Am I Going to be a “Jerry’s Kid”?

I was 21 years old. I arrived home from work and kicked off my pumps one at a time. When my stocking-clad right foot set down on the carpet, it felt like it had been encased in a wet towel–cold, and numb. I shrugged it off and went about my evening.

The numbness spread upwards over the course of the next few days. I lost feeling below my knee, then below my hip, and, finally, below my armpit. I’d lost all strength in my right leg, and as a result all locomotion was effected by a step/drag rhythm. Passersby may have been reminded of a certain hunchback if they bore witness to my lunchtime lopsided lumbering…

Finally, one of my attorneys (I was, and still am, a legal assistant) convinced me that I needed to go to the hospital. She was going to give me a ride, and my mother and husband would meet us there. As I was cleaning up my desk, I took a quick trip to WebMD and searched for “numbness.” The top result was “multiple sclerosis.” As an overly dramatic smartass, I told my supervising lawyer, “With my luck they’ll tell me I have MS.” She rolled her eyes and shook her head, a common reaction to my sometimes-questionable antics.

I went to the emergency room, and after a clinical exam the doctor could not pinpoint the cause of my numbness. I was sent across the street for an MRI, and by the time I returned to my hospital bed I was met with another physician bearing films.

“You have patterns on your brain consistent with multiple sclerosis,” she told me in what I imagine was her “bad-but-not-deadly news” doctor voice.

I was stunned. The most I’d known about MS to that point was that it was the first search result on WebMD, that it was such an unlikely scenario that it was the perfect fodder for parting gallows humor.

“Am I going to be a Jerry’s Kid?” I asked with a wry smile and full honesty.

She chuckled. “No, that is muscular dystrophy.”

We talked a few more minutes, and she told me that I would be admitted to the hospital for further testing and IV steroids. My husband held my hand as I cried.

“My god, I want a cigarette so bad,” I told him.

Normally a strict rule follower, he aided and abetted my temporary escape through the paramedic entrance. I lit the cigarette and took a deep drag, exhaling the smoke into the warm fall air. I took a few more nicotine-infused breaths, then stopped and started at the smoldering cancer stick in my hand.

“I’m going to have enough health problems from now on,” I told my husband. I dropped the cigarette and crushed it beneath my shoe. Hand in hand, we returned to my hospital bed to wait until I was admitted. To wait for whatever the new diagnosis would bring next–unlikely or otherwise.

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