getting home was going to be tricky.

My son said, “You shouldn’t have walked.”

“I need the exercise.”

“This isn’t exercise.” He had a point. We were inching along. “You’re only hurting yourself.”

At least I knew for sure I was reaching my full potential for the day. Which is kind of athletic, in a sick kind of way.
I thanked my son for assisting me in this adventure. But he didn’t see it as an adventure; to him it’s an ordeal. He doesn’t care if his mom has reached her full potential for the day. He just wants his mom to be safe and intact.

I try to assure him that what he’s witnessing isn’t a progression of my MS; it’s just a flare-up of symptoms from damage done long ago. There’s no way to prove that to him, though. Not until the next MRI.

I have faith my medication will prevent another full-blown relapse. Faith my family will stick by me even when I’m wobbly. And so I venture out, and trust that somehow there will always be a way for me to make it back home.

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