In July 1984 I was working as a Registered Nurse in a hospital outside of Chicago. But I had to stop because of the sudden onset of dizziness, clumsiness, weakness, poor balance, slurred speech, and head-to-toe numbness on my right sight. Pretty serious stuff! I wondered if I was dying. But I really hoped that it would all just go away.
Around that time I was also due to go home [to New York] for a visit. I couldn’t let my family see me falling apart, so, I kept making excuses why I couldn’t come. Mom wasn’t buying any of it. She suspected that something was wrong.
When I finally saw the neurologist and was diagnosed with MS, I knew #1: at least I wasn’t dying; #2: this wasn’t going away, and #3: I had to tell my family. I dreaded making that phone call, because I felt like a failure. I was sick – again. It seemed like every few years I had some major medical problem. I was supposed to be the hard-working nurse who was paying bills, saving for a house, and making my parents proud. Not this.
I finally called Mom at work. She was a busy hospital administrator, but was able to speak with me. Most of what we said was forgotten. But the thing that still stands out is when she quietly said, “Come home.” At her words I could have cried with relief, because now I wouldn’t have to deal with this nightmare by myself. And I learned this next part months later. My best friend worked with Mom. And she told me that after we spoke, Mom put her head down on her desk and cried. I hated that I’d made Mom cry.
My symptoms and diagnosis were bad enough, but then I started feeling the effects of being different. I staggered and stumbled when I walked; trying hard not to topple over. But while attending my roommate’s graduation I heard some people behind me say loudly, “Look she’s drunk.” That stung, but I quietly wished that they would never have to experience this. Also, when word of my diagnosis got out, certain people, that I knew, treated me like I was contagious. No eye contact. No helping hand. No kind word. That hurt. But thankfully, there were those who stood by me, held my hand, and made me laugh.
The flight home was a sad one. My life had changed so drastically. What now?
When the plane landed at NY’s LaGuardia Airport, I couldn’t walk to Baggage Claim, so an airline employee wheeled me. Mom was waiting for me. When she saw me in a wheelchair she began to cry. I started crying too. I was ashamed of my condition, but so glad that she was there.
I will forever remember what happened next. I was watching Mom closely as she – in her beautiful business suite, her high heels, and styled hair, squatted in front of my wheelchair. She looked me in the eyes, and with tears streaming down her face, firmly spoke these words, “We’re going to beat this!” I believed her.
With 5 words she blew away my “blanket of self-pity’’, and handed me a huge hunk of hope. This was beyond anything the doctor or the textbooks offered. Her words were backed by strong motherly love; fierce determination when going after what she wanted; professional knowledge from also being an Occupational Therapist; and by believing in the power of prayer. In 1974 my father was dying on an operating room table. She prayed. We kids prayed. In 1984 Dad was alive and well and proof positive that prayer works.
To be continued …
Copyright © 2013 Regina Spence