Our car has MS

We’ve attributed human characteristics to cars probably since before Herbie went to Monte Carlo in the 1970s.

I used to have a girlfriend, who gave her cars names. Not even silly names, but actual names. I remember she had a Mini Metro called Matilda, for instance. And the kids call my car – a Honda Jazz – Jeff, after Jazzy Jeff the DJ. My neighbour’s Jazz (apparently Jeff’s girlfriend) is called Jasmine.

Anyway, my wife came back to her car the other week to find it had its hazard lights on. Puzzled, she went to switch them off, but to no avail. One visit from the RAC man seemed to put it right, but the next morning she woke to find them blinking away again.

The ten mile drive to work that she then endured with people helpfully flashing their lights at her, honking their horns and generally veering off the road while they gesticulated wildly resolved her to ring our friendly neighbourhood garage. A pick-up truck was duly despatched to tow it home.

After a couple of days it appeared that the mechanics had no idea what was wrong, so when I popped in to see if it was ready, I was greeted by the sight of a dashboard, still in pieces, with bits of wiring tumbling out here and there.

I didn’t fully understand the detailed explanation, but I gathered that they were experimenting by re-routing and connecting different circuits to see if the central locking was the main culprit.

It was all a mystery. Even the experts they’d consulted at Toyota were flummoxed.

After a week of tinkering, the problem was finally discovered and I was able to pick the car up. It turned out that a leak of water had come in via an ill-fitting windscreen and made its way into the main computer causing a strange coppery blue ‘mould’ to spread in a couple of the circuit boards. This had been cleaned off and the leak was sealed.

“You see, when you get something going wrong in the main computer …” explained Arthur the chief mechanic, as he showed me the photos of the mouldy connections and how they’d spread, “you don’t know how it’s going to manifest itself …”

This sounds familiar, I thought.

“… You can get a fault anywhere on the car where there’s electrics and you think that’s where the problem is, but it’s actually the main computer that’s at fault. Does that make sense?”

It made perfect sense.

“It sounds just like me,” I said noticing how my right leg was feeling fuzzy all of a sudden.

I paid the bill, which consisted mainly of a week’s labour, and drove the blighter home.

I patted the dashboard comfortingly before I got out. “Ahhh! You’ve had a relapse!” I said.

Pressing the switch for the central locking, what should be a helpful blink from the indicators didn’t materialise. Checking the doors, they were locked, but some connection had been lost forever.

Hmmm … must be secondary progressive, I thought, turning towards my house.

Not getting a grip

For me, one of the greatest moments of Shadenfreude happened when I saw a woman drop a carton of blueberries in a supermarket.

For a glorious few seconds the small round fruits bounced and rolled in all directions, finding their way under inaccessible chiller cabinets and getting squished and smeared artistically under passing feet and trolley wheels.

A similar moment happened to me in my local Sainsbury the other day.

I’ve noticed recently that communications sometimes break down between my brain and my hands, so I just forget to grip things. Whatever I’m holding: toothbrushes, apples, forks, they all go clattering or thumping to the floor with no warning.

On Sunday at the checkouts, I forgot to grip a large jar of black olives.

I didn’t let on to the staff that it was the MS, or that I had a disability. Embarrassed, I made some excuse about it catching the edge of the trolley instead, painfully aware that I had my 11 year old daughter with me who still can’t live down a cake avalanche moment I subjected her to in Tesco.

The staff looked after her, making sure she didn’t go anywhere near the broken glass, and I heard the announcement for the in-store janitor as I jogged off for a replacement from the pickle section.

On my return (“both hands Daddy!”), the woman from the checkout had emptied my trolley for me and a beaming floor manager re-assured me that it was absolutely no problem at all.

“It’s what we pay her for!” came his cheerful reply after my profuse apologies to the busily mopping janitor. I almost felt like I’d made his day.

Everyone was smiling and helpful and making a fuss of my daughter. I got called “duck” more times than I could count. By the time I had everything bagged and we’d paid for it all, it was almost like we were bidding farewell to old friends.

Of course it’s good customer service to iron out the embarrassment of such events, and a friendly supermarket is one that you’ll want to go back to.

But how marvellous that when the MonSter tries to trip you up and upset you everyone else rallies round to pick you up.

The sting

Well, I’ve been taking Copaxone (Glatiramer Acetate) for about a week now. I administered my first injection under the gaze of my wonderful MS nurse last Monday.

When I was on Rebif I didn’t really inject into my arm or leg, favouring the fattier parts of my anatomy. It has been my arse and my belly that have borne the brunt over the years, frankly, and as such, I am only now, months later, starting to lose the red patches below my navel.

Injecting with Copaxone however is a more serious prospect in terms of injection site reactions. You really do need to set up a rota of sites to pierce as sustained injecting into one area can cause the destruction of local tissue – quoting my newly copaxone-free friend: “You don’t really think about your ass till it’s kinda disappeared.”

It’s particularly important as my injections are now part of a daily regime rather than being a three-times-a-week occurence.

The thing they don’t tell you is how much it HURTS…

“Yeah, it’s like a bee sting,” smiled my nurse, breezily. “I thought I’d tell you AFTER you’d injected.”

Bloody hell!

I felt like my daughters might have felt after they’d walked a mile, on a promise, to the local ice cream factory and found the little hatch had shut early.

It took about an hour for me to be able to bend my arm again.

I asked my friend if the pain got better over time. “Maybe a little,” she lied.

To be fair, the arm is the worst. I can shrug off the pain in all the other areas, but with the arms, I can’t even shrug. It’s like those “dead-arms” we used to administer to each other as an endurance style contest at secondary school… bruised and pummelled limbs hanging weakly at our sides to the puzzlement of our teachers as we entered each lesson.

The plus side is that a daily injection is easier to remember than a Monday, Wednesday, Friday injection. Particularly if you have trouble remembering what day of the week it is or how old you are, like I do.

A tip I learnt off YouTube is to take one of those Sharpie pens and write the days of the week and the injection site on each of the packets. So it might say “Monday left bum,” “Tuesday left leg,” “Wednesday right leg” etc. I also now know a new spot on my legs as well (top rather than side) so that will break things up rather nicely.

Today is “Tuesday left arm” though, so not looking forward to that, particularly as yesterday it was “Monday right arm.” I’m gonna have to rethink my rota, I reckon.

Anyway, in six months time I will have built up enough Copaxone in my system for it to start properly working. It’s the best option for me right now. I’ll keep my ears to the ground with any new developments in disease modifying treatments, and I can always ditch and switch if anything better becomes available.

My other ailment

“You’re looking well.”

There’s a lot of messages on MS related social media sites from annoyed MSers who hate to be told they’re looking well.

Of course the reasoning behind this is that MS is an invisible disease and while I may look OK on the outside… blah blah blah – you get the picture.

Can I just go on record that I will never tire of anyone telling me that I look well, or have a healthy complexion or that I’m an irresistable sex god, because frankly it doesn’t happen that often.

One of my wife’s friends dropped by the other day to drop something off and she remarked about how well I looked. I’d spent a day of industrial action working my allotment plot and while I was still feeling the after effects in my limbs I’d caught the sun and, the risk of skin cancer notwithstanding, I probably do look healthy (I also probably glow in the dark).

If people think they have to complement me on how I look because they know I have MS, then let ’em.

One of the key afflictions for anyone with MS, quite apart from any physical symptoms caused by demyelination, is psychological.

On occasion, if I’ve had a bad day and I’m feeling nackered, and maybe my body hasn’t done what it’s meant to do, I can get quite maudlin. If someone wants to remind me that I look fabulous, let them. It won’t make the MS go away, but it will go a considerable way to healing my other ailment.

And by the way… just so you know… you’re looking fabulous.

New medication

Well, I’ve made the big decision and I’ve had confirmation from my nursing team. I will be starting a course of Glatiramer Acetate (Copaxone) soon.

I had joined a number of social media groups to get the low down on real experiences of the different medications open to me and the copaxone route seemed to be the most suited to my needs.

More details as I get them…

Back to square one

Just like the election of a pope, or the announcement of the winner in some Saturday prime time family entertainment bollocks, I expect you’re all on tenterhooks wondering which disease modifying medication I’m going to plump for.

I don’t know 100%, but here’s my quick notes so far (apologies for superficiality):

Beta Interferon (Rebif, Avonex, Betaferon, etc)

– It’s a no for this as I’ve just given it up after six years. It made me extremely depressed – see Beta Interferon Blues.

Glatiramer Acetate (Copaxone)

– a big possibility. The only things against it are the injection site reactions and the daily injections.

Teriflunomide (Aubagio)

– no greater relapse reduction than copaxone, I think, but with a few extra side effects such as hair loss, gastric nastiness etc

Fingolimod (Gilenya)

– a risk of some heart problems, including arhythmia and in extreme cases cardiac arrest. Also a risk of macular oedema in the eyes. It’s a no to this as I’d rather eliminate the risk completely.

Alemtuzumab (Lemtrada)

– It’s a no to this as it can make you vulnerable to infection. I am married to a teacher and I have two primary school age children. I also spend a lot of time with my hands in the earth on my allotment. I’m exposed to a lot of infections. Also there could be blood clotting and thyroid issues. Once you have the infusion, there’s no going back – it’s not like you can stop taking it.

Natalizumab (Tysabri)

– The brain disease PML is documented among Tysabri users, but thankfully extremely rare. I think I would only be eligible for this if I had extremely active MS anyway. I don’t fancy having infusions every four weeks – they’re not something I can do quickly and easily in the comfort of my own home.

Dimethyl Fumarate (Tecfidera)

– this is my number one choice. In trials it has reduced relapse rates by something like 45-50% and is delivered twice daily in tablet form. There are gastric side effects – nausea, diarhoea etc, but I’ve done my homework and there are coping strategies and the nastiness should wear off over time. Worth a try, I thought. There’s one little drawback: it hasn’t been approved by NICE yet, so isn’t available to NHS patients at the moment. A decision is due in August according to the NICE website.

So there you go… I have more reading to do, but at the moment, it’s Dimethyl Fumarate first, and if that doesn’t work out Glatiramer Acetate is the fall-back.

I had a wobbly moment while talking to my better half last night (lost my balance slightly as I turned round). I think she’s worried that I’m not on any meds at the moment, but I think I would’ve done that anyway. I guess whatever medication I choose doesn’t guarantee a long term improvement in conditions.

No knee nonsense

I have no idea whether this is MS or not, but every now and then my knee gives way.

And I don’t mean every day. The last time it happened was two days ago, and before that it was last week sometime.

It’s happened a handful of times recently, though, and it’s a new sensation, which makes me automatically assume it’s MS.

There’s no pain. I can be walking along feeling relatively normal when suddenly my left knee will disappear. Somehow it instantly loses the strength to hold me up for a fraction of a second and I’ll stumble.

I haven’t made a note of how often it occurs, so I thought I’d document every time it happens here with what I was doing at the time.

Of course it may not be MS at all. I might just have a crap knee.

Probably the very act of writing about it will make it go away completely.