All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for October 2002

MS won't stop me living life to the full

Diagnosed at 14, Nicola Pringle refuses to let her illness beat her

October 11, 2002, Friday
Maria Croce
Scottish Daily Record

PRETTY Nicola Pringle doesn't look out of place as she sits chatting with her friends in a night- club, but when she gets up to dance, she holds on to one of her pals or the wall to steady herself.

No one spots her folding her walking stick and placing it to one side - for the 24 year old doesn't want to look different from the crowd.

Even though she's battled the nervous system disease multiple sclerosis for the last 10 years, Nicola is determined not to let it ruin her life.

The condition robbed her of her teenage years and meant she spent months in a wheelchair unable even to talk.

But she's fought back and now has a flat of her own in Glasgow where she's keen to live as normal a life as possible. When she thinks back to her happy childhood, she remembers a time when, as an artistic schoolgirl, she dreamed of becoming a graphic designer.

Now, although she can't even hold a pen steady enough to write, the brave young woman isn't bitter.

She said: "Sometimes I wish I'd found out about the MS later so that I'd have been able to have had a job and maybe a husband before becoming ill.

"I was angry at first, but now I've accepted it. I haven't let MS ruin my life. I can't do everything I could before, but I'm just getting on with life. If I can give hope to other people who've just been diagnosed with MS, then I'd be pleased."

Until she was 14, Nicola didn't miss a day of school through illness. A keen dancer, the youngster also modelled clothes for a local photographer. She even appeared in a short film as an extra with her younger brother David.

Nicola said: "Sometimes I think back to then and feel a little sad that I didn't have long before I was affected by MS so young. But I don't dwell on it."

She was struck down with a mystery virus at 14 which left doctors baffled.

She also suffered severe headaches, her arm shook and she began to drag her leg. She then lost the ability to speak or move.

She was taken for tests at Glasgow's Southern General Hospital, where doctors initially thought she had suffered a stroke before diagnosing MS.

Nicola recalled: "I called it the Suffering General' because it was such a terrible time for me."

When doctors told Nicola she had MS, she didn't know anything about the disease. Initially she was angry and confused when doctors gave her the shocking news that she was suffering from an incurable disease affecting her central nervous system and they couldn't predict how Nicola would be affected in the future.

She said: "They told me the worst-case situation was that I could be paralysed, but I decided to work hard to try to prevent that happening. I knew I didn't want to live my life in a wheelchair. I didn't want anyone to see me as disabled.

"At first I blamed my mum because I had to hit out at someone, although now I know it's not her fault.

"I don't know why it happened to me. I was such a healthy girl when I was growing up. I didn't have a day of sickness. When this happened, I was totally floored."

She spent seven months in hospital confined to a wheelchair.

Nicola has a photograph of Ally McCoist meeting her in hospital, but admits she doesn't remember his visit.

She said: "I'm a big fan of Ally so my family wrote to him about me and he came to see me. Unfortunately, I was so ill I don't even remember it, but at least I've got the photo."

From the moment she was diagnosed, Nicola was determined to fight MS.

She said: "My occupational therapist got me to bake chocolate cake to help my movement and it took months before I was able to speak my first word - Aye'."

When she managed to walk again, Nicola could get around on crutches and now uses a stick.

There are different types of MS and Nicola suffers from the relapse-remitting form, which is the most common at initial diagnosis.

It means she has flare-ups when her condition gets worse and she is confined to a wheelchair temporarily, followed by periods of partial or complete recovery.

INITIALLY after diagnosis, she would suffer relapses every few months, but she avoided leaving the house in a wheelchair.

She said: "I felt everyone was looking at me. They wouldn't even talk to me - they'd talk to whoever was above pushing me as though I wasn't even there.

"They'd ask how I was and I'd have to say, Excuse me, I'm here, I can hear'."

When her friends went to pubs and clubs, Nicola would stay in rather than go out in a wheelchair.

But during periods of remission, she was determined to make the most of life and joined her friends on nights out, initially using her crutches.

She said: "I've had fantastic support from my family and friends, but when people I didn't know asked me about the crutches, I'd just say I had a sore leg.

"I don't like talking about my MS. I might feel rotten, but I don't tell people."

Nicola has been in remission for the last five years, although she is still in almost constant pain.

Sometimes she has to take up to 15 tablets in a day for her bad knee and headaches.

She explained: "I feel if someone shook me after taking all those pills I'd rattle and it can make me feel fuzzy-headed."

Because her mobility is still limited, Nicola uses a stick to get around and it takes her half- an-hour to dress herself. Her memory has also suffered.

She can no longer write as she can't hold a pen properly.

She said: "Now I've got a stick, it makes me feel like an old lady sometimes, but I know I've got to use it.

"It's also a little like a kid with a comfort blanket - I feel I have to have it by me, although I don't want anyone to see it.

"If I go dancing with friends, I'll take my stick, but I won't let anyone see it. I'll fold it up and put it to one side. Then I'll hold on to a friend or the wall for support."

But while her close friends have been totally understanding about her condition, Nicola admits some people are wary.

She said: "It has put off some boyfriends in the past, but it's their loss. Some boys can't handle it, some can."

But although Nicola has come to terms with living with the condition, she wishes she was able to work like her friends.

She said: "I'd love to be able to do a nine-to-five job, but I know I can't because I feel unwell all the time. Sometimes I can't get out of bed.

"In the past I've had to be fed and when I've not been active, I've put on weight, but I don't dwell on the negative side."

She's decided she never wants to have children because of her condition.

She explained: "I wouldn't want to put a child through it. It worries me that if I had kids I could have a relapse then a partner would have to look after me and the children. I wouldn't want that. But I want to live my life as normally as I can."

Four years ago, Nicola decided she wanted her independence so moved in to a flat, where her parents and friends are regularly visitors, and last month she went on holiday to Turkey.

Nicola visits the local MS support centre for reflexology and aromatherapy sessions and also spends time in a special oxygen tank which, she says, helps with the pain.

She said: "I'm positive about the future, but just take each day as it comes."

© Copyright 2002 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday Mail Ltd