Six degrees of separation
As promised, here’s the story there wasn’t room for in my last post. Some reading for your weekend enjoyment!
Six degrees of separation
They say that everyone on the planet is connected by no more than six degrees of separation. Nothing has made me believe this more than a friend I made soon after my diagnosis, when I was convinced I was the first physician ever to get MS. I emailed a handful of close friends and relatives my news, hoping they would not see this as the failure it rather felt to me. In less than twenty four hours I had an extraordinary email back from the other side of the world from a complete stranger - let's call him David. "You don't know me, but I’m good friends with [close friends of mine in the US]. I've had MS for over ten years, and I'm a physician at [major hospital in a major city in the US]. Please let me know if you’d like to e-chat. I know how difficult the whole medical degree / confidentiality thing can be. Ask anything you like."
David and I have corresponded ever since. These days he's retired from work due to MS, but he remains a friend who I admire and go to for support when I need it. He showed me how to live life to the fullest while MS was not impacting on him too badly, and more recently he’s taught me that there is no shame in admitting when it's time to step back from some responsibilities. He's a great example, too, of someone who continues to enjoy a meaningful life despite having to give up paid employment.
The first time I met David I was in the US for a meeting. We worked out that I'd be passing right through his city on a planned train journey and agreed I would stop off and have dinner with him and his family. I had no idea what he looked like, yet when I stepped off that train, exhausted from the travelling and with somewhat blurred vision as I looked out into the crowd, I knew him in an instant. It was mutual, too. The only time I have ever gone straight up to a stranger in a foreign city and embraced them! I don’t think we had any particularly profound conversations in the few hours we spent together. It was just a nice time of feeling truly “at home” with people who didn’t feel like strangers at all.
Over the years I have spent fewer than ten hours in total in David’s presence. There was that first meeting in the US, and I’ve since been host for an evening when David and his wife passed through Melbourne briefly on a conference trip. Between times we’ve had years with no contact beyond sharing annual “holiday letters” and years where we’ve emailed back and forth regularly. It doesn’t seem to matter. When there’s a crisis in his family, I’m one of the people he confides in. And when I need support, I know I can count on David to be there for me, too.
There are all kinds of friends. No matter who you are and how MS is treating you, there is someone out there who has trodden a similar path before you. With all the modern methods of communication now available, those six degrees of separation are shrinking and it’s getting easier to find the “David”s of this world.
The Unaffected One