Physician, heal thyself!
The months leading up to the diagnosis of MS are difficult for most of us. But when a physician’s body fails them, there's an additional, subtle layer of angst to deal with. Doctors don't get sick. And when we do, it is uncomfortable for everyone involved. To witness another doctor proving to be a mere mortal forces those caring for them to confront their own frailty. And how do you deal with a physician / patient? One who possibly has more years of formal education than many of those who are treating them - but one who is scared and unwell, and who perhaps knows less than you might think about the particular affliction they are experiencing. It's not always easy to move seamlessly between my roles as "specialist" one day and "patient" the next - and it's not every provider who is comfortable being the doctor when it's me sitting in the other chair in their office!
The days after an MS diagnosis are hard, too. Some of you are busy getting through them right now, I know, and I hope it helps to hear that I found getting my head around having MS completely overwhelming, too. It didn't help having my own medical degree at all. That just added a layer of "shame" that made me unable to discuss what was going on with most of my work friends. Physician, heal thyself! But, as in most difficult situations, support came from some unexpected places.
When I look back from where I am today, there were actually a whole lot of “silver linings” to that difficult time. The day I had my lumbar puncture followed by my first dose of IV steroids, I had caught public transport in to the hospital – having not yet learned my lesson about just how difficult that can be! Before the infusion had finished, my boss appeared at my bedside and announced “I’m here to drive you home”. Then the nurse who came to give me the rest of the IV steroids at home turned out to be an absolute delight – sharing a cup of tea and cheerful conversation daily and leaving me smiling at the end of each visit. Despite how few people I had confided in about what was going on, home cooked meals appeared, uplifting email messages arrived from around the world, and my busy clinics were somehow rearranged so that I could take the necessary time off work and return to find things under control. All the small, practical expressions of support added up beautifully.
A wise friend who has lived with MS for many years longer than I have has told me more than once that an essential “tool” for living well with MS is having the right support structures in place. The right team of professionals who you trust to help you optimize your health and function. The right phone numbers to call when you’re struggling. The right companion animal to comfort you, if that’s your thing. And the right collection of family and friends who will accept you as you are and be there for you when you need them. The sort of people you try to be there for, too - the best support networks carry two-way traffic!
I’ve always been an independent person. A carer rather than someone who is comfortable accepting care from others. It’s been humbling at times to discover how many lovely people there are around me, just waiting for me to take down the “one way” signs and allow them to be part of my support team as I move through life with MS. The stranger who showed me that doctors do get MS (and that this is OK) was perhaps the most unexpected outstretched hand to appear in my life so far – but that’s a story for next time!
The Unaffected One