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November 2016 - ‘Twas yet another dark night in Bangkok lit up by the neon lights and signs of the shady massage parlors. For a few weeks I had noticed bouts of weakness, dizziness and almost blacking out mid-exercise. The most notable difference however was when I was navigating the tiny sidewalks of Thailand. The things are barely wide enough for two and I was continually bumping into people or falling off entirely. This went on for 6 weeks before I finally reached out to a friend of mine who had told me she dealt with vertigo on occasion. I asked her how long her spells usually last. She said a couple hours.
Even that didn't really ring any alarm bells for me. I figured this was just a long dizzy spell and I'll get over it if I get some rest (I had been slaving away at work for weeks - credit to me), It wasn't until I was playing a game of softball later that month in Singapore that I noticed just how bad my hand-eye coordination had got that I finally said, "screw it I'll book an appointment".
I was due to move back to Bangkok for another month so I figured I'd get tested for vertigo there hoping that like everything else in Thailand, it'd come at discounted price. Went in, checked my inner ear, did tests and they couldn't see anything wrong. Afterwards, they asked if I'd be willing to do an MRI scan on my brain. I remember saying "Man, I gotta get home and see a real doctor who knows WTF they are talking about". But I had some disposable income at the time and figured if I was able to schedule it during work hours it'd be worth it.
Long story short, did the MRI and got results the next day, they found two lesions (broad medical term for damaged organs/tissues) on my brain. The doc here tried their best to stress the seriousness of what this may mean but there was a few lost in translation moments going on forsure - all the while I was like "what else? So what, I got a couple bruises from concussions suffered as a result of playing hockey for 20+ years...who doesn't?"
This discussion went on for a while till she finally said "I think it may be MS, but we need to do a lot more tests before we can diagnose you". I remember thinking that this chick must be crazy - MS? I'm 26, just a couple weeks prior I had led our beer league team to the championship of Bankok's most prestigious ice hockey tournament. It was at that time I received a lecture on what the hell the MS is. Up to this point all I knew was that it was supposedly a serious disease.
She explained to me that the lesions were located on the balance center of my brain and that would explain the insane dizziness I was experiencing. She suggested we get me hooked up to an IV full of steroids for three days straight to reduce the inflammation. Shallow me, I was thinking "Dope, an excuse to get jacked? Let's do it". Turns out it wasn't that kind of steroid - if anything it'd reduce the muscle I did have. The steroids reduced the initial symptoms but weren't without side effects. The doc then explained that I am in the 'Clinically Isolated Syndrome' (CIS) stage, meaning I had just experienced my first attack/event. This was the first of many times she’d tell me, “I would need to come to terms with my new normal”. For me this is just a bunch of balance issues that are more of an annoyance rather than disabling. She put me at 85% chance of experiencing a 2nd attack, and if that were to occur, would be diagnosed with MS.
My takeaway from the whole experience is being blown away with just how invisible it is. Not only in the level of awareness about it, but its symptoms. When you look at me I doubt you’d say to yourself “that guy def can’t walk in a straight line and writes like a fucking caveman.” And to think, I thought it was a simple case of vertigo and now it's something I'll need to monitor (potentially) the rest of my life? Wild. I spoke to someone I knew who has been diagnosed, and he echoed those thoughts. He had the same reaction as I when the doc explained what he thought was the cause, "I'm too young for this shit".
I feel extremely grateful for just how minimal my symptoms are. I mean I won't be playing fast paced sports anymore and it's a minor inconvinience for me to walk in confined spaces, but it's nothing compared to some of the other stories I've heard. Being in Asia for the past few years I hadn't kept up to date with the NHL much, but Bryan Bickell had an eerily similar experience prior to deciding to retire. The thing I most related to was just how things felt 'off' rather than disabling. I've tried playing hockey while I was living in Singapore after this all happened but I just kept falling all the time (lol) and was getting frusturated that my hands and legs weren't doing what I wanted them to. Like him, it's been very difficult to see skills you know you used to have dissappear seemingly overnight.
Too often we only support causes for selfish reasons, those that impact you or loved ones. I'm here doing the same, but I think if my experience taught me anything, it speaks to just how little awareness there is on MS and how important events like the walk can be in increasing public knowledge and providing services to those in need.
I hope you will help in contributing to the cause by donating, sharing or volunteering.
Why I’m walking to end MS
Canada has the highest rate of MS in the world. Every day three more Canadians are diagnosed withmultiple sclerosis, an unpredictable illness that affects vision, balance, memory and mobility. We don’t know what causes MS and there is no cure.
Your support means Canadian families who are affected by this disease do not have to face MS alone.
When you donate to my fundraising efforts for the MS Walk, your funds are invested into research to find the cause and cure for the disease, while providing services to Canadians with multiple sclerosis and their families.
Thank you in advance for joining the fight to end MS.