Published - Tuesday,
February 6, 2001
By James Coburn
The Edmond Sun
Taking a walk six years ago became a journey of a lifetime.
"What are these tingling sensations in the bottom of my feet?" I thought as I briskly made my way though my neighborhood. "Are my shoes too tight?"
Three weeks later, an uncanny numbness spread up my right leg. Electrical shocks extended down my body when I bowed my head. A bit perplexed, I didn't realize that what I thought would be a typical doctor's appointment would end up with a week-long stay in Deaconess Hospital.
Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. Though much progress has been made in pharmecutical treatments of the disease, a cure is yet to be found.
The disease is usually diagnosed by the process of elimination. A group of physicians concluded that I suffered from a rare disease called ADEM. If that was the case, I was not supposed to have any reoccurrences. That was not to be.
A series of MRIs noted an increasing amount of lesions on my brain.
Perhaps the most difficult thing for a survivor to endure is the fact that the illness is highly unpredictable. Some patients experience a gradual decline, while others fare better and stay in remission for months, years or even a lifetime.
Those suffering MS include actors Richard Pryor and Annette Funicello.
Some people experience long-term or temporary inflictions that can include loss of vision, coordination, partial paralysis, difficulty swallowing and depression. But it's important to remember that not all symptoms are indicative of every MS patient.
Many patients continue to maintain careers while others must rely on disability. For the most part, I have been symptom free for two-and-a-half years. But the autumn of 1997 was a major challenge. I already had endured a temporary bout of double vision that summer.
Late that September, I took a nap because I was feeling a dizziness that was uncharacteristic to anything experienced before. By nightfall, I telephoned my sister, telling her that the left side of my face was numb. There was a ringing in my ears.
With some caution, my neurologist suggested that it would be permissible for me to work. However, no longer able to drive, I conducted phone interviews and worked on a lap-top computer at home. Even that became intolerable. After sitting at the computer for only five minutes, I would return to rest on the sofa. Being single, I had to manage.
But I was growing weaker, and the dizziness more intense. A dark depression ensued. Shopping for groceries was intolerable, sickening, dizzying. My neurologist could not guarantee that the symptoms would expire.
"They went away in the past," he said. But I would continue the battle for three more months.
Some friends and family members went into denial about my illness. Others knew they had to be proactive. One friend in Boston intervened and called my primary-care physician, informing him that my (situational) depression was acute.
My physician's office telephoned me to come to the office immediately. Another friend drove me.
That marked the beginning of my recovery. The prescription of an anti-depressant (Paxil) helped combat the despair. A physical therapist taught me some eye-motioning exercise to help ease the dizziness. And gradually, because of the characteristics of the disease itself, the dizziness subsided to normal conditions.
I was determined from there to feel better than I had before my sickness. As I improved, I began walking distances sometimes up to three miles. I began to eliminate extraneous stress factors from my life.
I don't know what is in my future as far as MS is concerned. However, I do know what's in my future as far as I am concerned.
I will not be a victim. I may have multiple sclerosis but it does not have me. Life is a journey that only gets better. In an ironic sense, the malady has been a gift. Through adversity, I discovered an inner strength that I never knew I possessed.
And I am not numb to life.