January 31, 2012
Our 6 a.m. date to watch the news took a bad turn when the steaming cup of coffee Meredith had set next to me toppled into my lap as I missed the ceramic trivet it was supposed to occupy. Scalding coffee on your bare thighs is more than enough to awaken a drowsy person.
In me, it also awakens an anger to match the pain. Not anger at Meredith, who was nice enough to bring me coffee. But anger at the accidents that are becoming more frequent.
When you have a debilitating chronic illness like MS, pain becomes almost second nature. Well-worn joints punished by years of abnormal movements, aching hips and knees, and, of course, herniated discs, become the gift that keeps on giving. I grew used to that long ago. There is little—make that nothing—I can do about it. The inevitable surgeries only become band-aids and create their own pain.
No, it’s not the predictable pain that gets to me. It’s when I become a co-conspirator in my own suffering that my temper flares. The mishaps, the falls, the accidents caused by that magic combination of weak limbs, damaged vision, and acute carelessness—those are what get to me. In many cases, these are preventable mishaps. Illness is no friend, but often I am my worst enemy.
Allow me to entertain you with a few true tales.
Every night before bed, I change into gym shorts. That elegant outfit hangs from a hook on the bathroom door, where I trade them for the jeans I am about to remove. I am nothing if not fashionable. I sit on top of the closed toilet. This is a slightly precarious perch because the cover is not really flat. Once, as I lifted my right leg, I heaved with such force that I flew off the seat and landed on my head, wedged between the toilet and the shower.
I kid you not. If Dick van Dyke had done that, he would have brought down the house. Not me. I was alone in our house, in quite a bit of pain, and wondering how in the world I was going to make it onto my feet.
Only a few weeks earlier, we had been in a restaurant on freezing Cape Cod, sitting very close to a roaring fire. I was in a heavy turtleneck sweater, oblivious to the fact that I was getting seriously overheated, perilous for anyone with MS. When I stood, my legs buckled, and I hit the floor hard. With help, I got out of the restaurant.
Another time, I got out of the car and went flying again, landing on my ribs and burying my face in a driveway covered with stones and clamshells. I am still sporting the scars north of my neck.
It’s hard to complain when I am to blame. And so I turn my anger inward, raging against the maddening irony that most of the wounds I suffer are self-inflicted.
There is so much chronic illness in America. Am I the only one who seems bent on self-destruction?