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I, too have MS, Jack. It may be incurable but it was the making of me
23:46 GMT, 18 June 2012
06:52 GMT, 19 June 2012
At half past seven yesterday morning, I stepped — well, staggered — off the Caledonian sleeper train at Euston Station. I was bone-tired. My legs no longer worked properly and the vision in my right eye was blurry, accompanied by a familiar dull throb.
Fed up Not a bit of it. I was euphoric. Over the weekend I had climbed Ben Nevis, trudging through wind, rain and snow, then spent the following day sea kayaking and seal spotting off the west coast of Scotland. It may have used up almost every scrap of energy I had, but boy was it worth it!
Because a few years ago, I would not even have dared to dream it was possible.
Blessed: Richard Price with wife Jen and children James and Jessica
All my memories of those dark days came flooding back as I read that Jack Osbourne, 26-year-old son of rock star Ozzy and a celebrity in his own right thanks to reality TV, has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and plunged into a maelstrom of uncertainty — just as I was eight years ago.
Multiple sclerosis. Two little words which open up a world of fear, anger and, more often than not, overwhelming sadness.
After all, MS is a serious business — a chronic condition with no cure, the potential to shorten your lifespan by a decade and a list of symptoms longer than your arm.
Terrifying is not a strong enough word. Google ‘Multiple Sclerosis’ and within half an hour of trawling the message boards, I challenge you not to be paralysed by fear.
Jack’s parents are, understandably, distraught. Sharon, his mother, admits to running over and over in her mind: ‘What did I do wrong What did I eat or drink when I was pregnant’ In short, she blames herself.
As for Ozzy, he wishes that it had happened to him, because he spent much of his adult life in alcohol and drug-addled oblivion, whereas Jack is ‘such a good guy’.
Well, I’m sorry, but it simply doesn’t work that way.
MS doesn’t discriminate: it affects young and old, rich and poor alike. People like Jack, and people like me.
Like Richard Price, Jack Osbourne has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis
All of us are different, of course, yet I have as good an idea as anyone how Jack is feeling because I went through exactly the same experience myself.
From the moment the neurologist sits you down in his office and makes the fateful diagnosis, your world is changed beyond recognition.
At least, that’s how it feels.
Though I was diagnosed in 2004, I have total recall. I remember the hapless neurologist, devoid of bedside manner, informing me that having viewed my MRI scans he was ‘happy to say’ I had MS.
Pointing out the dark lesions which made my brain look like a lump of Swiss cheese, he added: ‘Look at them all. To be honest, I’m surprised you’re still walking so well, the damage is so obvious.’
I can remember walking out of the hospital, dumbstruck, climbing into my car and sobbing down the phone to my girlfriend.
I remember going home, walking into the kitchen, and tearfully telling my devastated mother: ‘Well, that’s it then. That’s my life over! No marriage, no kids, no career. How could I possibly ask Jen to stay with me now What sort of a life would she have’
Then I sat on the sofa for a fortnight, feeling sorry for myself, barely eating, blankly watching television and mourning the life I could have had. My life, I was utterly convinced, would never be the same again.
And that was the one thing I was right about. During those dreadful weeks of depression, my life did change beyond recognition. For the better.
Thankfully, the aforementioned Jen is made of much sterner stuff than me.
She waved away my doom-laden forecasts, lifted me out of the gloom and we have never looked back.
Jen introduced some much-needed perspective. While all I could see was the worst-case scenario, she did her own research and learned that MS is a hugely varied condition: that it was perfectly likely I would go on to live a fulfilled and happy life.
More to the point, it wasn’t my place to tell her what to do — she would jolly well decide for herself! Even better, MS, unbidden and unwanted, had stripped me of all reticence. I told Jen, who had been my girlfriend for a matter of weeks (though we had been friends for a couple of years by then), that I adored her and wanted us to spend the rest of our lives together.
By some miracle, this didn’t scare her off. In fact, she felt the same way — and that is why I count my MS diagnosis as one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
In two weeks’ time we will celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. We have been blessed with two wonderful children in Jessica, six, and James, four. I have a thriving business as a writer and get to spend far more time with my family than the vast majority of my contemporaries.
Of course, life has not been straightforward. It never is. But as I read of Jack Osbourne’s diagnosis, I couldn’t help wishing that I could give him the wisdom I have picked up in the eight long years since I was in his shoes.
Like Jack, I was in my mid-20s when I first began to get the feeling that all was not quite well with my body. At the time I was a reporter in Scotland, driving long distances every day, and on those journeys my right leg would sometimes go numb.
Like Jack Osbourne, Price was diagnosed with the incurable disease in his twenties
Wear and tear, I assumed, and when I felt pins and needles, and then a sharp pain, up my right forearm, it was easy to dismiss it as a repetitive strain injury caused by hours clicking on a computer mouse.
My GP agreed. And so that was that.
When I was 28, it took a turn for the worse, though. The numbness in my right leg came back, and this time it spread all the way up my body to the top of my neck. Worse still, I was tripping over paving stones on a regular basis.
Could it be a trapped nerve in my back, caused by lifting a heavy plant pot Once again, my pliant GP agreed to this self-diagnosis, and nothing more was said about it.
Privately I was petrified, but somehow I managed to persuade myself that it was all in my head, and that the problem would right itself as it had in the past.
Only this time it got much worse. Over the course of six weeks, my balance declined alarmingly.
Walking along a pavement required rapt concentration: the slightest incline felt like I was negotiating the north face of the Eiger.For reasons I cannot explain to this day, I kept this to myself.
On one occasion, I flew to Portugal on a job and was crestfallen to discover our hotel was on a hill. To prevent myself from falling headlong down the slope, I would feign boisterousness and throw my arm around a colleague’s shoulder for support.
It was faux bravado — an empty charade. Inside, I was scared stiff.
Then, miracle of miracles, I recovered. Hallelujah! It was all in my head after all.
As for the fact that I was returning home from work every night dog-tired, passing out on the sofa within minutes — well, I had a tough job. No shame in that.
Yes, I have MS, but MS doesn't have me
Somehow I stumbled along in this manner for another six months, until one day I woke up to a symptom which could no longer be ignored.
It started subtly enough, just an annoying fleck in my vision. But within 48 hours, I was all but blind in my right eye.
It was time to stop pretending. I went to hospital and was quickly ushered in to see a consultant. It didn’t take long for them to diagnose optic neuritis — an inflammation of the optic nerve which is the most common ‘presenting sign’ of MS.
A battery of tests was carried out: MRI scans, blood tests, endless tasks designed to test my balance and reflexes, and one particularly sinister-looking device which involved attaching electrodes to my head and running an electric current to gauge the nerve responses.
It did not take long for the diagnosis to come through. With my — previously secret — case history, it was an open and shut case.
Jack has spoken of his anger and sadness at being struck down by the condition. I have felt both of these emotions.
For the first three years after diagnosis, I wrapped myself in cotton wool, feeling that any excessive activity would wear me out and accelerate the progress of my MS.
I hid away from fellow sufferers. Magazines from the well-meaning MS Society were packed with adverts for wheelchairs and incontinence pads.
The sight of them filled me with terror, and they’d go straight on the recycling pile, unopened.
It was only through the unrelenting support of my family and friends that I was able to regain a positive outlook. I will remain eternally grateful to one dear family friend, Pat Jones, whom I have known since childhood and who has lived with MS for all that time.
Like myself (and Jack, for that matter), she has relapsing/remitting multiple sclerosis — the milder form of the condition.
Pat didn’t feel unlucky. She never let her MS get in the way of living. Now in her 70s, she is the epitome of my mantra: ‘Yes, I have MS — but MS doesn’t have me.’
In fact it was the actor Michael J. Fox, of all people, who introduced me to the concept of serious illness being a ‘gift’. I remember picking up his autobiography, titled Lucky Man. How could he, struck down with Parkinson’s, consider himself in any way to be lucky
By the time I put the book down, I understood. For me, MS has been the most wonderful gift. Without it, would I have plucked up the courage to grab the chance of happiness when it was standing in front of me Would I have the beautiful children who light up my life
Would I have had the guts to give up my safe job on a newspaper and strike out on my own as a freelance writer, setting up my own business at a time when life had never been more uncertain Perhaps not — and the loss would have been immeasurable.
I've climbed Ben Nevis and last year cycled to Paris
I am one of the lucky ones, of course. My relapses have so far been confined to those familiar old feelings of numbness, fatigue and the mobility issues which neurologists (in their uniquely blunt manner) refer to as spasticity.
The only permanent problem I have is that I have never recovered my vision in my right eye. I can see, but it’s distorted, like I’m watching through screwed up clingfilm. However, my left eye now simply compensates for it.
Since the day I stopped hiding away from the condition, I have met many inspiring fellow ‘MS-ers’, with varying degrees of disability. One friend walks with sticks — but not once have I seen her without a smile on her face.
Another friend used to run marathons (prior to MS he was the youngest ever to do so on all seven continents), but he had to stop after plunging sideways into bushes one time too many. We shouldn’t laugh about it, but we do. Often.
Undeterred, he has taken up adaptive rowing — designed so that disabled people can participate in the sport — and missed out on our Paralympic team by a whisker.
As for me, running is out of the question because of those pesky balance issues, so I bought myself a bike and last year cycled to Paris.
Not much to write home about, admittedly, but I shall remember the feeling of achievement as we rode up the Champs Elysees for many years to come.
Yes, MS has taken its toll. There were many occasions on the descent from Ben Nevis on Saturday when I lost my footing entirely, and it will probably be several days before the feeling returns to my legs.
As my bewildered wife said to me this morning: ‘I don’t know why you put yourself through these things.’
The answer Because I can. And for that I count myself as the luckiest man in the world.