A diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis isn’t based so much on what you do have but what you don’t have. It’s a matter of elimination. The doctor rules out all of the other diseases and eventually lands on MS. You see, there isn’t a fingerprint for the illness, contributing both to the challenge of diagnosing it and the challenge of curing it.
My dad’s been sick since I was eight. His leg muscles got stiffer and stiffer, making him walk silly and his speech became more and more slurred, making him sound like a drunk. Not sure what was going on, he headed off to various specialists in search of an answer. He had a spinal tap, multiple scans, and various blood tests. After a year of being poked and prodded, a doctor informed him he had Multiple Sclerosis.
Not willing to be taken down by the illness, my dad originally turned to alternative medicine. He started out with a macrobiotic diet. Think steamed mulch. Then he moved onto meditation. Think weird woman’s voice. Not finding success with the holistic approach, my dad turned to medicine-medicine. He first looked into the theory that MS was linked to a strain of Chlamydia and could thereby be cured by an antiobiotic. But the first step involved my dad having another spinal tap, so he passed. He next looked into a different medication based on a different theory. This one was pumped directly into the spinal fluid. Since his body didn't respond to the oral version of the med, he decided to halt the proceess altogether. Then he tried out Botox shots in his leg muscles. That just made him go from bad to worse. He pretty much stalled out there.
I’ve always hoped my dad would somehow be miraculously cured by one of those uncertain and unproven medical procedures but I never pushed him to try any of them. At least not beyond a simple introduction. I shared what I knew and then let him decide if it was of interest. It’s his body and it’s up to him what to do with it. My mom took a similar approach until those Botox shots over the summer that went, well, awry. Newly retired, she used her free time to decorate the house in Sarasota and to nag my dad about seeing more specialists.
“This is Paige Jennifer,” I announced as I picked up my office phone.
“PJ, it’s me,” my dad sputtered out.
“Where are you? Please tell me you haven’t been lying flat on your back in the parking lot for the last two hours.”
“No,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m at Penn. With mom. Did I forget to tell you? She insisted I see some neurological guru.”
“And what’d he have to say?”
“He had good news and bad news. Good news? I don’t have MS. Bad news? He has no idea what I do have.”
“Shut the fuck up! You’ve been misdiagnosed for twenty-five years? Unreal. What did you say to him?”
“I yelled ‘praise the lord, I’m healed’ and then I threw my walker across the room and ran out of there.”
“Cute. Now what did you really say,” I said instead of asked.
“Nothing. I’m not sure there’s anything to be said. At least not from me. At least not now. He wants me to go through another round of tests. I'll set it all up for early next year.”
When I hung up the phone, I sat quietly for a moment. Suddenly I started imagining my dad healthy, walking not only without a walker but with a normal gait. I tried to recall what his voice sounded like before it was interrupted with stuttering and slurring and gasping for words. And as all of these things filled my head, I settled on the feeling that maybe one of those miracle cures really could happen. I had that feeling once before. It was many years ago and I eventually let go of it. But I’ve got to admit. It’s something special having that feeling of hope back again.
PS: Happy Holidays, everyone!