Tuesday 13th April 1999, a busy morning in the Emergency Department. I am the relatively newly appointed Professor of Emergency Medicine, walking through the corridors of the hospital to my ward round in the Observation Ward. Easter long weekend just finished, hours of cycling with the kids at Rottnest Island, lounging around. Now to face the music. And gradually becoming aware of the strangest feeling in my left big toe. It’s like something stuck in my shoe. Over the morning, I bend over time after time to get it out, and there’s nothing there. Odd….
A week later and I am in the Day Procedure ward at a private hospital in Subiaco, prednisolone running into my veins. After helping the nurse with the IV line she was having trouble with. Nurses looking at me with pity in their eyes as they see one of their own, fallen. No future. A relentless slide into disability. Just like my mother before me. Three children at home, the youngest just seven years old. Whirlpools of despair and grief.
Had I known nothing about multiple sclerosis, I could perhaps have done what countless others have done. Denial is a wonderful friend of the seriously ill. But I saw my mother’s rapid descent into helplessness, and her subsequent suicide; and I had seen many, many disabled people with MS over the years in my clinical practice, many of them very young, most of them with little hope. There seemed no other way to view this than as a complete tragedy. My life, career, family, hopes, over.
My book Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis tells the whole story of my recovery. But in short, I found hope, and probably in the unlikeliest of places. In an old medical mentor, a wise and sensitive doctor I had been lucky enough to work for as an intern. The kernel of hope he gave me grew into a strong and vibrant belief that recovery was not only possible for me, but for many, many people with this illness. And this belief was rooted in the unlikeliest of places: the mainstream medical literature. The answers I was looking for were all there, they just hadn’t been looked at by someone in my position, with my particular motivation.
In reality, the background of my mother’s serious decline with MS, and my experience and training in medicine, but particularly as a medical professor and journal editor, gave me the motivation and skills to connect the dots: it is possible for people with MS to live long, happy and healthy lives. The evidence is clear. But it takes lifelong commitment to changing bad habits and developing new ones.
Once I had worked this out, I synthesized it into a one-page formula for health that I stuck on my fridge at home. Every day when I walked past, I reiterated the key points on which I would base my future health: no saturated fat, omega 3 supplements, a plant based wholefood diet, adequate sunshine or vitamin D supplements, exercise, meditation, resolving difficult emotions.
But the more I walked past, the guiltier I felt. I had the answers. Because of my unique position in life and medicine, I had been blessed with the tools to discover the keys to my own continuing good health. But 2.5 million other people with MS weren’t so lucky. It kept gnawing away at me. How could I keep this information to myself? But if I published it, wouldn’t people just dismiss it, only weeks into the illness?
The rest is history. Eleven years on, I remain perfectly well. Actually, in better health than I have ever been. The book went through two scratchy editions just to get the information out as quickly as I could. Now with Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis, I had really refined the science, the message, and the writing. It was now crystal clear I hoped, and had not only the authority that comes from around 700 references from the medical literature, but the added stamp of my own good health. And my experience of thousands of people the world over adhering to the package and staying well.
Similarly, some years later, I realized that there are more effective ways of getting the message out than just with a book. And so the Taking Control of Multiple Sclerosis website was born. Like the early editions of the book, this was scratchy and put together in a hurry to get the message out as quickly as I could. Now with time, and the help of some very web-savvy friends, with and without MS, we have refined it: the result Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis.
But there is more to the refinement than simply a change of name and appearance. The name change for instance is highly significant, and reflects where I am at with the journey. Taking control of the illness is an important start: to feel strong, have faith, develop positivity and hope. But with time this turns into belief; belief that recovery is possible and the illness can be overcome. And the appearance and content reflect this growing optimism. Light, confident, clear in message. Easy to navigate and connect, internally and externally with the wider MS community. That is what I hope we have achieved with the new site.
So we have Blog Central, where we hope that guest bloggers will contribute. People with and without MS who have been passionate in the MS community. And with a little help from my friends, we are now on Facebook and Twitter as well. Links on the Home page take you there, where different perspectives and feedback are possible. And of course, it’s a lot of fun. That is in addition to our improved Forum on the site.
So he we are. 2010. What hopes and aspirations did I have for myself when I started this in 1999? If you had told me I would be perfectly well in 2010, I would have cried with disbelief and relief. But here I am. Every decision and choice I have made along the way has culminated in where I am right now. And I hope my decision to write the book and to give everyone with a computer electronic access to this information has given you the same chance.