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It was five years ago today that Dr Naraporn Prayoonwiwat of the Bangkok Nursing Home diagnosed me as having Multiple Sclerosis. After a short-lived period of semi-paralysis of my left leg and arm in 1995 which seriously impaired my enjoyment of a gig by The Stranglers, and a bout of optic neuritis in 1996 that was cured by steroid tablets and two anti-inflammatory injections into my eye (the second most hideous medical procedure ever inflicted on me), it took a period of spazziness and trembling of my left arm in 1999 to bring me to Dr Naraporn’s clinic. I was very lucky, because although MS is highly unusual in Asian people, Dr Naraporn had worked in the west and knew MS when she saw it.
As quick as you can say "Yes, I have medical insurance", I was in a private room with 1000 mg of methyl prednisolone dripping into my left arm, and undergoing a lumbar puncture. This is the most hideous of medical procedures; you curl tightly into a foetal ball while a hypodermic that makes a knitting needle look like a flu jab is shoved between your spinal discs and cerebrospinal fluid is withdrawn. Should this ever happen to you, here’s my advice: drink gallons of coffee as caffeine prevents the LP migraine, demand pre-skewering valium, and don’t move a fucking muscle for the 20 minutes that the needle’s in there.
The next day got me an MRI scan (the third most hideous … you get the picture) and a formal diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. I was given some prednisolone steroid tablets to shut down my immune system so that my nerves might be given a chance to repair themselves, something else to counteract the acne that the steroids cause, Triludan to stop the neural pain and something to counteract the abdominal spasms that the Triludan cause.
Then, it was to internet cafés for hours to google for English language information. It was Jooly’s Joint that I found, and that helped me a lot (so it’s especially pleasant that a few years later I met Jooly in connection with Web Accessibility without even realising it was the same Julie Howell). Also, my colleagues at Bell Thailand made it bearable by covering my lessons and being lovely to me.
Five years later, I’m still well – I get tired quicker than I did 5 years ago, but then, who doesn’t with two young kids and a rock-star lifestyle? I still work, drive, drink,
and smoke, although seldom simultaneously these days. My comparative wellness is not a sentimental story of my Herculean willpower triumphing over adversity or any bollocks like that, but purely the physical lottery of the disease. I’m simply lucky to have only 2 lesions, in the top of the spine and none in the brain. The only things I don’t do any more are womanise (and that’s nothing to do with MS, that’s because I’m terrified of my wife) and play guitar, as the last MS flare-up damaged fine motor control in my left hand. Some people who’ve heard my songs might consider the guitar-curtailment a blessing, however.
For me, to be honest, the worst thing about MS is the uncertaintly. Prognosis can only ever be statistical, rather than individual; I may never have another relapse again – or I may wake up tomorrow and find myself permanently in a wheelchair or blind in one eye. It’s purely a percentage game. It makes getting a simple cold a nightmare – could this be the time when my immune system, awakened by the bug, starts again at destroying my own spinal cord?
If you’re unlucky enough to have been diagnosed as an MSer recently, don’t despair; don’t deny it and wear yourself out, but don’t let it limit you – or even worse, define you. Here endeth the feelgoodbullshit psychobabble: Happy Birthday, incurable degenerative spinal disease – you bastard!