I volunteered to have an MRI for fun – it revealed something sinister
Hitting publish on another candid Instagram post, I wait for the likes and messages that will inevitably follow.
Except, I’m not an influencer – I’m the ‘MS Doctor’, posting on my Instagram account about my unusual life as a 32-year-old working healthcare professional with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
And while I never give medical advice, I try my best to normalise MS and help other people with the neurological condition, affecting around 130,000 in the UK, feel less alone.
But I didn’t always feel this empowered.
Though my diagnosis has completely changed the course of my life and since inspired me to become a doctor, the shock of the day I found out is etched onto my memory.
Not long after graduating as a radiographer back in 2013, I secured a job at a hospital in Edinburgh and started dating, Leoana.
I was 23, and things really seemed to be falling into place for me.
Just a couple of months into my new role, I volunteered to take part in a study at the hospital, which involved having an MRI.
Who doesn’t want to see a picture of their brain, after all?
The scan went ahead as normal, and I didn’t give it a second thought until a couple of days later when my boss asked to see me urgently.
I panicked, assuming I was in trouble. But when she sat down and said, ‘Daniel, are you feeling alright?’, I knew something much more serious was going on.
She delicately explained that they’d found a lesion.
As a radiographer, I knew enough about MS to know what that meant. Your own immune system begins to attack the myelin – the insulation that surrounds your brain and spinal cord and allows messages to be sent along nerves.
This means the messages that are sent from the brain take longer to reach their destination, or may not reach it at all. This results in a range of symptoms from tingling and numbness, to weakness and, ultimately, loss of function.
Everybody is different and symptoms often present in a unique way for each patient. No two patients are alike.
There’s no cure and scientists aren’t sure what causes it, but it’s most commonly detected in adults between 20 and 50 – although children and old people can have MS, too.
I was in complete shock, not least because I felt healthy. Mainly it was because the people I saw with MS had nearly always been older or disabled – certainly not like me.
I felt scared and devastated.
I also didn’t know how to break the news to people. My parents were one thing, but I assumed Leoana would leave me – and I wouldn’t have blamed her.
I didn’t know what my future would look like with MS, and it was a lot to ask of someone I’d just started dating.
Yet, she chose to stay by my side and help me process the news with unwavering love and support.
As reality set in, I tried to get more answers about both the disease and my future. But I was to discover one of the cruellest features of MS: that nobody can give you a reliable prognosis.
Strangely enough, just six months after my diagnosis, I started to experience symptoms. It’s possible the stress of the diagnosis triggered them.
I struggled to feel or use my hands for months. It was frightening – and because I have ‘relapsing-remitting’ MS, my symptoms come and go in distinct relapses.
Although this made life unpredictable, I made a big decision: I was going to apply to medical school and become a doctor.
I wanted to highlight that MS was not the end of the road by proving that I was still living
I wasn’t even sure if I’d get in, it’s very competitive after all – but I was confident my experiences would make me a better, more empathetic doctor.
Sure enough, I made the cut and began my training in 2016, aged 25. I kept my condition private at first, but in my third year I ran The Great North Run to raise money for a MS charity as my way of ‘coming out’ to people who didn’t know.
My university was very supportive. Clinical practice was a bit trickier, but I never worked nights or weekends, which helped.
It might sound strange, but it honestly didn’t hold me back.
I started posting on Instagram back in June 2022 after the idea came to me while I was sitting having an infusion on the day unit, a treatment to control the disease.
I wanted to highlight that MS, or any chronic illness for that matter, was not the end of the road by proving that I was still living.
After five gruelling years of medical school, rounding off 11 consecutive years at university, I completed my foundation training this August.
Along the way, I lost my ability to walk, write, socialise, and even smile. On the flip side, I bought my first house, got married, and attained four degrees.
Today, I still experience tingling sensations in both hands – making small, intricate movements difficult.
I’m also prone to fatigue, and more recently, a poignant symptom that I suffer with involves trouble with my walking distance. This makes daily living challenging in some aspects, but I tend to build rest periods into my day, which alleviates this.
Now, I’m considering my specialty. I’m drawn to neurology of course, but I sometimes worry that it would be too close to home. I’ll never become a surgeon, that’s for sure, but I have plenty of time to mull it over as I’ll be playing patient for the foreseeable.
This month, I’m travelling to London to undergo a haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) – a pioneering treatment to try and halt the advance of my MS.
It aims to reset my immune system by wiping it out with chemotherapy and then regrowing it, using my own stem cells.
It’ll be a long, unpleasant slog and there’s no guarantee it’ll work – but I’m prepared and know it’s the right decision for me.
I’ll have to spend a lot of time in isolation, admitted to hospital. Leoana, who I married last October, won’t be able to visit but we’ll be doing a lot of video calls.
I’ll have to hang up my stethoscope for a while, but ultimately I hope the treatment will help me don my white coat for longer.
Where I go from here is yet to be seen, but regardless: don’t ever tell yourself you can’t do something. Not ever.
The MS Trust is calling for increased support services for people living with MS in the UK. For more information and support on living with MS, visit www.mstrust.org.uk
As told to Elle Griffiths
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