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02 September 2019

Four stupid things I’ve done but don’t regret, since having MS

OMSer Ewout shares four stupid things he's done, but definitely doesn't regret, since being diagnosed with MS in 2009, including whitewater kayaking in Romania!

Following OMS can be blessing. I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS in 2009 after having nerve-wracking (pun intended) symptoms for over 18 months. I was symptom-free after 9 months on OMS and recovered fully after about 3 years, getting rid of fatigue and feeling nerve damage (seemingly a worm crawling under your skin). 


Full recovery enabled me to start living, and with that doing stupid things that I nevertheless don’t regret. Here are four of them:

1- Quitting my job and moving to Barcelona, Spain

One year after my diagnosis, I managed to get a job at a university in the Netherlands. This implies you are basically set for life: permanent appointment, state pension, 36 days holiday, reintegration and career support etc. The university does anything to keep you on board. Even if you’re not the best sailor. 


Normally, you don’t quit a job like this. But I’m not a normal person. I quit after four years to follow my newly-found dream of becoming an English teacher in Barcelona. 

Of course, life over there wasn’t as colourful as it seemed in the brochures. Because of high rent and low pay, I worked weeks of 60 hours to keep afloat with three jobs at the same time.I wasn’t catching much sleep either and on top of that my long term relationship had ended and I found myself in a city without a real social circle for support. 

Despite of all these factors, my MS symptoms did not return. But moving to Barcelona, was not the most practical thing to do.

2- Whitewater kayaking

From Barcelona you have relatively easy access to the Pyrenees, a mountain range on the border of France and Spain. It offers great views and the possibility to go canyoning, an amazing sport in which you follow a mountain stream all the way down. You jump from high cliffs into the creeks, go down natural water slides and abseil from a rock. 

It was amazing! So amazing that I wanted more. So I signed up for rafting, which turned out to be a bit lame and so I set my eye on whitewater kayaking somewhere deep in Romanian mine country in Eastern Europe. 

Of the four course days, I made it to day three. I had a hard time controlling the kayak, capsized and slammed my head into a rock. Too bad the helmet wasn’t covering my face as well. I broke my nose and had to have my eyelid stitched up, apparently with a wire so thick it’s normally used for leg injuries. A tetanus shot and weeks of recovery later, I learned to take better care of myself.

3- Moving to Romania

Having MS can require intensive healthcare, regular MRI scans, etc.Somehow both my kayak accident and seeing the poor conditions of the Romanian hospitals for myself, didn’t stop me from moving there. 


Let’s just say, Romania does not have one of the best public healthcare systems in the European Union. I tried to have an MRI in a private hospital a few times, but you have to ring every month to see if there are any funds available. Alternatively, you can pay for your MRI yourself but this costs a few hundred euros

Since I hadn’t had any recent symptoms and the state of my health was good (a much better indicator of how I’m doing rather than how many dots there are on an MRI)  I just let it be and used the money I would have spent to pay off my student loan.

4- Run a half marathon

It wasn’t until my third year of recovery that I dared to sprint the last part of a 40 minute run. Until then, the fear of a relapse had held me back. But after months of slowly building up stamina, I took my chance and it was great! 


Afterwards, I participated in several runs in the Netherlands, with the longest being 16.8 km (10 miles). A few more years down the road, the 7th year after diagnosis and living in Romania, I had the opportunity to participate in the Bucharest half marathon (21.1 KM). I finished within two hours, but the muscle pains afterwards lasted longer! 

Nevertheless, I participated in one every year since then and I’m still a healthy young lad.

As I wrote in the beginning, following OMS can be blessing, but it doesn’t prevent you from doing stupid things.