Are you shocked? I was, when I realised I’d had that thought. But I was having fond memories of working in Amsterdam in my mid-twenties, and how surprised and delighted I was to be able to walk into any shoe shop and find smart Italian shoes in my size (41) on the shelf – no special order required. Of course, this was the Netherlands, where my 5’10” frame was suddenly average, so of course my shoe size was nothing so unusual either.
Since I was 28 I have worn a ring on my right hand, a cabochon star ruby set in a gold band. Also known as corundum ruby, this complex, plum-coloured stone is the bedrock that nurtures ruby crystals – the bright, red, glassy stones more common in jewellery. In sunlight the hexagonal crystal structure shines a six-pointed star.
Similarly, my recent regime – the probiotics, the supplements, the gym routine, the three symptomatic treatments I was on – was feeling like a bedrock of stability. Not a cure, but a rich, strong foundation from which stars sometimes shine, from which crystals can grow.
Until the day the ambulance arrived.
One hot summer’s day, years ago, I’d been out in the veggie garden doing some harvesting. Picture me, the flower-child – long floral skirt, tatty straw hat, basket filled with zucchinis, tomatoes, zucchinis, beans… more zucchinis… Anyway, I came inside and flopped down on the sofa, overheated and pooped, to give myself time to cool down and recover before flicking through 101 Zesty Ways with Zucchinis or something. That’s when I felt a strange new sensation along my left leg. It was kind of tingly, kind of prickly.
It all started when someone told my friend, “You’re so lucky to have a disabled permit. You must save so much on parking!” Understandably, she really let fly. But it got me thinking – I do love my disabled parking permit. And so the challenge was on. The benefits of having MS? Everyone’s different but here are my personal top ten.
My friend – I’ll call her Jane – was at the bottom of the driveway as I was leaving to take the dogs out one day. She’d just pulled up.
‘It’s time,’ she said, climbing out of her 4WD and crossing the road. ‘Some people know, and some people think they know, and there’s all kinds of Chinese whispers going on. It’s time to lay it on the table.’
I’ve stopped driving. Funnily, or not, the impetus happened one day when I almost didn’t stop. I was heading towards the turnoff out of Quaama onto the Princes Highway, saw a car coming from the north, went to brake… no response. Went to brake again… still rolling down towards the highway. Looked down to check where foot was: not on brake. Planted foot on brake, stopped car just before give way sign.
I was crossing the Princes Highway the other day on my mobility scooter, opposite the south exit to Quaama, my village. The speed limit on the highway there is 100kph. But I have a big, all-terrain scooter which can do 15kph on the flat, and the highway is only two lanes, and there’s good visibility in both directions. In my mirror I noticed a four-wheel drive waiting behind me, then I took off. The four-wheel drive overtook me on the other side of the road but then stopped at the village store, where I caught up with it.
‘Whoa!’ the driver said. ‘We were really worried! From where we were, we couldn’t see if there was anything coming, then off you went!’
I get a lot of compliments. It all started when I got a walking stick.
“What a lovely cardigan!”
“Oh, thanks!” Nice, I thought. What a nice person. I should be like that, handing out compliments like flowers to strangers.
But then they started coming thick and fast, and it hit me: it’s the stick! You see me, young(ish) – well, not elderly by any means – walking with a stick. You feel sympathy; you want to make my day just a little less hellish than it clearly is. You don’t have a flower so you hand me a compliment instead.
I used to be a fast walker. The men I walked with had to ask me to slow down. I left everyone in my wake.
One day in 2001 as I crossed Church St in Bega, striding out across the old cobblestone gutter and onto the blacktop in my jeans and shirt and RM Williams boots, feeling sturdy and strong, I told myself, “One day you’ll remember this.” And I do, I hold that memory like a precious jewel. “Walking, walking, walking,” I told myself that day. “Just walking”.
Now as I step out to cross Church St, the cobblestones have become a trap for my stick and the blacktop an expanse to be covered one unsteady step at a time.