4 DAYS TO AN EPIPHANY
I had spent four days under close supervision, effectively under house arrest, and subject to 24 hour surveillance. There were three other men in this small room with me and I didn’t know a thing about them or what they had done to deserve this incarceration. We were total strangers. We didn’t talk much even though we had a common bond, a single unifying thread running through our lives. One single aspect of our lives invisibly bonded us together. Talking was not forbidden but we preferred to remain within our own private protective shells. If we didn’t think about the real reason we were here then we wouldn’t have to face the fact that something was seriously wrong with our lives. As long as we ignored where we were we wouldn’t have to face the reality that was slowly but surely unfolding before our very eyes.
This was back in June 1988 and the fact that I am writing this story today is testimony to the fact that I survived. I lived to tell the tale, to fight another day. What happened to the other 3 men that I had shared that small room with? I have no idea. I was the first to be released and I was glad to get out. Not that I am heartless or didn’t care about those men but I had my own worries at that time. I haven’t given a thought to those men since the day I walked out the door with my worries weighing me down like a huge rucksack and I am equally certain that they have not thought of me. It is the way of the world; each man for himself.
Memories get blurred by the mists of time and my memories of that time in my life are slightly unclear although those 4 days are forever etched in mind. I still remember some of my captors to this day. Not particularly what they looked like or whether they were young or old, male or female, but back in 1988 the vast majority of nurses were female and the vast majority of doctors were male. The Mercy Hospital, Cork, was no different. I remember such things as a little act of kindness by a young nurse and I remember being told the news that would shatter my world for ever.
You see I had been having difficulties for some time before my hospitalisation and this was to confirm what everyone suspected, that is everyone except me. I was blissfully ignorant of what I was being tested for. “Where ignorance is bliss ‘tis folly to be wise” or so they say and wow did I wise up pretty lively that morning of the fourth day.
The moment I was informed of my pending release was a bitter sweet moment, a moment I will never forget. I had been brought to an even smaller room by the doctor. I knew then that I was in serious trouble, the need for privacy was a dead give away. I can still see the scene in my mind’s eye, him seated on one side of the desk and me on the other. Sometimes I wish that Public Relations practitioners gave diagnoses, they can put a positive spin on anything. They made the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki look a good thing. The doctor had that undertaker’s gravitas about him as he started to give my sentence, oops sorry diagnosis. There was no way to gild the lily, to put a positive spin on it. I had Multiple Sclerosis. At that time there was no recognised cause, no cure and more importantly no treatment. Here I was at 31 years of age with a loving wife, 2 small children and a mortgage. The world should have been my oyster. What would happen next?
In between bouts of tears and rage against God and the universe we told our families and close friends who were very supportive and still are to this day.
MS was unpredictable back in 1988 and still is to this day and so no one knew what would happen next. What would I do next? To this day there is still no known cause for MS. There are a range of treatments available now to slow the progression of the disease, but because the rate of progression is different for every one it is difficult to say that it has slowed. No cure is yet available.
MS is not a death sentence and here I am today, 25 years later, planning the next phase in my life. Where will it take me? How will I get there? Who will be with me? All questions without answers at the moment. There is one thing of which I am certain; I will not go down without a fight.
On my headstone my epithet will read
“He fought the good fight, he ran the race (metaphorically)”