It is…no, it isn’t….yes it is.

Just home from the visit with the Neuro-Ears Nose Throat expert. After a brief synopsis of my almost 20 years with MS and balance issues…emphasizing the Vertigo of 1989 and ending with the most recent bout of dizzy/off-balance/ambiguity.

I am now told that contrary to the prior consideration that yes,  it is my MS.


Not sure why I’m always feeling that I should have known, or seen any of this enigma disease coming. It’s because I’m constantly thinking and analyzing and trying to make sense, or have control of this lot in life. I think I’m hard wired that way. As fate would have it…this completely unique, totally variable and unpredictable condition is like a CarTalk episode stagnating at Stump the Chumps.

Just when I think we (me and my treatment team) have a handle on it… we turn out to be throwing hypotheses around the room haphazardly. And that leaves me thinking…meta-thinking actually.

If only I could sit back and let it play itself out.

I’m scheduled for a test with a Dr. Dai. It’s a visual/aural test that I am told will likely leave me extremely dizzy. I was instructed not to eat 1 hour prior. Vomiting is a common side effect of the test and they apparently prefer dry heaves over content.

Since my appt with Dr. Cohen, I have been very expilary (a word my daughter made up-meaning more than very) dizzy. Now I need to figure out how to get out of the city at rush hour while experiencing said dizziness.

Looks like a job for Dr. Verter!

more later….

Sticking to it.

My dizziness has seriously improved. Dr. Verter comes through yet again. So, I have a much better position on the earth… not completely stable…but one that is far more secure than I began 2008 with. I’m not sure how soon after I left his office that things really kicked in for me. It’s a subtle and gradual process that has left me feeling completely inexplicable ways.

So I began to reconsider my trusty stick. Do I still need it? My balance is by no means perfect, but that has always been the case. So I did some tests without it. Rode the subways…slowly walked up the stairs sans stick, and I realized what I think I already knew. The stick is an important announcement and a reminder. For the prior…the world at large is the audience and for the latter the target is me.

It has been a significant help to make my invisible condition..disease…identity (what is the right word here?) present…apparent… evident. People rise to the occasion in ways that I didn’t expect. Be it a subway seat or holding an elevator… In many ways it let’s the societal cream rise to the proverbial top. There is a lot of good out there and if people are given the opportunity, they crack open the solitude of commuter stance to reveal the person behind the mask. I hadn’t realized how much power there is there. It makes me feel good about the people I’m sharing the planet with.

Then of course there is a certain level of empowerment in taking charge. I thought that by using this walking assistant I was admitting defeat. Not consciously of course, but on a deep emotional level. As if I was making a statement to the world that MS has me in some way. What happened was really quite the opposite. The stick has given me power. The power to bring out the best…and the confidence that I can walk farther and faster without kissing the sidewalk.

There is also the reminder I aforementioned. It reminds me that I’m not the same. That I do need to take special considerations. That I need to slow things down and be more concerted in my efforts. And although I only use the stick commuting in and out of my building at NYU it has encouraged many conversations with people about Multiple Sclerosis. People who I’ve worked with for almost 5 years that had no way of knowing.

A common response for so many people is “Oh, you must have a mild case that doesn’t affect you then”. To which I explain, My symptoms are every day, all the time- it’s just that they are invisible. Sometimes I say more, sometimes less…but everytime I feel as though I’m educating one more person about the many faces of this disease. Adding to the list of people they know with MS, hopefully making it easier for the next person they come in contact with.

This walking stick is as so many things. I’m not sure I’ll ever give it up. I think I’m starting to love it.

MS SoftServe -More Progress

I think this coming week we will be a productive one for MS SoftServe. We’ll be editing the video that will explain the staging ground. We shot it intermittently between work… trying to pop in and grab a shot whenever we could. That resulted many variations on light….and shots that look just slightly different. I’m hoping we will be able to compensate for this variation by making it compelling in content if not style.

It was my desire to make the development of the site follow a similar approach as the SoftServe technique itself. For example. You will have the option to download a pdf of the information, listen to the content being spoken, as well as watch a video of someone (in this case me!) explain the concept that is being developed. It would seem egregious to make a developmental site that doesn’t follow the theories of instructional design that the site being developed is all about!

We will also start the design of the map of progress. This area is very exciting to me. It will explain what it is we are planning on developing for MS SoftServe. We are going to continue to develop the site as long as the ideas and needs continue to flow. I will look forward to the feedback and suggestions that people from the MS Community world-wide have to offer. It is an organic process…. growing and changing as the needs of this population evolves.

Another exciting element (are you getting that excitement is the lait motif here!?) is that SoftServe Matters, the proposed non-profit established to create MS SoftServe and SoftServe web-learning for other chronic illnesses is likely to be through the process of filing with the state. With that we will commence with our fundraising effort, full-swing.

Thanks for reading…and if you are following the progress and have any questions or comments… please respond to this blog, until the site is up and running.

In the meantime. Thanks for reading.

Don’t ever ASSuMe…

So this week Dr. Miller, by way of Jenn Decker (his nurse practitioner) told me that his latest thought is that this dizziness isn’t my MS.

No Way.

That caught me completely off guard, but it is exciting on a number of levels. The fact that it didn’t seem to be affected by the steroid treatment sent my mind in so many directions. Is this ever going to go away? Is this my new normal? I shutter to think.

But if it isn’t my MS, then it can be treated… it isn’t likely that it will be permanent.

But wait a minute….rewind 19 years to Baltimore.

Back in 1989 , my first year with MS, I was in film school living with 4 other girls in a town house off campus. After a few days with a virus I woke up to find my clock spinning. This was followed by a trip to the ER with a waste bucket between my knees. I remember the day vividly. When we got to triage I threw up in their garbage can and proceeded to do so at ever stop I made from there on in. After 17 hours in the ER on an IV, listening to very colorful stories of my neighbors behind the sheets serving as walls, unable to move my head with out losing my cookies- I was given a room. Being sans family in Baltimore left me little desire to go home. No one to take care of me there. My Dad and Linda came from NJ to visit me and my friends from UMBC art dept brought cheer and a mirror so for my three-day stay that I could see people entering the room.

When the doctors determined it wasn’t my MS and gave me a patch behind the ear. I didn’t question it. I used this little circular trans-dermal motion-sickness-aid while in Israel in 1985, in order to tolerate those hairpin turns on the buses. It worked then, as it did in this case.

As MS became less of an enigma to the medical community, I looked back on this experience thinking they didn’t know what they were talking about. Vertigo is now a symptom of MS …of course this bout was MS. To this day I have dealt with a quick turn of the head resulting in nauseas and dizziness…. I just thought it was a part of the me with MS. The part that is inseparable. After almost 20 years of this to have a symptom not actually be MS is mind blowing. I have so many crazy invisible symptoms going on and this fit in perfectly.

So I immediately checked in with my brilliant chiropractor. I hate to even call him that. He never cracks anything. (or I should say very rarely) His knowledge of how the body works, his instinct for areas that need release on a cellular level is beyond words, it’s impossible to describe the work he does. All I know is that Dr. Allan Verter needs to have himself cloned. It’s scary that all of this power to heal exists in only one person.

I’m not the kind of person that rushes to alternative medicine… I’ve been on Copaxone since 1993, and I’m on a number of other medications that clearly work for what the are there for. (that was an awkward sentence!) But the treatment that Dr. Verter provides defies explanation and it is successful. So once I learned that this dizzy head might not be my MS I couldn’t wait to tell him.

And he went to work. And my sense of stability on this planet has improved. And the people rejoiced. (or at least my people rejoiced!)

So now the question is…do I continue to carry this stick? It has served as such an important identifier on my commute. I’m not sure I should give that up.

Tune in next time for this, and a million other topics that will be addressed!

MS SoftServe- Getting There

Today was a good day of shooting. I have a set up in an adjacent office and Bonita (my webmaster/director/vegetarian cook adviser extraordinare) assisted as we embarked on our third day. It’s easy for me to get honestly enthusiastic about the website in spite of the fact that I have been discussing it for 3 years. I guess the hard part is getting me to stop talking… and focus has always eluded me. 🙂 What I set out to do is explain what MS Softserve is, why we need it, and ultimately what this “staging ground” concept is.

From the very beginning I have surrounded myself with great advisors. I think that is truly a skill I have mastered in my late thirties. Being married to and artist, photographer, instructional designer is very helpful. Keith’s creative thinking and strong resources have proved very helpful in this process. One such connection is to Doreen Stiskal, a PT Phd who is also an expert in Instructional Design. As I was completing my thesis, Doreen and a number of other individuals from Seton Hall (where Keith worked at the time) offered a critique and practice presentation which turned out to be particularly informative. Much of her early observations shaped my presentation. So as I set out to produce MS Softserve I sought her counsel yet again.

She had some terrific advice. As we discussed all of the areas that I am working towards expanding… she quoted Guy Kawasaki “Don’t worry, be crappy.” (“Revolutionary means you ship and then test… Lots of things made the first Mac in 1984 a piece of crap – but it was a revolutionary piece of crap.“) That really spoke to me. I could work forever on what this needs to be before I launch it. At that rate it will never get launched.

Get something up there. And start filling in the blanks as it is developed. She sited Brad Pitt’s effort to rebuild New Orleans one room at a time. You can sponsor a bathtub if that is the level you want to contribute.

Recently Madeline was invited to a birthday party where in lieu of a gift, it was suggested to donate to What a great way to explain charitable causes to a little person. On the site you can contribute real things to real people. She decided to donate her money to bring a box of chicks to a family in Africa who can use them for to start a business.

So, with that in mind… you can go to MS SoftServe and choose one particular area of study to have developed. Perhaps your are a big fan of the Central Nervous System and you want to see that prioritized. You can make a contribution to complete that entire section. If you would rather contribute a lesser sum, you can sponsor just an animation in that section. The map of progress will be the key to see what areas have been completed and what is to come.

This site will thrive as people with MS help to shape it. Participation can occur on many levels. Whether it be the content of the site or the methods of learning, you can put your mark on what this site becomes. By doing so, you will help the site to serve a wider audience.

more later…

MS SoftServe TimeLine Entry 1

As of today we have finished taping the video for the staging ground of MS SoftServe. The website is being produced, the video edited and the content developed. We expect to have something running within the next two weeks.Keep checking back under this category. (MS SoftServe TimeLine)Feel free to post your thoughts!We’d love to hear from you.Amy

yes i CANe

So the normal disclosure… if you’d rather not hear details of my MS experience that may make you uncomfortable about your uncertain future… consider yourself advised.

I’ve been using my walking stick for almost three weeks now. It didn’t take long for me to get used to having it around…and to learn how to juggle it with my commute gear. My backpack, my water bottle, my reading material, my ipod, my train tickets and then Metrocard. It takes some practice..but I’m finding the rhythm.

I’m move back and forth between considering what my needs are and how I am perceived. It shifts from day to day, minute to minute and scene to scene.

What started as a strange feeling that I am perceived as someone who is faking it… evolved into a better understanding of why I need this. Because I clearly don’t have problems with my gate (unless I stumble with a foot drop once in a while) it occurs to me that it almost seems unnecessary for me to be using it. I felt questioning gazes that I answered for the first two weeks with a sticker I put on my cane that read “I have MS”. The gazes turned to squints as subway passengers sat across from me looking my way.

I was reminded of the attempts I made as a young person (middle child) searching for that extra attention. The ace bandages and slings on perfectly normal arms, wrists and ankles. The troubled looks beefed up by eight year old winces wanting to stay home for a little extra mom-time.

But this was legit. Even though I was using the opportunity to examine how people treated me with this implement… I legitimately need it. It wasn’t a show.

As I got used to carrying it… and using it to provide extra support I found that I was able to move quite quickly with it. It seemed that as moved with the crowd people would frequently bumpt in to it, kick it, and one time a woman actually pulled it from my hands (inadvertently) when giving it a “flat tire”. Very apologetic of course.
During this time I questioned my role with the cane further. When leaving and arriving at work I had it with me and people I interact with daily expressed concern over my well-being. Most don’t know I have MS. My response to their concern changed over time. What started as a sometimes detailed explanation (I always try to educate whoever I can about MS) became “I have balance issues”.

It was a funny coincidence that during this period the Science Times had an article that described a more dramatic situation than mine. ( PERSONAL HEALTH; A Stable Life, Despite Persistent Dizziness – New York Times JANE E. BRODY)
Somehow finding this explanation helped me to identify myself in a more comfortable way. And even though no one asks me why I’m using it, I tell myself throughout the ride. “I have balance issues” and somehow that feels good. Not, “I have brain damage”, or “I have an uncertain future” just balance issues.

I like that somehow. I can own it. And the cane… just shows that I have more to contend with than the average joe (or it were) commuter. That works for me too.
more later…

MS SoftServe- A life project in progress

Tomorrow when I get to work, I will be using all off-moments to videotape myself speaking about the important aspects of MS SoftServe. It feels like I have been working so hard on these incremental accomplishments toward to larger goal.

Yet in spite of my constant effort…and my ongoing advances, there are days when it feels out of reach. Days when actually writing about my progress on my blog seems insurmountable. If I just pass this small milestone (getting up and running in a skeletal form, get SoftServe Matters approved by the state as a non-profit, get people to come read my blog and develop an audience, figure out a way to work on all of this full time, start planning a fundraiser for MS SoftServe…) then it will all fall in to place. Or will it?

Maybe this is what starting up always feels like. Forging ahead with a life dream that is self-guided is probably full of these mini-accomplishments that mark the bigger picture. I look forward to actually having a moment to spell my whole project out to anyone who might be reading this. I look forward to having a place to create all the MS SoftServe proposes. I look forward to benefiting from what the SoftServe approach has to offer.

But for now, I look forward to going to sleep!

Life– a work in progress

So here I am, 1.5 years after finishing my Master’s Degree working hard to get MS SoftServe produced and made available to the people that can use it- myself included.  I’m working my day job at NYU Film and TV, surrounded by inspiring individuals who are supportive and motivating. I come home to my husband who is both those things, as well as my daughter who is a magical person.

Madeline amazes me in how she takes life by the horns and simultaneously needs so much. It’s what raising a child seems to be all about. The give, the give, the take, the take, the take. On some days I feel that the life force is sucked out of me, and on others I feel like I just want to write down everything she says so that I never forget it.

One such moment occurred last week. Madeline has started ice-skating.  And like everything she tries, she starts out with a verve that is unstoppable.  She took to the ice quickly and in no time was circling the rink in a jerky stops and starts. Never quitting. We stood amazed.  Keith, being from Florida, isn’t interested in getting out on the ice and falling and standing and falling and standing.  I, of course have the more detailed explanation of why I’m not trying.

Standing on the side with my collapsable walking stick, I remember the times I went ice skating as a kid. Not a pro by any means… but I used to enjoy finding my own rhythm and even-paced speed. Decent enough to get by. I’m not comfortable being on the sidelines here. It feels like I should be out there with her. That pull doesn’t usually happen because Keith is always there. He is athletic and I never was. He plays with her in an energized way and coaches her through wide array of sport activities. I have no problem stepping to the sideline for that. But ice skating is my childhood. I should be able to show her how to do it. The two of us are on the sidelines watching in what felt like a useless position for parents to be stuck in.  If she needed help out there… we had no access to her.  Our friends jumped in there…offering a steady hand when she started to fall.  I kept my spirits up and remained enthusiastic for her accomplishments on the ice. It was her first time and she did great. We were really quite amazed.

That night we were having difficulty getting her to sleep. She was so psyched up about this new activity.  So I was plugging thoughts in to her brain like I do every night.  “Why don’t you dream about…. being a champion ice skater?”  She said  “mmhhmmm”.  “But one more thing mommy. I also want to be a doctor with a magic wand who cures everyone with MS, and then you could go skating with me mommy.”

It’s those moments…..

I bite my lip and squeeze my daughter and thank whatever force of life exists that controls the crazy ride we are all on.

(and then I start typing.)