Falling Down: My Life With MS
“Wow, are you OK? That looked like a bad one!” were the first words I heard this morning. Uttered by my roommate, who, from across the room, witnessed me fall and land on some not-particularly-soft carpet. As I shook the daze away, I mumbled an “ouch” and responded that I was OK. Over the years, my roommate, friends, and family have witnessed many falls. Starting with the first day that I noticed something was wrong and continuing through today, problems with falling down have plagued my entire life with Multiple Sclerosis.
MS and falls
There are many symptoms that make people with Multiple Sclerosis have a greater chance of falling. Just a few of them are: foot drop, numbness, spasticity, tremors, weakness, dizziness, vertigo, loss of balance, cognitive issues, pain, and even vision problems. There are likely some that I’m missing, too, but you get the point. There are a lot of potential symptoms that can conspire to make us land on the ground. The often unpredictable nature of our symptoms is also a contributing factor. For example, you might think pain wouldn’t cause a fall, but imagine you are walking and suddenly get a wave of sharp, burning pain in one of your legs. Combine that with some of the other symptoms, and it’s not hard to see how that might make someone react in such a way that they suddenly end up on the ground.
As I mentioned, my life with MS has been about falls from the very beginning. I woke up one day, and my legs were numb and weak. I had several falls during the day, and after needing help getting off the ice at hockey practice, I finally listened to everyone around me and went to a doctor. I fell again in the doctor’s office and couldn’t get up. I was just 22 and that was the start of my long journey with MS. A journey that has seen many, many falls since that first day. They are a weekly occurrence for me and are always one of the things that my doctors are most concerned about, particularly because some have resulted in broken bones, pulled muscles, and cuts (I one time fell through my bedroom window). Falls can be extremely dangerous.
I look normal until I end up on the floor
Falls are a big reason I’ve been prescribed a scooter (which I haven’t gotten yet) and a cane. Most of the time, I walk around and look pretty normal. At least, I do until I don’t, until I’m suddenly on the floor. It’s then that I assume most folks who don’t know me think I’ve just had too much to drink (I also have a tendency to slur my speech, which I’m sure assists them with that conclusion).
Numbness and weakness
I always have some numbness and weakness, particularly in my right leg. I’ve been at it long enough though that I’m pretty good at getting around and looking normal. Still, sometimes, something will trigger the worsening of those issues and that’s when I end up on the ground. I may get stressed, or too warm, or even startled, and that’s enough to make my legs weak enough to take a tumble.
So falls are a constant issue for me. I admit that this is definitely a case of “do as I say, not as I do”. I know I should use my cane more often. I know there are times when I should be in a wheelchair. Basically, I know I’m to blame for some of these falls because I’m not cautious enough. This is as much a tale about getting past your stubbornness as it is falls. There are a lot of things you can do to help mitigate falls, including using the assistive devices you’ve been prescribed and going to physical therapy (while I still fall, I fall a whole lot less because of PT).
Be aware of your fall risk
The most important thing you can do is talk to your MS specialist about your mobility and fall risk. Remember, their primary goal is normally to keep the disease progression in check and that’s it. They aren’t all one stop shops, and so you may need to be the one to mention it, you have to advocate for yourself. Many times, they will need to recommend you to a physical or even occupational therapist for you to get the proper help you need. No one wants to make yet another medical appointment, but trust me, it’s important. So please, be aware of your fall risk and talk to your doctors about it.
Thanks for reading!