Back Draft of Life
Last updated: April 2013
Looking back at my life, there are many events that have transpired. Some of these events have been happy, some sad, and then there are those that have been trying. One such event in my life that ended up turning into the most important was the day in which I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.). Before this day, I was living my life to the fullest as a firefighter; and after that fateful day, I was forced to slow down and “restart” my life. As the weeks have turned into years, this event has evolved into the best thing that could have happened to me. It has made me step back and analyze and realize what is important in my life.
If someone would have asked me how my life was before being diagnosed with M.S., my answer would have been, “full steam ahead.” I was a firefighter in Laurel, Maryland, a town outside Washington D.C. At that point in time there were no worries on my mind other than, when the next meal was going to be and when the next fire was going to happen. My work day consisted of one twenty-four hour shift what was followed by seventy-two hours off. During this time “off”, there was little sleep or recovery time. There were extra shifts to work and plenty of bars to frequent. I lived by this phrase: there is enough time to sleep when we are dead. I was moving too fast to notice while my health started to go downhill slowly.
I was forced to take notice of my health when my symptoms became too much to be overlooked and ignored. After an attempt to celebrate my birthday was unsuccessful, my gift turned out to be a trip to the emergency room. My condition was beyond their abilities to manage, and I earned a transfer to Georgetown University Hospital. I was not used to being the patient in the back of the ambulance, so the trip seemed to take forever. Once at the hospital, the pace at which I was being treated became more urgent. There were a myriad of tests and MRIs that seemed to go on forever. The night had the appearance of being never-ending, and at that point all I wanted to do was sleep. There was still one question left to be answered: the diagnosis. While I lay in bed recovering from the night’s events, three doctors entered the room with their findings. The next words that I heard were Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. These words forever changed my life; the old was out the window. My new focus in life was my health and well-being.
During this ongoing journey of living with Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.), I have been forced to seat back and realize that I have M.S., but M.S. does not have me. At the beginning, this path seemed impossible, but as time went on I was able to realize that these courses of events have turned out to be for the best. Dr. Carlo Tornatore, a doctor who was part of my treatment early on, came to me and, with a straight face, told me that I was in better health now than before I was diagnosed. I didn’t fully realize what he meant at the time, but now the comment makes sense. Borderline high blood pressure, diabetes and being almost three hundred pounds were just a few problems to which he was referring. Since this day things in my life have made drastic shifts. I have been taking care of myself physically with exercise and weight maintenance along with a change in my career goals. The latter of these two changes has been very enjoyable. There are still struggles with my health on occasion, but that is to be expected. I am working along with taking classes and I must say that this is more than I ever expected to be able to do.
From time to time it has been necessary for me to look back at my life and see how much I have been able to accomplish. In the beginning of this journey, I had no idea what was ahead working was my main concern; from running into burning buildings and helping others to being the person in need of all the help. It has been part of an ongoing process that has led me to where I am today. After losing my vision for seven months, with complete blackout, how I am looking at life takes on a whole new meaning. Colors are brighter and I try to take in everything that I see around me. I have learned never to take the "small things" for granted. It is surprising how your outlook on life changes once a major medical event forces you to stop and notice the flowers in your life. It is then that you realize that they have been there all along.
What does advocacy mean to you as someone living with multiple sclerosis? Please select all that apply: