I retired at the end of January this year (2011). A few years back I would have been shocked at the prospect of having to give up work so early. But, none of us knows what is round the corner and having become ill in 2007, diagnosed in 2008, giving up the dental practice side of my career in 2009, numbness and stiffness in my right hand in 2010 leading to difficulty in teaching the dental students hands-on practical skills and the safety concerns of using a dental handpiece (drill) on a patient thereafter. So, when it came to being retired earlier this year, I must confess that it actually came as a relief!
MS can affect any part of your body. It's a neurological illness - in other words, it primarily affects your brain and your spinal cord, so if it damages nerves then wherever those nerves travel to will be affected.
The myelin sheath (think of the plastic covering on a speaker cable) is damaged in MS leading to poor transmission of electrical signals, or possibly no signals getting through at all. On an MRI scan these damaged areas appear as white areas damaged by the illness.
For me, there have been a variety of symptoms. After an episode six or seven years ago now (which I now recognise as MS, but didn't at the time), my vision became temporarily blurred, my balance was affected then for about two weeks and the only lasting effect was that my ability to remember how to spell certain words has never come back! My wife and colleagues at work got used to me asking them how to spell the simplest of words. I just have a blank sometimes and literally can't remember words which are very familiar to me. The same goes for peoples names too! So, if I can't remember your name when I meet you - please don't be offended!
Then my walking and balance and then my right hand were affected. But, I find the most frustrating symptom is fatigue and exhaustion. It makes sense, when you think about it - MS is a disease of the brain and spinal cord - so, things like cognitive function and fatigue make a lot of sense. I find that I am reasonably able in the morning to do a little mental work - all the usual stuff, like sorting out paperwork or something on the computer. Once I get to about 2pm the energy has gone and I feel totally drained. Thinking becomes hard and cognitive ability definitely slows down.
On top of that I've spent quite a lot of time in the urology department of one of the local hospitals: several outpatient appointments and one day visit for a general anaesthetic. On a lighter note, it turned out that I used to work with the anaesthetist years ago. We caught up for a few minutes before he put me off to sleep! So that's the state of things just now. I'm on various pain killers which work pretty well and I'm on a daily injection of Copaxone, which is no bother at all. Susie gives it to me once in a while. It's a wife's dream, isn't it? - sticking needles in her husband!
(Images borrowed from the WWW - hope the WWW doesn't mind!)