We may talk about the abyss. The living hell, the fate worse than death or the end of the world. A local newspaper announced that a six-month bridge closure in the town would mean “carmageddon.” Ha-ha very funny; some tin-pot journalist from the local rag is now feeling very smug with that term. But it’s serious. People will be stuck in their cars. There will be queues. There will be outrage. Men who consider themselves very important will be delayed. There will be nothing they can do about it. No amount of six figure salary is going to make it any easier.
Two miles from home and they will be stuck. Oh the horrors.
And I wonder; what the hell do they know? It’s not going to change their lives. But they’ll still get road-rage. Big deal, I’ve got function rage. I rage at being stuck in a chair or stuck on the floor because I made a vain attempt to get to the bathroom and did one of my famous one-way slow motion capitulations. I rage at not being able to walk. I look at all the cars outside the local primary school and wonder how many of those parents were too lazy to walk.
Then I put the news on and look at other people. They are in war zones in fear of their life watching people around them get shot and blown up. They are trudging mournfully across Europe or dying in rafts trying to get across the Mediterranean Sea. I breathe a sigh of relief. News gives you perspective; from the squabbling politicians to the worst acts of human indecency, it enables us to evaluate and appreciate what we have.
Since diagnosis there have been some key moments. At school we were going to do an overnight trip somewhere in the Kent countryside. The first activity was a walk along the coast. I thought I could do it. I didn’t even make it out of the lane. Everyone was puzzled. They didn’t know about my condition. One of the other teachers thought I was lazy and just didn’t fancy it. The following year I went on more trips but was “excused” from any walking. And I was criticised for turning down the opportunity to referee for the football team.
I was reluctant to come clean. When I started at that school I had replaced a teacher who had to retire because of MS. No need to explain my reticence. Once I arrived at Alicante Airport ready to pick up my hire car. The clutch was awkward. Well it wasn’t. My left foot was becoming downright disobedient. It wasn’t long before I found an automatic car.
I’d always been keen on going to football matches. I have been to over fifty different grounds. At Ipswich, I had a seat in the top tier to see them play my team, Everton. Yes the stairs went well. I was slow and steady, holding on firmly to the hand rail. Then on the way to the seat, I ran out of support rail. I couldn’t move. Thank goodness for helpful stewards. No-one accused me of being drunk. It’s worth having a stick just to escape the great “misunderstanding”.
Another moment was at work. I was beginning to struggle with walking short distances. On summer days, the heat would exacerbate my condition. I couldn’t put it off any longer; I went in with my walking stick. I taught wonderful children. Instantly they became helpful and did not want me to lift or carry anything. One young chap quietly told me that he was going to bring in an old walking stick from home so that I could use it. What reason do I have to rage?
Heat was becoming a vital factor. Heat is now the devil’s work. One very hot day, my year group were doing a singing day in a local christian centre. It was air-conditioned. What a joy. I felt normal. At the end of the day, I went back to my classroom to do an hour’s marking. I just didn’t notice. When I tried to get up I sort of melted into a heap. I didn’t get home that day. I spent the night courtesy of the NHS in an acute stroke ward. I thought I’d had one. It was the heat. After a hot sleepless night, I vowed that even if I did have a stroke, I was going to refuse to accept it. There were six beds in the ward. Half of them had had their lives devastated in an instant.
This brings me to the end of the teaching career. You spend all that time making excuses for yourself, explaining why you’re having a bit of difficulty coping with carrying a file or trying to move things about the classroom. Was it not enough that it was now physically impossible to play the piano? It took firm words before I realised. I was referred to occupational health. In the meeting with the health worker, she concluded by declaring: “I’m going to declare you unfit to teach.” It was pure relief.
That was nearly four years ago. It has been a long road piecing together the resolve and resources to make my life a life and not a sentence. What would I do without a battery or the support of my wife and others who have lived through my physical decline? I have had a lot of support and both appreciate and remember it. There has been so much to realise. But the main thing is for me to realise what I still have and what I can still do. Believe me, I’m one lucky son of a twitch. (MS joke.) Thank-you for reading.