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A woman losing her balance trying to walk on a road twisted in a knot.

Field Sobriety

I go to my MS specialist every six months. At each appointment, we go through the same routine: check my strength, test my reflexes, finger to nose, have my eyes follow the doctor’s finger, walk heel to toe, etc. I do pretty well on most of these tests, but walking heel to toe gets me every time. No matter how hard I try, I can never quite do it successfully. And by the end of each neurological test, I can’t help but think that if I’m ever pulled over and given a standard sobriety test, that I will probably fail. It won’t matter that I haven’t had any alcohol, but MS can make us all have symptoms of drinking. Not to mention, when I get pulled over I get incredibly nervous, so I’ll probably already look suspicious! Has anyone else ever realized the similarities of our neurological testing with field sobriety tests?

Horizontal gaze nystagmus test

The standardized field sobriety test is three tests that they perform during a traffic stop. The first test they administer is called the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. Primarily, they look to see if you can follow an object with your eye smoothly and without jerking. It is much like the eye test we do when we go to our MS appointments, where we follow the physician’s finger with our eyes, keeping our head still.

Walk and turn test

The second test is the walk and turn test. Again, something we do at our MS visits. This is the one I know I would inevitably fail. In this test they look to see if you can keep your balance while taking nine steps, touching heel to toe, in a straight line. Just call me drunk already, officer, I can’t do this one. Heel to toe gets me every time. The third and final test is the one leg stand test. In this test, you are to stand with one foot in the air as you count aloud until you’re instructed to put your foot down. Again, I probably wouldn’t be successful. All of these are identical or very similar to things we do at our MS appointments. All of these things are done to see if we physically pass the test so they can assess if things are progressing or not.

Moments that mimic being drunk

I’m not a huge fan of the saying, “I’m not drunk, I have MS.” I don’t feel like we all look like a bunch of drunks. However, I do think that we have moments that mimic when we are drunk. Like for me, sometimes I stumble for no reason because I get off-balance. Or I stutter, and I’m unable to get my words out right. That’s ok though, now that I’m “out” with my MS, I don’t mind telling people, “Sorry, I’m having a rough MS day today” if necessary.

I know the truth

They can judge me all they want, and they can think I’m drunk, but I know the truth. We may stumble around and slur our words, and we may fail every test necessary to pass a field sobriety test, but we aren’t at fault – MS is. Honestly, I would take being blackout drunk and risk the worst hangover of my life just to get rid of MS. At least being drunk can be fun! Unfortunately, that’s not the case though, so I’ll just keep trying, and if for some reason I fail a field sobriety test due to MS, I’ll just hope and pray they don’t take me to jail! Ha!! What do you think, would you pass one?

XOXO,

Calie

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Coleman88
    3 months ago

    Before they pulled me out i would have to hand them them big bag of meds that have me “drunk” lol

  • Coleman88
    3 months ago

    I most surely would not and would look silly as could be while im failing it I really like your posts !

  • Calie Wyatt moderator author
    3 months ago

    @coleman88 thank you so much, so glad you enjoy them!! Thanks for reading and commenting!

    Best wishes, Calie

  • Grant1270
    8 months ago

    I’m not trying to change the subject but is the sobriety test common when going for your 6 month neuro visit? Just wondering because I’ve never had that happen to me. My appointment usually lasts 5 minutes, I’m asked how I’m doing, renew my script, see you in 6 months. I spend more time in the waiting room waiting to be seen… just wondering if I’m getting what I should from my visits.

  • Calie Wyatt moderator author
    3 months ago

    @grant1270 I’m so sorry to be replying to this so late! My doctor does do these types of tests on me at every appointment. I do see an MS specialist so I’m not sure if that makes any difference or not. It definitely wouldn’t hurt to try a new doctor and see who you think is the best fit for you! You deserve the best care!!

    Best wishes, Calie

  • goeckepam
    8 months ago

    The thought of a field sobriety test has crossed my mind a 100 times. I would certainly fail and I also have asthma and cannot blow into a breath analyzer. I guess I’d get a ride to the hospital in a police car.

  • Calie Wyatt moderator author
    8 months ago

    @goeckepam I’m glad I’m not the only one! Asthma would most certainly cause issues with a breathalyzer! Thanks for commenting!

    Best Wishes,

    Calie

  • gmc
    9 months ago

    So I’m wondering if the best bet when getting pulled over may be to request a breathalyzer and tell the officer that you (I) will NOT pass the field sobriety tests. (I just re-did the finger -to-nose-with-eyes-closed-from-outstretched-arm and poked myself in the left temple, like the pow, blow my brains out signal!). Any law enforcement out there?

  • Calie Wyatt moderator author
    8 months ago

    @glendahendry that’s not a bad idea at all! It would probably save a lot of time and worry letting them know right off the bat! Thank you for reading and commenting! -Calie

  • adinfinitum
    9 months ago

    A little over a year before I knew I had MS I got pulled over and I was asked to do a field sobriety test because the officer noticed my hands shaking. He asked why they were shaking and I told him what I thought to be the case at that time, that it was a side effect of the antidepressant I was taking. Needless to say I failed the sobriety test miserably. I passed the breathalyzer so they took me to the hospital to do a blood test for drugs. I had no drugs in my system. I still got charged with a dui-drugs and taken to jail because I was on the antidepressant. I wish I would have known I have MS. If you find yourself in a situation like this tell them you have MS and you have nystagmus if the situation comes to that.

  • Calie Wyatt moderator author
    8 months ago

    @adinfinitum wow, thank you so much for sharing your story!! I’m so sorry that happened to you. Things like this are exactly why I wrote this article, so I really appreciate your comment! Wishing you the best, Calie

  • Lamm
    9 months ago

    I totally understand what your talking about ! I do look like i have had one to many drinks almost daily & can’t imagine what a police officer would think, but i would probably be taken to jail until the mix up could be straightened out. Hope it never happens. I don’t really drive much because i have episodes of numbness & anxiety that just appear when i least expect it . But like a lot of us i almost wait for it to happen . 🙂

  • Calie Wyatt moderator author
    8 months ago

    @lamm I’m right there with you!! Thank you for sharing!

    Best wishes,

    Calie

  • Anthony H.
    9 months ago

    Australia (and many other countries, I believe) don’t use a field sobriety test for alcohol use, but a simple field test of breath alcohol, followed up by increasingly more accurate tests of blood alcohol, if necessary.

    This may be a time for MS support organisations in countries that use field sobriety tests to advocate for a move to blood alcohol tests.

  • Shelby Comito moderator
    9 months ago

    Good call, @anthony-h!! That certainly would help to quickly clear up any doubt or confusion. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and experience here. – Shelby, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member

  • Anthony H.
    9 months ago

    Hi Shelby & Lamm – To be a bit more specific about the tests in the state of Australia I’m in – there are three levels of breath test before it gets to an actual blood test (and I think that is optional), although results are given in terms of blood alcohol. First, you simply say a few words in front of a hand-held device. If that shows no alcohol, you’re free to go. If it shows some alcohol, you have to blow into a tube in a hand-held device. If that shows blood alcohol over the limit, you have to go to van (usually close-by) and blow into a tube attached to a machine that gives an accurate read-out. A person with MS who had consumed no alcohol would be free to go after the first test, and never have to get out of their car. It also helps to have a disability parking permit and licence, which clearly shows that a person has a disability, but is licensed to drive under medical supervision (usually an annual check-up with your doctor).

  • lilgrizz
    9 months ago

    I have feared the same things. One day I went to vote and went to the wrong place which was at an elementary school. School was out but a few children were still there along with the office staff. We talked for a moment then I left to go to the right place to vote. I came out from voting and when I opened my car door a policeman asked for me to turn around. He said the ladies from the school had called them and said I didn’t need to be out on the road. We talked for a few minutes and then he said for me to go on my way after we talked about my ms. Then there was another time I did get pulled over and when I told him I would fail the walk test because of my ms he said he wanted to search my car and did. But of course the a**hole didn’t find anything. After searching so hard to prove that i was lying about my ms he finally gave up and sent me on my way.

  • Calie Wyatt moderator author
    8 months ago

    @lilgrizz its sad that we live in a society where so many do the wrong things that those of us who haven’t done a thing wrong are judged for the way this disease makes us. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    Best wishes,

    Calie

  • gmc
    9 months ago

    That’s awful. You’re not required to allow a search (my inner Libertarian is leaking). I’m sure the fear of losing your license may cause you to consent – I probably would because of that fear.

  • MarieTC
    9 months ago

    Thank You so much for sharing – You’ve hit the nail square on the head. I’ve worried about being pulled over for years, but I figure, what’s the worst they can do? Haul me away even though I’ve explained that I have MS? I carry my med list with me all the time (one printed by my doctors office with official header and contact info), so verification of my condition should be easy to obtain, but getting a medical alert bracelet might be worth looking into as well. MS is a bugger to deal with, but I know many people who are in worse situations than I am. So I’ll just keep plugging along, doing the best I can each and every day, and if I look like a staggering drunk, let people talk, and let the state trooper take me away. (lol)

  • Calie Wyatt moderator author
    9 months ago

    @marietc thank you for your comment!! I like that you said you carry your med list that’s officially from the doctor-what a great idea!! Love your spirit!!

    Wishing you the best,

    Calie

  • potter
    9 months ago

    If the road was uneven or dark, I would definitely fail. I have thought about this type of thing happening a few years ago. I don’t drive much any more especially at night. Potter

  • Calie Wyatt moderator author
    9 months ago

    @potter it can be hard for me to drive at night as well. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    Best wishes,

    Calie

  • Janus Galante moderator
    9 months ago

    Not if my life depended on it! My husband is always telling me, “you’d better hope you’re never pulled over!”
    I’m another one that doesn’t drink and I don’t drive that much, but reading this reminded me to maybe look into getting a med alert bracelet. I had considered it before, but then always forgotten about it. Thanks Calie!

  • Calie Wyatt moderator author
    9 months ago

    @emmajean I agree, a medical alert bracelet is a great idea!! Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

    Best wishes,

    Calie

  • MarieTC
    9 months ago

    A medical alert bracelet is a great idea. Thank You Janus. 🙂

  • Mare
    9 months ago

    Even though I don’t drink, I have always worried about the field sobriety test. With my balance/walking, I know I would fail 100%. I plan on forgetting going through all the explanations up front and tell them to give me the breath-alyzer test and then explain after I pass that one that I have MS and here is my doctor’s information.

    I worry MORE about walking clients down the hallway behind me at work and having them thinking that I am drunk!

  • Calie Wyatt moderator author
    9 months ago

    @boley I like your way of thinking-tell them everything up front! Thank you for your comment, and for reading!

    Best wishes,

    Calie

  • BuckeyeCurt
    9 months ago

    A friend and I call the pre-appointment stunts they make us do the MS Olympics. On a side note, I have a shirt that says, “I’m not DRUNK, I have MS…OK so maybe I am a ‘lil drunk.”

  • Calie Wyatt moderator author
    9 months ago

    @buckeyecurt love that you call them the MS Olympics!! That’s amazing! Also really like that shirt, that’s the kind of “I’m not drunk, I have MS” thing I can get behind-haha! Thank you for your comment!

    Wishing you the best, Calie

  • chong61
    9 months ago

    No way, not ever could I pass any of stages. I wobble sitting in my chair.

    What I hate is when I venture out to the grocery store and I see people looking at me and whispering to each other. I know what they are thinking. I do stager a bit as I have a death hold on the cart. Some times I feel like I should have a giant MS tattooed on my forehead.

    I really hope they never get this disease and have to endure what we do. Maybe this old, gray haired woman gave them some much needed topic to talk about.

  • Calie Wyatt moderator author
    9 months ago

    @chong61 people can be so rude and insensitive! I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with people like that. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!!

    Best wishes, Calie

  • chong61
    9 months ago

    It really does not bother me, I just feel sorry for their ignorance.

    As to being pulled over a suggestion would be to cut the Rx label showing a medication you take and carry that and one of the pills or capsules in a small container. That satisfies all officers or hospital that you take those medications. Mine is just a small round plastic container. I mentioned doing that and my MS doc said it was a good idea and she was going to share with other patients. Of course, you could not do that with medications requiring infusion or injection such as Copaxone.

    We buried my nephew this past week, he had brain cancer and suffered unbelievable for 3 years, but he smiled as long as he could. He was 56 years old. Makes me give thanks I can still live alone at 77 and still have my mind except for short term memory. I am happy to have MS instead of a brain cancer. How blessed we are on a more positive side of MS.

  • Jughead
    9 months ago

    I too have always been afraid of being pulled over and being mistaken for being drunk. I recently told a retired cop about my fears. He told me the officer should ask if you have any medical conditions. I can never do the finger to my nose, and my balance if iffy. I don’t drink so he shouldn’t smell alcohol on my breath, I’m glad I’m not the only one who has worried about this.

  • Calie Wyatt moderator author
    9 months ago

    @jughead you are definitely not alone! I just have to hope that if I do that the police officer will be understanding! Thank you for reading!!

    Best wishes, Calie

  • Evergrain
    2 weeks ago

    I always have the thought in the back of my mind when im driving that if I get pulled over and asked to step out of the car, i’ll just put my hands out and say dont even bother with a f.s.t. ” Just cuff me “.
    6 months after I was diagnosed I went to the DMV for my handicap placard I was asking the window employee that very question.

    I guess there’s a way you can have either something on your drivers license or on the police database. So when they run you on the MDS (mobile data system) *fancy way of saying their computer* it will notify them of your condition. You just need to provide all the necessary documentation to the Dmv. So I did.

    Lol, 10 mintutes later after scanning over my stack of records I brought in with me to show her she says ” uhm, i’m not sure we should let you have a drivers license “. I said uh err. Nevermind i’m good and I left.

    Now I guess I could get a medical braclet but I will not be labeled. I guess in the end with all the meds we’re on technically we are all DUI. Stupid modafinil, if Shakespear had MS it would be to drive Fatigued or to drive on controlled substances, that is the question.

    P.s. Provigil/Modafinil is not stupid. It’s actually amazing

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