Forgetting, Remembering

Sometimes I forget that I have MS.

Not for days—not even one, certainly—but for moments. There are moments when I feel normal again. Sometimes that feeling comes when I’m out walking, sometimes when I’m teaching a class, sometimes when I’m laughing with my family.

And then someone says something, or I see something or think of something that reminds me, breaking the spell, and I remember. How many times a day does that happen?

I started working when I was 14 in a nursing home. So much of who I am is rooted in the five years I spent there and what I learned from the people I met, people whom I didn’t know at the time would stay with me forever. Unlike many of the residents, Bill was still able to walk, and he made the rounds of the home several times a day in his smart but sturdy brown shoes, pants pressed, sweater vest over his plaid shirt, hair combed neatly. “Where is my wife?” he asked constantly, growing more agitated each time a staff member dodged him. “I need to find my wife!”

When he’d wander into the dining room, where I worked, I never could answer his question honestly. Instead, I’d ask if he’d like to rest with a cup of coffee, and sometimes he’d agree, taking a seat and looking around, bewildered. He wouldn’t finish half the cup before asking again, “Where is my wife? Can you help me find my wife?”

“Let’s get you back to your room,” I’d say, offering my arm. It seemed kinder to let him keep asking, to let him hold onto the hope that she might be in the next hall, around the next corner. Usually a nursing assistant would take over somewhere along the way. Depending on which CNA it was, how her day was going and how many times she’d had this same conversation already with poor Bill, sometimes she’d answer his question about where his wife was with an exasperated, “She’s dead! She’s been dead for years.”

And then I’d see it, the look of recognition as he brought his handkerchief to his eyes, a brief flicker of understanding and profound sadness. He lost his wife anew dozens of times each day.

What did I know then of such suffering? Just that it was heartbreaking, consuming. Although my situation is not the same, I understand it a bit better now.

MS doesn’t like to be forgotten. For the past week, the tingling on my left side has come back, in my toes, in my foot, in my fingers.

Still here, still here, it whispers. Still, still here.

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