I woke up this morning to a strange, yet somehow not entirely unexpected sensation: I couldn’t move my legs. As in not being able to lift them. As in my legs felt like concrete, and possessed of a singular mind of their own, entirely independent of any command from my brain.
You see the picture above? it’s of a needle outwardly – and inwardly, it’s of my faithful companion. I’ll get back to it in a second.
After about 40 minutes of silent frustration, I managed to rouse myself out of bed. I could walk, after a fashion – if you want to refer to my leaden, shuffling gait as walking. I called my neighbor. Together, the two of us headed to the local VA medical center, where my primary care physician, after consulting with my neurologist, gave me an extra dose of the medicine you see above…and ordered me to take to bed.
That’s not an order I’m following this morning, because I have to fly out on work and all the other excuses that you normally hear.
The medicine you see above is Betaseron; it’s an interferon, and it’s one of the primary treatments for multiple sclerosis. I’ve had MS for at least 3 years, and probably some time before that. MS is an insidious enemy – my body’s immune system suddenly decided to treat other parts of my body as an enemy, to be dispatched ruthlessly. Let me break it down:
Think of your body’s nerves as an set of electrical cables. Surrounding those cables is a rubber-like sheath. In the body’s case, that sheath is called myelin. Take away that sheath, and the result is that your nervous system short circuits. Signals get crossed, or even lost.
What Betaseron does is arrest the progression of the disease. It allows me to live life to the degree that I can. It allows me to function – most of the time – without the aid of a cane, or without forgetting the names of my friends, or drawing a blank on what I was supposed to do next.
Take it away, and I live my life on the precipice. Neither stress nor overwork help with MS; indeed, they exacerbate it. These are endemic to political life. Since I began to work in politics half a decade ago, they have, too, been my companions; and since I first became sick with MS three years ago, I have seen my hands begin to shake more noticeably, and my memory become more shaky.
There’s no real point to this story; I’m sharing this with you so that you know a bit of my daily routine. Every Friday, I jab myself on the thigh with that needle. That needle, more than my family, more than my friends, is my single constant companion. I take the needle with a deep breath, and absorb its contents into my body. I take it like it’s nothing, but in a way, it’s everything.