Awareness and understanding of Multiple Sclerosis.

It finally happened to us. I always knew in the back of my mind it would, but I thought: The lot at Costco, that will be the place. That’s because there are a thousand handicap spots that always seem to be full, with thousands more people waiting off to the side with their blinkers on, ready to hit the gas to make sure they get into that blue-lined spot. It gets pretty contentious in the Costco lot.

And considering the current social climate we are living in, with many people taking their cue from the likes of radio personalities that spew hate, fear and blithe ignorance, I am surprised it took this long. Everyone, it seems, is angry.

It was Christmas eve and we finally got a break from the rain. Paul and I decided to drive over to the beach and take the dogs out for a walk. As you may know, Paul is logging his miles for his Walk While I Still Can campaign, and the beach is good for Paul. It doesn’t hurt as much as the sidewalk.

We pull into the handicap spot and start to unload the dogs. An elderly woman, despite her full head of silvery-white hair and aged face, was moving along at a brisk pace as she made a beeline for us. She was quite erect and in good shape for her age. Very good shape.

“Excuse me,” she said with a large, kind of Grinchy smile, “You can walk, so why are you parked in a handicapped spot?”

There was a certain passive-aggressive thing going on with her approach and tone.

Paul looked up at her, “I can walk, for now, but I have Multiple Sclerosis. I’m in a whole lot of pain when I walk and sometimes I don’t walk so well.”

I chimed in after the fact, “He has Multiple Sclerosis.” Very effective there, Margaret.

“Oh,” she said. “I was just wondering why since you looked fine to me. I’m sorry, just wondering, okay, Merry Christmas.”

She stood there for a few seconds, waiting to see if we had anything else to say. We didn’t, so off she went.

Now, a couple of things here. First, when you look at Paul walking for any amount of time, you know something’s wrong. But she didn’t have that time to observe him before she approached two complete strangers.

Paul walks funny. He’s got a limp for one thing and his legs don’t quite move themselves the way yours and mine do as he moves along. That’s because he can’t feel his legs. What he does feel is a combination of numbness, tingling, hot burning pain or a complete dead sensation, as he puts it. And he never knows, from one day to the next, what he is going to be capable of doing. Some days are good, some not so much.

Second, I missed my opportunity to educate this woman; to make her aware of this disease and what it does to those who have the misfortune of waking up one day and being diagnosed with MS. I was too angry to speak.

Why was I so angry? Probably because I operate on the notion of I wouldn’t do that to you, so why would you do that to me? I thought it was pretty nervy and quite rude of her to ask such a question without first knowing the facts. Trying to understand what someone else may be going through is key to many issues we face. Making blind assumptions usually gets us all in trouble.

Was she hoping to catch someone using a handicap sticker on their car illegally? Maybe. But what she did do is approach two strangers without the slightest notion that something could be wrong.

What I would have told her is this: My husband woke up one day, five years ago, and couldn’t feel his left leg. At his age, at any age really, that’s scary. He was told 10 days later he has Multiple Sclerosis.

If you don’t know what it does it’s a chronic, debilitating disease. There is no cure. It affects the central nervous system and leaves its victims helpless as to what their bodies can and can’t do. One person with MS may be in a wheelchair, while another may still be walking along. People with MS can’t always control their bodies.

My husband was on chemotherapy for his disease. People with MS have many battles that have nothing to do with their bodies. Usually, the battles are with their insurance carriers who don’t like to pay. Other battles are with the pharmaceuticals who see MS patients as a gold mine and don’t really want to cure the disease but make drugs that are expensive and keep them going–barely. So, let me make you aware. My husband can walk. But just barely, and for us, his family, that’s frightening because there are so many other things going on with his disease and his body. That’s why we are parked here. And you can help make others aware too now. Merry Christmas.

A guide on awareness I wrote in 2009 and posted again earlier this year, can be found here.