By Daniel J. Vance
† Jeff (not his real name) is a 50-year-old college professor with multiple sclerosis (MS). "My type is called 'chronic progressive,'" he said recently over the telephone. His type affects about 15 percent of the 400,000 Americans with MS, a disease causing inflammation and scarring of the tissue that protects nerves. It disrupts the communication between brain and muscle and affects body movement. No cure exists.
† Jeff first learned he had MS while in graduate school. "I was 25 and playing tag football," he said. "Then all of a sudden my eyes became blurry and I felt like I was looking through coke bottle glasses. So I went to have my eyes checked. The college health center referred me to a neurologist who gave a provisional diagnosis of MS. I was shocked."
† For ten years his symptoms were limited exclusively to poor vision. Then in 1991, friends noticed he was beginning to drag one foot behind him about a quarter mile into long walks. Since then his symptoms have progressively worsened. Today, he seems to live half his life with a sense of urgency and the other half in denial.
† As for urgency, he said, "I tell people with MS to do things in life now and not put them off. In 1999, I was thinking about coaching my son's soccer team. Physically I wasn't doing great. Even then I couldn't run and I walked with a limp. But I just decided then that I better coach soccer because in three years I probably physically wouldn't be able to do it."
† He was right. In 2000, the next year, Jeff developed a "really noticeable" limp and a "significant" loss of strength and sensation.
† As for denial: Though having MS more than 20 years, he still hasn't told his college colleagues. "I don't want to self-identify as having a disability," he said. "Mentally, I'm not ready and I donít want others to pity me. When they ask (about my walking) I say I have nerve damage."
† To get around college, eventually he'll need a scooter.
† He added, "The thing about multiple sclerosis is it's really hard to recall what I physically could do in the past. But thinking ahead is worse and I don't want to do that. I know what is inevitable, but I don't want to bear that burden yet. I'll bear it then."