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Blessings make bad MS days better

By Dan Digmann

This moment I’m living through right now is among those I fear the most as a person living with Multiple Sclerosis who serves as the primary caregiver for my wife, Jennifer, who also is living with MS. 

I’m reeling from my third COVID-19 vaccine. Of the Pfizer kind. Yes, they warned me of these potential side effects of this booster shot: Chills. Weakness. Numbness. Fatigue. As a person who has dealt with all of symptoms living with MS the past two decades, I was like, “How bad can it really get?”

Yes. It really is getting that bad.

I thought I was smart when I scheduled the appointment to get the vaccine first thing in the morning. You know, to give it time and see how it affects me throughout the day. It started with the 8:30 a.m. vaccine, and I still made it to work before 9. I paid close attention to how I was feeling throughout my eight-hour workday.

My right shoulder started to ache a little around 4 p.m. I figured it was par for the course, and even then, it wasn’t that bad. Until, my workday was done, and I sat to breathe. For a hot second.

All of the aforementioned side effects quickly cascaded throughout my body. It will be better once I eat, I thought. Jennifer and Jen – her caregiver throughout the day – had prepped the meat and beans with spicy sauce for dinner. It’s taco Tuesday, after all!

Heating everything up on the stove, making the tacos and helping Jennifer eat proved to be more than I could handle. With every bite I offered her, she worriedly ordered, “That’s all yours. Come on, Dan, you need to eat. You need your strength.”

In stereotypical husband fashion, I only listened to some of what Jennifer said. I know best, right? I mean, I am her caregiver, and I need to make sure she is getting what she needs to eat.

Was I selfish in overlooking what she was telling me as my primary caregiver and continuing to feed her? Yes and no. Yes, I needed to respect her as my caregiver, but I knew how I felt. It scared the hell out of me at the thought that this could knock me out, and she would have no one here to help her. That is, until reinforcements arrive.

And against her better wishes, I pushed through to get everything cleaned up, rinsed off, and I stacked the dishes in the sink.

“You doing okay?” She lovingly asked as her unbelievably perfect brown eyes softened.

“Yeah. I just need to sit down,” I whispered between big chugs of my fruit-punch-flavored energy drink. Yes, I thought for sure I need electrolytes to brave my way through the night ahead of us.

At last. Sitting in the chair. Rocking. The cushions smother my aching bones. Don’t get me wrong. I am incredibly comfortable. But I still am on edge.

In less than two hours, I will have to get up. Meet Jennifer in the bathroom. Help her stand, transfer, and then get her ready for bed. All of this as I struggle to stand on numb feet, rubbery legs, and uncoordinated fingers that feel as though I am wearing alpine ski mittens while trying to help someone put on sweatpants and a T-shirt for bed.

Hear me on this: I in no way shape or form am complaining, whining, bragging, looking for sympathy, or feeling sorry for myself. If you’ve followed any of my writing for the past 22 years, you know that’s never my approach to living with MS or being the caregiver for a spouse who also has this chronic progressive disease.

However, I usually am not at this point where I feel like I need to hold a mirror up to myself, see right through the brave face I like to show, and admit I am dealing with a lot.

Yes, this is a challenging disease. Yes, there are days when it doesn’t look like anything could get any better and that everything is destined to get worse. I dare say I live with those feelings several times each week.

But rarely do I say anything. Because I know there are countless people out there who would consider themselves lucky to have my problems. Who would love to be able to work full-time, have a loving spouse who thinks the world of you, and who you feel the same in return.

I just guess these are the moments where I want to remind each one of us, including the man I’m seeing in the mirror, to count our blessings. Period. 

There are days where it seems we each have it so bad, and some days, yes. Yes we do. Like this one, because my Covid booster shot has amplified all of my MS symptoms, and I’m struggling to walk 10 steps into kitchen to get a drink of water. And I’m still freaked out about how in the world I’m going to help Jennifer make transfers in within the next few hours.

It’s easy to see and think about everything that’s bad about MS. And when you think you deserve better, this is when it helps to take a step back and start thinking of other people who deserve to have it better than you.

This is why I don’t complain: I’m thinking of these people every single day.

Again, it starts with counting all the blessings I have in spite of this disease.

With that sentence, I shut off my phone on that fateful taco Tuesday night and tried to overcome the Covid booster shot bedlam. It wasn’t easy, but after about a two-hour nap, my fever broke, I regained my strength and helped Jennifer with her transfers. Things could have gone a lot worse for us that evening. As always, we counted our blessings, and we were sound asleep in bed by 1 a.m. Wednesday.