Why a cold isn't "just" a cold

Why a cold isn't "just" a cold

Living with MS can sometimes feel like I'm walking a tightrope, especially when it comes to being around other people. MS is considered an auto-immune disorder; not only does my body attack itself by mistake, but my MS symptoms can be triggered simply by picking up a cold virus from a friend or bronchitis from a coworker. Then I face a double-whammy: the room spins from my vertigo while I cough and sneeze. It seems to take longer to get over the simplest virus, and I'm so tired while I fight it that I can hardly lift an arm. You have strep? Just knock me on the head with a baseball bat--it will have the same effect.

When I first started treatment, I was impatient to push my symptoms to the side and resume my life. Babysit your feverish child while you run to the store? That's what a friend is for! Meet with a client who thinks he has strep but says aspirin helped? If you are up to it, so am I! At church we sing, "Give a little hug to the one next to 'ya" and I hug a stranger, welcoming them to the fellowship.

Exposure to colds and flu viruses virtually non-stop, surrounded as I am by people at the grocery store, on the train, and hanging out with moms whose kids pick up nearly every communicable disease possible at daycare. However, my body doesn't have the strength to fight off the bug du jour AND deal with exhaustion, slurring words, uncontrollable muscle spasms and mental confusion. The symptoms are usually what doctors call a "pseudo relapse," which is like having all the fun of MS without seeing more damage on the central nervous system.

I didn't want to live in a bubble, so my only option was to educate my friends and family. Are you sure your body aches and ear pain are due to allergies? Is your child's runny nose due to teething or something else? And no, it's not alright for your adorable 3-year-old to give me a kiss on the face. We'll blow kisses to each other, catch them in our hands, and laugh. Rather than being offended, my friends became protective. "I'd come over but I think I'm getting something," they will say, and I thank them for their consideration.

I had to be more subtle at the office. I worked with Type-A work warriors who thought nothing of coming to work with a 101 degree fever to demonstrate their dedication. While I prefer face to face communication, now I am a fan of conference calls and instant messaging. I took stairs instead of elevators to avoid the "hackers" carrying wads of tissue. I carried antibacterial gel to use after handshakes (again, subtly). Still, my health improved significantly when I reduced my stress and exposure to others by starting my own business at home.

I can't fend off every germ, of course, nor do I want to. As my 76-year-old mother lay in a hospital bed, weakened by pneumonia, I took her hand and laid it gently against my cheek. The black oxygen mask covered her nose and mouth, but her eyes smiled at me. She tried to resist my hand, worried that I would get sick, too, but I didn't care. I knew I wouldn't have her with me much longer. Her touch was sweeter than any drug, and the memory worth any relapse.

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