February 19, 2004 Thursday
Sydney Morning Herald
I had not been feeling well for several months and my eyes had been bothering me. They felt stiff if I looked sideways and I was so tired.
One night, as my husband Stuart and I were getting ready to go to friends for dinner, my legs felt like lead weights. When I walked, the floor appeared to be moving past my feet too quickly, like scenery whizzing past a train window.
At our friends' house, things got worse. I was unsteady on my feet and then suddenly realised that I was going to throw up. In a panic I ran for the bathroom, skidding on the tiled floor. Eventually, I stumbled to the door and left with a bowl, provided by our astonished hosts. By the time we got home, I could not walk without help.
I was sick throughout the night but only in the morning was the full extent of the problem revealed. When I opened my eyes, I was met by a frightening kaleidoscope, a wild collage, made up of fragments of my bedroom.
The curtains seemed to be floating across the ceiling and the cupboards rocked to and fro, like the horizon viewed from a rolling ship. Worse still, everything was in duplicate. I still could not lift my head without vomiting. Stuart called an ambulance.
Multiple sclerosis is an ugly sounding illness. I had been diagnosed with it four years earlier, but had never before suffered more than "nuisance value" symptoms. I had stubbornly believed that I would never get sick and only Stuart knew of my diagnosis. But now I was scared.
A neurologist came to see me and explained that many people improve after such an attack, but how much and how soon was hard to say. Even more difficult to predict was the nature and extent of the next attack and, indeed, the illness itself. I felt helpless.
I started making imaginary deals with the devil. What would I give up to get my vision back? My right arm? Both legs? Bladder function?
In the evening, the children visited. My daughter was missing me. She tried to think of interesting things to say so she wouldn't have to leave. She asked if I would get better. Yes, I said, knowing how reckless a promise this was.
My son was contained and quiet. You'd never know what he was thinking. He also asked if I'd get better and I told the same fib.
After they left, I pondered my future and made another deal with the devil. I could see with piercing clarity that all I wanted was to be able to look after my kids. I wouldn't care if I couldn't do anything else, so long as I could look after my kids.
After five days of intravenous steroids to shrink the plaque that had lodged in my brain, I was allowed to go home. Stuart helped me to the car. It was odd to be outside among people rushing to and fro doing everyday things. As they tactfully stepped around me, I wanted to shout out that just a week ago I could rush around, too.
It only took 10 minutes to cover the short distance to our home and I stood holding onto the gate for a few moments before going inside. How quickly things can change.
The first few days were difficult; I was very weak. But gradually I became more confident walking on my own and my vision improved. Then a month after coming out of hospital, I woke up and I could see normally. I closed my eyes and opened them again to make sure.
It took much longer to regain my strength, but with planning, I manage everything now that is important to me.
I haven't forgotten those deals I made with the devil, and I don't know
when he'll be around to collect, but when I see my kids coming through
the gate after school each day, I'd say that, whatever it costs, it's been
Copyright © 2004, John Fairfax Publications Pty Ltd