Monday, September 28, 2009

A Walk in the Crowds

Perhaps he [the patient] has the happy kind of MS with walks, balloons and smiling people being pushed around in wheelchairs. House, MD

The MS Walk was this weekend and I went to turn in the money I had collected and be pushed around. Even when I was still walking, the event route was too long for me so I ended up greeting people at the finish line. I felt like a fraud, especially the year that I my walker and I ended up on the MS Walk brochure and poster. It really underscored the irony of the event.

I have been involved with the MS Walk for almost as long as I've lived with the disease. It is definitely an opportunity for people watching. I can pick out the newly diagnosed with their family, friends and coworkers easily. They approach the task with great determination and enthusiasm. They believe they can fight MS and win because they haven't experienced the worst the disease has to offer. Over time, they'll discover that MS is a lifetime commitment and the Walk is an annual event. It's hard to come back year after year knowing that your disease is slowly progressing and there is a slim chance of a cure within your lifetime. Personally, I have amassed a lovely collection of tee shirts and other paraphernalia and these people will find themselves in the same situation. That's not being negative; it's just being practical.

Another smaller group that stands out at these events is the "MS Victims." They are joyless souls slumped in wheelchairs with atrophied arms and legs in uncomfortable-looking positions. They are unkempt and disheveled with dirty hair, teeth and shapeless clothing. They never smile and their eyes are cast downward not making contact with anyone as if they are ashamed of their condition. Unlike the newly diagnosed, there aren't a lot of people with them, only someone to push the wheelchair. Statistically people with MS are supposed to have a near-average lifespan, but these people look as if they are not long for this world. If their appearance is any indication of their quality of life, an end to their suffering seems welcome.

As for me, I can't share the overwhelming optimism of the newly diagnosed or the fatalism of the victims. I go to these events to be myself. I think that it's important for the able-bodied participants to see somebody like me coping while retaining my personality. My condition has given me a lot more joke material. I revel in seeing people's reactions when I yell something like, "move over, cripple coming through." When people compliment me on my purple wheelchair, I love to say that I think it is important to accessorize. After an encounter with me, I know that people have to rethink their preconceptions of the disabled. Just because my legs are weak doesn't mean that my personality isn't strong.

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