Coming to terms

It’s taken me some time to come to terms with this so-called affliction. Other people have it, now so do I. It’s called multiple sclerosis, MS for short, and it comes with a variety of symptoms I won’t bother to enumerate.

I realize that I’ve been dealing with it in one form or another since losing my balance while tying off a canoe on the back of the pickup truck. That was almost two years ago and the ‘fall from grace’ was almost comical. One minute I’m on the tail-bed of the Toyota, the next minute I’m sideways on the ground, having come down hard on the left leg in a tumble. Ha-ha. Charlie Chaplin pratfall in Technicolor.

I thought nothing of it at the time, figuring I’m old, but still weather resistant considering the knocks and bangs I’ve taken over the years at various jobs. Not this time, however. The leg stubbornly refused to work properly over the time I figured it would take to mend. Do I see a doctor? A clinician? A nurse practitioner?

No, of course not. That would cost money, and being self-employed, it was out of the question.

I’ve been told I’m being stupid on that count, and yes, that’s part of the equation. The other part is that medicine, doctors, treatment is for thems that can afford it in the country. So it wasn’t for me to seek a remedy. I couldn’t afford it.

It’s in the nature of ‘my people’ as I call them to not seek help, to not complain, not to ask for assistance unless offered. I watched my father always near Death’s door not seek medical help until the very last moment for such trivialities as a heart attack or stroke, and the cancer that finally killed him. He was probably a terrible example to follow, but his being Scots meant you sucked it up, never complained, and took it in stride until it dropped you.

“Don’t whine,” he’d sometimes say, casting a baleful look with his one good eye. Yes, people don’t know that about the Old Man. He was blind in one eye. He told me the examining doctor threw him out of the recruiting office when he tried to join the army during the war. He ventured to memorize the wall chart beforehand and the doctor caught him.

“You can’t see out of that eye, can you?” the doctor said, and the game was up.

Never mind the eye, the man had chronic bone disease and childhood polio that would probably be detected minutes after passing the eye exam. He’s the example I had to follow, and it’s a hard one.

So I waited it out until I turned 65 earlier this year and applied for Social Security. With it comes Medicare. Not a perfect system, but the best this country has for thems that can’t afford health insurance. As for the Social Security, believe me I earned it.

Anyway, the diagnosis was a complete surprise. After MRIs, a CAT scan and a few X-Rays, they said it was all in my head. Literally. Lesions on the brain symptomatic of MS.

What I have to admit is a strange sense of relief. One, it wasn’t something I dreamed up even if the leg went gammy and the balance was wonky. And Two, at least it isn’t ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. That one took my dear Aunt Alice after years and years of being completely incapacitated and bedridden. I half thought it could be hereditary, but kept that notion to myself as much as possible. ‘Don’t whine’…suck it up as best you can.

So why am I bringing the subject up? Well, for the simple reason I don’t want to make excuses to others for hobbling about with a cane as though this too will pass. It won’t. I can live with it now that it has a name. I think that’s the important part. Whatever it happens to be after that is merely what it is.

I’m grateful I can grasp it by the name.

Dave Wylie’s life and work experience runs the gamut from newspaper editor to carpenter to grant writer to boat builder with lots of other work wedged in-between. Wylie currently is president of a management company that oversees an elderly housing complex and president of the local historical society. He resides in Madawaska.

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