I have Multiple Sclerosis/MS, a neurological chronic illness. MS affects 1 in 400 Canadians. MS and accidents are the leading causes of disability in working aged adults.
Having MS is like living with a stranger in your nervous system. It wanders around and finds the nervous system door. MS ignores the big “No eating or drinking” sign on the door. Carrying a tasty treat in one hand and pop in the other MS tries the door. It slams against the door. The door resists. Taking a run at the door, MS breaks into the room. Its tasty treat rolls across the floor and the pop spills. MS stands in amazement. Blinking lights race along nerve fibers.
Decontaminated nervous system workers dressed in PPE jumpsuits and donning hair nets are gobsmacked by the stranger’s unorthodox arrival. The tasty treat stops at the foot of a worker. From the ground, MS grabs a nerve fiber, its hand brushes the myelin coating from the nerve. Using the nerve fiber MS pulls itself up and stares at the workers. No unauthorized person ever enters this pristine place. The workers sound the alarm.
MS starts running. The myelin is slippery and MS crashes to the floor again. Grabbing another nerve to steady itself, MS lurches forward. The workers step back and begin screaming. Needing to escape the sirens and screaming, MS grabs a nerve fiber. Firing synapses race up and down thin fibers lighting the way. Gripping axon and dendrite fiber MS takes off. MS’s hand slides along nerve fibers, stripping their protective, thin myelin coating. After a few false starts, tripping over the shedded myelin, MS eludes the workers.
At the nerve’s axon terminal a cacophony of synapses lights temporarily stun MS. Yelling, “Shut up!” MS kicks the axon terminal, killing some of the lights. Off balance, MS falls through a hole in the nervous system. Desperately grabbing and snapping nerve fibers MS tumbles head over heels through the nervous system. The sound of cracking branches booms out. Myelin flutters down witnessing MS crash landing in a dendrite tree. If you are lucky, MS passes out in the tree branches, otherwise it will roll out and continue its rampage.
White cells flood into the nervous system to capture MS. As sirens scream, white cells search for the intruder. Racing around corners, slipping on the myelin debris, they slam through nerve fibers destroying myelin. Sparks fly as the axon terminal short out. Exposed fibers hang limply in the white cells' wake. Dendrite branches are cut in the great MS chase. Sparks sputter and weld connections closed causing permanent scars called sclerosis. More troops are called up. Resembling Keystone Cops, workers bounce off of each other and tear holes in the nervous system. Finally, MS is found curled up in a dark corner, fast asleep. Workers feverishly build a containment station around sleeping MS’s form.
The All Clear signal echos in the air as workers survey the damage. It becomes clear that the response was worse than the attack. They shrug and congratulate each other; these things happen. Next time they will be better prepared. T and B cell troops set up camp, promising to keep MS under control. They don’t and can’t, but no one is questioning their authority or the increased police presence. Daily, they sweep the nervous system for any signs of intruders. These over-enthusiastic guards swashbuckle through nerve fibers, clearing patrol paths. Every sound is rigorously investigated. Not believing that MS is a benign, lost stranger, T and B cell reinforcements are brought in to keep the area safe.
Attacks can create the host body to experience headaches, numbness, pain, drooling, elimination systems failure, slurred speech, the colour red to appear grey, blindness, inability to walk or concentrate, and fatigue. Fatigue is to be so tired that thinking, moving, and living feels like climbing the final ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro. These are the symptoms. The echoing remnants of the damage created during the hunt for MS and by MS itself.
When all is quiet, patrol cells drink herbal tea, MS sleeps and no damage occurs. This is remission. Remission is a busy time. Workers reroute synapses around broken and damaged nerve fibers. New routes are slower and less reliable. Some routes are abandoned. Scars, called sclerosis, aka brain freckles, grow over damaged areas.
At axon terminals, wires get tangled. New branches cannot always be grafted to dendrite trees. Workers duct tape and solder wires together as best as they can. The tape and lumpy welds interfere with synaptic signals clarity resulting in muffled garbled messages. These messages are MS symptoms.
MS is detected based on sclerosis, amount of patrol cell protein in the spinal fluid, and a neurological exam during or after an attack. Disease modifying drugs keep MS and patrol troops quiet. Stress, excitement, boredom, a cold, a change in weather, or a sunrise can trigger MS or the immune system to freak out. Managing stress, exercising, not smoking, eating well, limiting alcohol and drug consumption, and good overall health can limit MS flare ups. However, there is no magic bullet that kills MS. Even if there were a silver bullet, the damage is permanent. Every relapse causes irreversible damage.
MS is an autoimmune disease. The autoimmune’s response to an intruder results in damage. Patrol and police cells cause inflammation. This inflammation, described here as a ridiculous car chase akin to the Keystone Cops or Mr. Bean as police chief, results in permanent damage. This is the problem. Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Grave’s Disease, Celiac Disease, Lupus, Psoriasis, and other autoimmune diseases may not cause damage. The body’s response in attempting to eradicate these viruses causes inflammation, which destroys cells and disrupts the central nervous system’s functionality. The damage is irreversible. There is no way to prevent or accurately predict when over-policing of the virus will occur. Predicting the future of an autoimmune disease progression is a guessing game. The person can do things to limit inflammation and decrease their stress level, but life is as unpredictable as the disease.
The moral of the story is that police states cause stress and stress damages us. In our bodies, societies, and our communities. Rather than attempting to eradicate these diseases perhaps we ought to investigate ways to reduce disability discrimination. Flexible working conditions, including working from home, and reduced hours lower financial stress and increases self-esteem. Accessible and affordable housing, transportation, services, building, mobility and living aids, and work sites increase the individual’s choices, which lowers financial stress while increasing independence. Supportive community services for recreation, exercise, and counselling reduce loneliness. Providing services to enable individuals to live, work, learn, volunteer, and play in their communities reduces anxiety, isolation, and depression. Increased accessibility allows people with disabilities to reach their full potential as citizens, parents, tax payers, employees, business owners, and volunteers, which means communities, schools, businesses, and societies are healthier.
Autoimmune disease progression is unpredictable. The best cure is stress reduction. The easiest and least expensive way to reduce the stress of living with a disability is accessibility. Accessibility creates opportunities that benefit all of society.
The next time someone tells you I have an autoimmune disease and you say, “I’m so sorry”, ask yourself what are you sorry about? Are you sorry they have a disability or are you sorry that they live in a world that excludes them?