Multiple Sclerosis has proven to be a test of faith

Faith. It means different things to different people. For me, my faith, changed from being split between the people I worked for, the people I worked with, and the undying faith I have always had in God.

As a retired police lieutenant, a husband and father of four, my faith has been tested time and time again. As a man of God, every test proved to me that the only faith I need to have to get through life is my faith in Him.

It was December 16, 2005 at about 10 a.m. I was at work at the police department. The day started like any other, but I didn’t feel quite right. I actually felt like my blood pressure was just cooking and near boiling over.  I asked my police partner to take me to the hospital because I didn’t feel well. She took me right to the emergency room.

The ER physician ordered a battery of tests which included a CT scan. The doctor informed me that he noticed that I had some things on my brain that looked as if I had a stroke in the past.

To make matters worse, the doctor tried three different medications to get my blood pressure down. Things were not going well. The doctor was in the process of admitting me when my body began responding to one of the medications. He contacted my primary physician and I was released to go home with follow-up testing and a visit to my doctor scheduled the next day.

The following day, an MRI was performed along with a spinal tap to check for protein in my spinal fluid.  The results, my physician informed me, showed that I had signs that pointed toward Multiple Sclerosis.

I have always been a strong man. As a member of a police department, I was used to being strong. I was used to dealing within a system where justice meant everything. I was used to being the one to help bring justice to those who needed it. I was proud to serve and protect the citizens of the Village I worked in and considered to be my second home.

The words, MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS, made me feel powerless.

In the weeks that followed, I was referred to a neurologist.  He referred me for further testing to the Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio.

Tests performed at the clinic verified my doctor’s suspicions and confirmed my diagnosis of MS.

I remember being at the doctor’s office, with my wife, Nikki, crying. I remember him telling her to “Have faith.” At that time, I did not completely understand what he meant. Faith?

I was off work for several weeks. I began going to the gym and got myself up to bench pressing 350 pounds. My doctor advised me of several options and things that I needed to think about as far as my future was concerned. Where would I stand with the profession I so loved? Police work was everything to me. Being an officer is what defined me, or so I thought.

I was in denial. I was determined to beat this MS. Newly diagnosed, I thought that I could work harder to stave off the effects of MS. Admittedly, I did not know much about this disease.

I began Rebif injections and began experiencing flu like symptoms, a common side effect, almost immediately.  I was experiencing extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle spasms and stiffness. To accomplish anything at all was becoming increasingly difficult. My faith was being tested for sure.

To add to the stress, we were in the process of selling our home, our son was being deployed to Iraq, and we were moving into a condo until we found a new home.

Through all of this, I still had faith. I had faith that I would beat this. I had faith that we would sell our home, even in the bad economy, and I had faith our son would come back to us safe and sound.

I also had faith that my job would still be there for me when I was physically well enough to return. After all, I worked within the boundaries of the justice system. Justice, as it turned out, would turn a blind eye.

I returned back to the job I knew and loved. To my complete surprise, I found the attitude from my superiors towards me had changed dramatically. The work environment had somehow become different. I would describe it as decidedly hostile.

It looked like I was being pushed out. I was told that I should retire.   I asked for accommodations at my job and was told by my direct supervisor that, “There would be no accommodations made for me."

I was stunned. My faith in this institution of justice was shaken. I could never have imagined this outcome. Before being diagnosed, I had received a stellar performance evaluation. Ironically, the police department and the Village proudly hosts the "MS Walkathon" every spring.

Faith? For me, faith in my superiors, in the system, and in my co-workers was gone. I still had faith in my friends, my family and in my God. Was that enough? My faith would continue to be tested as things got progressively worse.

A home accident would be a defining factor in how my life would change. While cutting the grass, I broke my left foot. It was as if someone was trying to tell me something.

I was told by my doctors that I should not return to work. The stress of MS and the stress of a hostile work environment was too much. It was a hard pill to swallow. I was being defined by this disease. I was found guilty of being sick. No trial, no jury, I was done.

I applied for disability retirement. I was now off work indefinitely and applied to the Ohio Police and Fire Retirement Board.  I knew by the time a determination was made on the retirement, I would soon be without a paycheck.

This meant that even a tougher, rougher road was ahead of me and my family. It took a little more than six months for me to be approved and accept the retirement benefits.

When the retirement process was finalized, I was guaranteed I would receive a percent of my income for the rest of my life. That was surely great news after months of financial instability.  It was also quite less then my normal salary.

My main problem, due to my MS diagnosis, was that I was now in more debt, ill and without a job that I loved.

However, the words of my good friend and neurologist ran through my mind, “Have faith."  This is not always easy to do when your life has been affected by a chronic illness, but certainly, without faith, there is nothing at all.

Almost six years have now passed since leaving the job I loved.  I have had four relapses during this time. I have changed my medication from Rebif  to Copaxone. The flu like symptoms have passed and I believe that I am in remission now.

I have a part-time job with a social service agency as a Diversion Coordinator for youth who get in trouble with the police. When I am not doing that, I am calling around trying to get donations to help feed the poor and needy in my area.

I even teach part-time at a local community college. I hope to instill in my students my passion for the life as a police officer. I enjoy sharing my many stories of 25 years carrying a badge.

MS has certainly changed my life.  I miss police work dearly, but we spend our lives making plans for how things are to go, then something happens that makes those plans change.  I'm sure there will be more struggles and trials through this path, however, I have found that those first words told to me by my doctor ring in my ears often......"Have faith". My faith has definitely carried me and my family through.

Six years have passed since my MS diagnosis. The lawsuit that I filed against my former employer has finally been settled. We didn’t get a whole lot of money. We did the right thing and paid off and down as many bills as we could. How do you catch up, once you have lost so much?  We have always tried to be honest people to work hard and to do the right thing.

Life, thanks to faith, goes on. My wife and I continue to pick up the pieces as I try to remain employed wherever I can. I have a 22 year old daughter at home while she is attending college and I have a 16 year old son attending high school.

My oldest son just got back from his third deployment and now has PTSD.  My second son just received a medical discharge from an Army injury that he received while in Afghanistan along with PTSD. I recently lost a best friend (GW) due to brain cancer. It could always be worse.  Yet, my wife still utters the words of my doctor "Have faith".

For all of us with this terrible disease, I pray that some day we wake up and there is a cure for us. Until then, make the best of each day.  It could always be worse. After everything my family and I have been through, I still have faith. To those of you struggling with MS, please, "Have faith".

By Robert Kolasinski

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