"Can we talk for a moment?" he asked while waving to me over our backyard fence. I like this guy, a lot. He's quite a bit older than me, but fit as a fiddle. One of those guys who, when you look at him, you cross your fingers and silently hope that you look and feel as good when you're that age. Dropping my rake, happy for the break, I walk to the fence to chat. I know from experience that we can easily talk for a half-hour or so unless his wife, a very nice woman, comes over and begins telling her versions of his stories. When that happens, the time spent talking can easily double.
"How are you?" I ask. The look in his eyes tips me off that something is wrong even before he can answer. "Not so good," he says. "Mandy has Multiple Sclerosis, right?" I was only half surprised that this was a question. Like so many people, the details of other folks health issues tend to fade quickly with the every day goings-on of their own lives. "Right," I answer. He nods, "We think my granddaughter has it too." It was said matter-of-fact, but worry etched his face. "What!? I'm sooo sorry," I respond. "How do you know? Has she been diagnosed... I mean written-down-diagnosed with MS yet?" Health insurance issues immediately sprang to mind, but I didn't vocalize those yet.
"I'm not sure. I think so. Her neurologist and doctor are both in agreement that it appears to be MS. She's undergone an MRI and a spinal tap. They're waiting on the results of the spinal tap, but the MRI showed some things that they say point to MS." Now I'm not at all sure which one of the kids that I see occasionally drive up to his house is his granddaughter, but he volunteers that she's the mother of the three little children that his wife seems to be watching all the time. "How old is she?" I ask. There was a brief pause before he answered... "23."
Twenty-three—I had to let the sink in a moment. Mandy was in her mid-40's when she was diagnosed with MS. I remember clearly all that she had to endure before — and after — being diagnosed. One of the things we used to say to each other as a sort of condolence during those times was that at least it didn't happen when Mandy was young -- that she was able to raise the kids, have a (short) career, and experience more of life before the MonSter came a'knockin. This poor kid doesn't even get that chance. She's got three young children, a husband who's deployed in the military, and now, a life-threatening disease. Talk about a downer conversation.
Well, it turns out that the real reason my friend wanted to speak with me was to see if Mandy wouldn't mind talking with his wife a bit about MS. I assured him that she'd be happy to help any way she could, even volunteering Mandy to speak with his granddaughter when she finds herself needing someone to talk with that can understand what she's experiencing. Being a bit pragmatic when it comes to these situations, I focused the rest of our conversation on the importance of good health insurance, asking him to make sure that his granddaughter is properly covered. I didn't want to share too many horror stories just yet, but I have no doubt that he's just a short bit away from being able to share his own.
Next week Mandy and I will walk in the annual MS Walk. To those who occasionally ask why we do it, the answer is simple. We do it for our children and grandchildren. We have no great hope of a breakthrough that will help Mandy, but we both know how important it is that breakthroughs do happen -- MUST happen... for the sakes of our sons, daughters, and grandchildren.
Published On: April 15, 2009