Today, January 14th 2017, marks ten years since I first felt the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis.
It was an ordinary Sunday. I had planned to attend some quasi-religious function I’d helped organise. Because of my typical lateness, I put on whatever clothes and socks I found and rushed off to the mosque where the event was being held.
Throughout the day, I felt unusual tingling, concentrated in my feet but felt all the way up to my chest. It must be the socks, I thought, having discovered later on that they were in fact ladies’ socks, silky and almost transparent. The sensation in my feet was irritating and strange.
Over the following few days, the tingling didn’t subside, and clothes brushing against my skin had become painful.
I consulted a medically minded friend who advised me to be wary of my diet, and to consider visiting a doctor. My sister-in-law, who was living with us at the time, urged me to make an appointment as a matter of urgency, seeing as her socks -for they were hers- couldn’t possibly have such bizarre and unsavoury effects.
By mid-March, I had made the appointment to visit my local GP. Upon arriving, I had no clue as to what I would say, and what he or she would deduce from my strange symptoms.
The doctor who saw me was a lady, whose Arabic-sounding surname suggested her potentially being Iraqi. Dr al-Tamimi was welcoming and softly spoken. She listened to my story and laughed when I shared my suspicion of being afflicted by some rogue feminine footwear.
“I need to do some tests on your legs, so please lie down on the couch, with your trousers off.”
Thank fuck, I thought, having remembered that I was wearing new boxer shorts.
A few pinches and pinpricks later, the doctor said I could put my trousers back on. Slowly, and like a little boy who had just been spanked, I obliged.
“It looks like it’s something neurological, but I can’t be sure. So I’m referring you to a neurologist at the hospital.”
At last, a small thread emerged which would hopefully lead to an explanation.
The next few weeks were all about my impending A-Level exams. I was dreading the occasion, and feeling increasingly tired and overwhelmed. I couldn’t explain what was wrong with me, but I knew I was snowballing down a slope of sadness and academic failure. The last thing on my mind was a potentially life-changing medical appointment with a thus-far unnamed neurologist.
When the day came, I agonised to remember exactly what I’d said to Dr al-Tamimi, to ensure my version of events and symptoms corresponded with the information he had about me. To my surprise, he seemed rather nonchalant about the papers in front of him. Instead, he was quick to get me on the examination couch. A few pinches and pinpricks later, he instructed me to sit up.
“It looks like Multiple Sclerosis, but I can’t be certain after a two-minute examination. I’ll refer you to another neurologist whose word will be final, as he’ll carry out further, more thorough tests.”
An involuntary laugh made its way out of my stunned mouth. The doctor looked up from his desk, glancing at me with unease.
“What’s so funny?”
I cleared my throat and proceeded:
“I’ve only ever heard of Multiple Sclerosis once before. My uncle told me about a delay in obtaining his PhD because his thesis supervisor was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and he died two months later.”
What on earth was I blathering on about? My uncle’s thesis supervisor? Death? What the hell is happening?
The doctor was unfazed, and explained to me that MS affects people differently, and that I shouldn’t assume I’d be meeting my uncle’s late supervisor anytime soon. He gave me a follow-up appointment slip, and wrote down the name and telephone number of Nerologist Number Two, Doctor Number Three
After weeks of blood tests, endless pinches and pinpricks, and a godawful lumbar puncture (or spinal tap), Dr Farmer announced, with not a hint of uncertainty, that I was suffering from Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis.
My exam results were a few days away, and I couldn’t think of anything more catastrophic than the contents of the results envelope. MS? Whatever.
When Dr Farmer read out my sentence, my good friend and namesake, who sat next to me in the clinic, turned to me and said:
“Congratulations, Mehdi. You have been officially diagnosed with a proper disease.”
We both laughed heartily, and shook hands like a football manager and his latest acquisition, faces beaming in front of the cameras. I admit to there being no lense, though, except Dr Farmer’s oval spectacles, and his quietly scolding eyes behind them.
When he asked me if I knew anything about MS, I hesitated to involve my uncle and his ill-fated professor.
“I googled it and found all sorts of horrors. Paralysis, blindness, death.”
Dr Farmer quickly assured me of the improbability of such extreme scenarios.
“Don’t believe everything you read about MS on the Internet. You’re Relapsing-Remitting, and it’s statistically unlikely that your condition would escalate so drastically.”
Ten years later, I write these words knowing full well that my exam results were meaningless in the grand scheme of things, and that my diagnosis, whilst unceremonious, ranks amongst the more life-altering, but not life-defining, moments I’ve been through.
I am grateful for every card I’ve been dealt, and thankful from the bottom of my heart to every person who’s helped me stand firmly on my stumble-prone and tingly feet.
It’s been real.