Sometimes people’s early experiences with MS involve some decisive big event that reveals to them, and perhaps additional people as well, that something is wrong. This may involve hands and fingers that cease to function. Richard Cohen tells in Blindsided of dropping a pot of coffee in an office full of people. Fictional Julienne Gillis in Breakdown Lane by Jacquelyn Mitchard relates dropping a sheet cake at a baby shower, after which she stumbles into the mess.
These are pretty impressive, but how about a commentator on the PBS television program Antiques Roadshow holding a vase from the Ming Dynasty, only to have it slip from his suddenly nonfunctional hands and crash into a thousand pieces? Or a member of the White House kitchen staff dropping a bowl of tomato bisque on the First Lady’s lap at a state dinner?
My big event wasn’t big for anyone except me. No physical mishaps were involved. It was, in fact, nothing more than a fleeting facial expression. Only me and the doc were there; it was the first time I’d ever met him and I’m sure he wouldn’t remember it at all. I’d had an MRI to determine if a tumor was causing my tinnitus (it wasn’t) and subsequently was told to show the results to a neurologist. He conducted the whole physical exam, asked a boatload of questions, and even examined the first couple of MRI films appearing to be as convinced as I was that while there may have been an assortment of things wrong with me, MS wasn’t one of them.
As soon as he picked up the fateful film, however, he looked like he’d been hit with a ton of bricks. His whole demeanor changed. He got down to serious business and started writing prescriptions for tests that would be required. The official diagnosis didn’t come until all the i’s had been dotted and the t’s had been crossed, but judging from the look on his face at that moment, I knew exactly where we were headed. Those tests weren’t designed to figure out what was wrong with me, but to convince my insurance company to pay for MS medications. It’s one Valentine’s Day I won’t soon forget.
Correction: The declining cognitive abilities thing is hitting me hard. Valentine’s Day was when I received the phone call instructing me to make the neurology appointment. The doctor visit actually happened a couple weeks later, on Washington’s birthday.