– Kenneth Galbraith
First of all, MS is a young person’s disease. On average, onset of MS occurs at 33.2 yrs while the average age at diagnosis is 39.2 years. There are about 500,000 cases of MS in the United States and over 6 million cases worldwide. In individuals with MS, the immune system goes out of whack and attacks the outer covering of the nerves. This covering material is called the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath is likened to the insulation on electrical wire. When the insulation is removed, it is called demyelination. A demyelinated nerve is susceptible to damage. The demyelination leaves scar tissue (sclerosis) in many areas. Many equals “Multiple,” scar tissue equals “Sclerosis.” Add them together and you have Multiple Sclerosis or MS.
Myelin sheath, demyelination, sclerosis. Cool terms. Use them in conversation, people will be impressed! When they are occurring in your body, it is not impressive. My immune system is attacking the myelin sheath and damaging my central nervous system (CNS). MS is also called an autoimmune disorder since the immune system is the culprit. Without the nerves being protected, the nerves are prone to breaking. This is common with MS patients and as a result they lose mobility and eye sight, experience numbness, and other things happen that aren’t great.
I knew that MS patients lose mobility and incorrectly thought that their loss of mobility was because of weakness in the muscle. Wrong! Losing mobility with MS patients has to do with wiring. The brain isn’t wired to the muscle anymore and can’t send signals to the muscle. Without a signal to the muscle, there is no control or movement. It is important to note that we have many nerve pathways from the brain to the various parts of our body. The symptoms of MS are dependent on which nerve pathway is damaged. Tingling, numbness, or weakness may result from damage to specific nerve pathways. Since there are so many places where the CNS can be damaged, it is important to recognize that two patients can have MS and suffer completely different symptoms.
Remember my neurologist? He sent a colleague who specializes in MS. The doctor explained that the first problem with saying it is MS is that you get labeled by the insurance companies as someone with MS. It means I have the luxury of knowing that I can never let my health insurance lapse or my MS will be classified as a pre-existing condition and won’t be covered! The second reason for her hesitation was life insurance. Once you get labeled with MS, if you can get life insurance at all, the premiums become very expensive. The doctor continued to explain that it appears that I have signs that are consistent with MS.
I was labeled: I had Multiple Sclerosis.
She explained that it was rare for Asian men to have MS; but, there was no doubt that I was an exception. “Thank you?” I said, wondering if she was paying me a compliment?
After the label, she told me something that I will never forget. She told me that MS is incurable!! She also told me that odds are high that I will have a normal life for at least ten years. She said, “Most MS patients are able to live normal lives; however, the reality is that the body will break down at some point and most MS patients will suffer some form of disability after a period of time.”
Not me, I am an exception, right?