Putting a name to the ’affliction’

It’s been wisely recommended that I explain what the ‘affliction’ is that I occasionally mention in my articles. I have no problem with that, but it does make me realize that I’ve been coy about it as though I might somehow be ashamed to have it. I have multiple sclerosis; MS for short.

While the diagnosis has been fairly recent, I’ve been dealing with it for a few years now without really knowing what it was. And no, I’m not ashamed of it. It’s merely something that happens to some people. I am, however, rather fortunate in getting it in my sixties and not in my twenties when it would really have affected the course of my life.

I hear stories of others who contract MS at an early age and I’m moved by the suffering and the ordeals they must endure. It takes great courage to cope with this affliction at a younger age than mine.

I often cite a saying that goes ’either you’re lucky or you’re doomed….either way you’re doomed.” It’s the kind of dark humor that appeals to me. It’s also taking the long view.

If anyone has the privilege of being lucky, it’s me. I’m not ‘lotto’ lucky. I consider that a particularly burdensome curse. You find out things you really didn’t want to know, especially about other people and yourself. My sort of luck is getting through life this far when I thought I mightn’t. Stupid things that could have killed me off didn’t. The brain still works reasonably well. I’ve met a lot of great people and some real losers and was astute enough to know the difference. Et al, et cetera.

There’s a mystery about this case of MS I wish I could solve. Is it genetic? I’m part Scots and Scotland has the highest percentage per capita of MS in the world. Is it environmental? MS affects people in certain latitudes like where we live right now. The St. John Valley, being largely of French ancestry, seems to have a higher proportion of people who have MS than other places. I’m also part Valley French, so both factors might play into the equation.

Anyway, what I’ve read about MS only deepens the mystery, as scientists can list certain characteristics of the malady, but not its cause….and there is no cure.

What’s certain is that MS is an autoimmune condition. I don’t use the word disease because it suggests germs or bacteria or poor hygiene. Basically the body thinks itself the enemy and attacks its own nervous system, short-circuiting the wiring, and making life difficult for one afflicted by it. It affects people differently, again depending on age, gender, physical condition, etc.

It started when I lost my balance tying off a canoe on top of the truck and went down on the left leg. The left leg never regained its mobility and I hobbled about for nearly two years before going to the doctor. By then, I was 65 and Medicare, thrice-blessed Medicare, kicked in. I’d never have known otherwise.

The ‘lucky’ part also kicked in at the same time, as I thought I might have contracted ALS; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It’s also called Lou Gerhig’s Disease. The symptoms are similar to MS and my speech started slurring a bit. ALS took my Aunt Alice, so the fear was justified. Difficult as MS can be, ALS is fatal. I’d rather have the former than the latter. Gratitude is in order.

I may mention certain difficulties MS presents in future columns, so they shouldn’t come as either a surprise or a mystery. It’s something I have, but it’s not something that defines who or what I am. It may surface as the occasional cosmic joke standing on two wobbly legs and a stick, but shouldn’t be any more serious than that.

Like I said, I consider myself lucky.


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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