In childhood I was the person in our family who didn’t have the gift of coordination – my mother heard the discouraging news early on in Kindergarten that I should be retained for a second year in grade K because I was unable to bounce a ball. Yes, there was such a test to make sure I was developing physically as well as intellectually. It seems even back then physical prowess was more important than the fact I was reading well above grade level, and could play two handed piano music, which is no small feat of coordination.
I’m fortunate my mom didn’t listen to those experts and she insisted I move on to the next grade level. Had she waited until I developed a greater sense of coordination, I might still be stuck in primary school because full grace at moving speed never came for me. My adolescent years are littered with spills and falls, fortunately most not requiring emergent medical care.
Diagnosing and treating MS always includes questions about balance because that is a common problem, and the doctors regularly ask about any recent trips or falls. This is a disease that can make even the strongest of us walk at times like we have been on an all-night bender, weaving left and right to get to our goal. Stay upright can become the ultimate challenge on some days.
For several years I confidently checked off the ‘no problem’ box on my medical forms about falls, but that hasn’t been the case lately; recently I have not been able to brush aside those questions. I took a serious spill in late-November, attributable to an ill-placed obstacle in my path at work. Although the physical obstacle was there, I silently wondered how much MS contributed to my inability to recover gracefully from this stumble and instead turned into the mother of all slip-n-slide belly flops and a lengthy visit to the Emergency Room. It was easily mid-January before I was 90% mended from the deep contusions and bruising.
Fast forward to late February, and I find myself on the floor again. Unfortunately, this time accompanied with lots of blood, another trip to the ER, and sutures to my forehead. It seems in the battle of flesh vs concrete, the latter usually wins. Just as with the previous fall, I was fully aware of what was happening when I went down and experienced it unfolding in slow motion – this time I was exercising on the floor at the gym, got up and was ready to call it a day and when I moved I didn’t realize my toes were under the edge of the mat. Gravity assisted with the tumble, and I was unable to recover and keep myself upright. It would be so much simpler if I could claim an episode of syncope – a sudden loss of consciousness when changing positions, rather than weigh the other options.
Now I am faced with two questions – did my MS contribute to my inability to recover from falling to remain upright, and did it also cause me to lack the proprioception to sense the location of my feet? The mind/nervous system/body connection to know at all times where the extremities are is complicated and essential to navigating the world, safely. Grudgingly I have to admit that perhaps this latest episode may be another outward sign of my slowly-changing MS. I lamely protested to the ER nurse as she placed a yellow FALL RISK band on my wrist, but to no avail. My hospital records now indicate I have had multiple falls and require special medical attention to keep me safe from myself.
Falls can be a common problem with MS, and a subtle indicator of disease progression that most of us don’t want to acknowledge. For now, even though I have the bruises and black eyes as evidence that my body has been through something traumatic, I want to push those nagging questions aside and refuse to let MS be a part of the answers. I hope I don’t have to revisit the question anytime soon – is it my MS or not?
Wishing you well,