For those who suffer from multiple sclerosis, a direct parallel can be drawn from this very scenario. Short circuits are occurring every day in the brains of MS patients. Just like the insulation surrounding that lamp cord, our nerve endings have a substance that insulates them and helps the nerves receive and interpret messages from the brain. This insulation is called the myelin sheath, and unfortunately you cant grab a roll of electrical tape and repair it. When the myelin sheath becomes inflamed and deteriorates, it leads to patches of scarring on the brain known as sclerosis, or multiple scars. These scars can be viewed through magnetic resonance imaging, otherwise known as MRI.
Because there are a slew of disordered conditions in MS, many of them can be confused with other illnesses. Multiple scars equal multiple symptoms. Its difficult to pinpoint clinically, and researchers throughout the world are trying to piece together this puzzling disorder.
Just like termites chomping on a slab of wood, it is believed that our own immune system, which defends us from invading organisms, has turned the tables and is actually chewing away at the nerves and tissues in the brain and spinal cord. In the case of MS, the sustenance of choice is the myelin, which, again, is an insulating fatty protein that sheathes the nerve cells. Messages are not being sent properly, and are slow to get through. Many times, they fail to get through at all or jump across other fractured conductors.
With fewer than 500,000 known cases in the United States, it is possible that thousands of others may be afflicted and have yet to be diagnosed. Currently, there is one diagnosis each hour in this country.
Imagine, if you will, your light bulb just not having enough juice to operate at full capacity. The depleted amount of energy, or a lack of, can be compared to the most troubling symptom in MS: energy loss, and fatigue.
We all understand what its like to be tired, but the fatigue caused by MS is deadening, its demeaning, and it can leave you in a comatose state. Its like someone did, in fact shut the lights off. You can do your best to restore some of that energy, but your brain is not going to allow you to re-boot that easily.
The Spin Zone:
Another disturbing symptom of MS is nausea, which can be likened to stepping off a ship in 50 foot waves and then hopping on a bad carnival ride. This type of nausea can put you down in an instant, and leave you hovering over the porcelain throne with the continued sensation of needing to disgorge.
If you have ever had an ear infection, you can likely relate to yet another potential symptom: vertigo, which tosses you into a bizarre world of spatial disorientation. Its not like being dizzy, but more like walking on cotton balls and feeling the world move around you. Its very surreal, and if you try explaining that to your physician, understandably, he or she might think youre a little loopy.
More Unsettling Signs:
If you were to place your nose against the thick glass on a big fish tank and look through it, you might perceive how MS can cause some unlikely visual disturbances in the optic nerve. There can be double vision, blurred vision, optic weirdness, and the rare chance of losing your sight completely.
If thats not a big enough nuisance, maybe you will wake up each morning with pins and needles poking away at your fingers and arms with altering sensations, and paralysis. The paralysis can be in your face, your hands, your arms, your legs, or, your feet, and there is no telling if or when it will subside.
Its a strange feeling to have your hand or arm fall asleep, but even stranger when it lasts for several hours, let alone months or years. Confusion, cognitive blunders, slurred speech, lack of concentration, sore muscles, spasticity, and sudden loss of balance can show up at will. Anything that requires the voluntary and involuntary actions that our brain executes could be effected by MS.
Each and every case of MS is different depending on what region of the central nervous system has been affected. Rarely, if ever, does anyone experience all of the abnormalities. There is no set pattern, and all symptoms can vary from time to time and change in severity and duration in the same person. Thats what makes this disease so frustrating and unpredictable.
There are actually four different types of MS, and to date, there is no known cure. While some people are marginally affected, others may have rapid progression to total disability ending up having to rely on a cane or wheelchair. The majority of people, however, fit somewhere between these two extremes.
Outside Looking In:
From the outside, some of the above mentioned conditions are invisible or hidden to those around you. Symptoms are not easy to describe to others such as family and friends. Not many can actually recognize, or respect, how MS can effect a persons employment, social activities, and quality of life.
As one individual put it, The most difficult thing to cope with is the absolute dichotomy between how you look and how you feel.
Waking up every day wondering if you will go blind or become paralyzed takes an emotional toll. For this reason, depression is another notable piece of the MS puzzle and can easily take you down the wrong path while you try to make sense of what you can and cant do. The suicide rate of the disease is substantial.
Being diagnosed with MS can ultimately change the way you think about yourself. Fortunately, the mortality rates are quite low, and the disease is only known to take a few extra years off your life, if any. There are medications that can treat some of the symptoms, and in more extreme cases, there are injection medicines that could slow the progress or alter the disease course.
Long term data is just becoming available and the jury is still out on how effective these drugs can be. At the same time, they are extremely expensive, and depending on the way your body responds, the side effects can be horrendous. Since each individual case is so different, they all have to be addressed accordingly with a treatment of choice.
When stricken with any disease, you must take a stand and do your research. Listen to what your body is telling you, and focus on your will to conquer it any way possible. Sifting through the emotions with a more positive outlook and making some lifestyle changes can help immensely. It may take a week, it may take a month, or it may take a year to face the reality, but, as long as you surround yourself with trusted family and friends who are willing to accept your limitations, you can live a fairly productive life.
The MS Walk:
If you wish to show support and raise money to find a cure for MS, there will be an MS walk on June 23rd at The Civic Center in Traverse City. Registration is open between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., and the walk begins at 9:00 a.m. For further information you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 800-243-5767 or 248-350-0020