Columns

She Has MS, She Voted for Obamacare, and She’s Worried

Donna Edwards has multiple sclerosis. Edwards is currently unemployed. But a year ago she had a well-paying job with excellent medical benefits. Edwards was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In fact, she represented the congressional district where I once lived. (Courtesy of former U.S.

The Joys and Challenges of Summer

I live in the best place in the U.S. during the summer — the Pacific Northwest, with its temperate climate and easy access to nature and culture. Rarely do we experience heatwaves, and humidity levels run lower than in most places. We may joke that “it rains…

Write On: Let Your Voice Do the Typing with Voice-to-Text Technology

“O-cree-VUS,” I said, clearly and naturally into the headset. I had recently purchased the device for use with the voice-to-text software I need to type (MS, right-hand weakness, loss of finger dexterity and motor skills). “Okra bus” slowly appeared on my computer screen. It was late March, and I was working on my first column for Multiple Sclerosis News Today. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had just approved Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) for use in the United States, making it the only drug to receive the agency's blessing for treating primary progressive multiple sclerosis. It was a big deal — so big that even my friends and family were aware of the announcement. Naturally, I wanted to write about it. I tried again. “Oh-CREV-us,” I repeated. Clearly, yet naturally. I use Dragon for Mac speech-recognition software to write \. “Clearly and naturally” is part of the software’s mantra. “O Christmas.” “Ohhhh-creeee-VUUUS,” I said. Very. Clearly. Very. Naturally. “Okra vest.” The weakness in my right foot that led to foot drop began in the early 2000s. The weakness in my right hand didn’t present itself until late 2015. At first, I tried using Apple’s Scribe feature, largely because it was already installed on the Mac I had purchased that year, and also because Mac and Apple products are easy to use and intuitive … most of the time. Scribe seemed clunky, and the lag time between saying a word and Microsoft Word recognizing it and “typing” it was significant. At one time, I had written 5,000-word feature stories, time-consuming projects that demanded long hours of composition, editing, typing, and writing. I’ve written for so long that writing and typing and my fingers were woven together, a symbiotic relationship that I couldn’t fathom ending. Yet, it became clear that this was going to be a new hurdle (foolishly, one I hadn’t anticipated) and would require a different way of thinking about writing, of what I “do” in life, and in that way, of who I was versus who I am. By spring of 2016, it was obvious that my typing days were coming to an end, and I began using Dragon for Mac. (Full transparency: The folks at Dragon provided a review copy for me to try for free.) But I didn’t want to read the instructions for using Dragon. And I didn’t want to practice. I just wanted it to work, and I just wanted to be the “me” I remembered. As long as I was only writing short emails and could live with sketchy grammar, it was awesome. Drunk from my regained capacity, I began writing and sending emails to everyone for everything. The sobering reality that came with writing anything of substance or craft — hands-free — was equally spectacular. Slowly, I came to understand that Dragon (and all such software and, frankly, all such assistance for better managing my MS and helping myself) was no better than the effort I put into making it work. The people at Dragon asked if I’d write a review of the product, which you’ll find here. The short story is that Dragon is a dictation “robot.” It can format, and cut and paste, and carry out so many of the functions that we take for granted, or at least, once did. With time, commitment, and effort, Dragon learns users’ voices, and within reason, can get the job done even for longer, more complex composition. It even offers a “custom word bank” in which users may add frequently used words, like Ocrevus or ocrelizumab. But I hadn’t made the effort. “Oh-KRA-liz-ooh-MAB” I said, switching it up and hoping Dragon would finally recognize the word. “Oak Grove Missoula lab.” My deadline was looming and I could hear the clock ticking. Clearly and naturally, I screamed “OCREVUS!” into the headset. “Oh crap this.” At that moment I realized how valuable the software was and is. No, it didn’t get the spelling correct, but it did help make that first column possible and it did help me hang on to something I still find very valuable. And, in its own way, Dragon seemed to understand not just the word but also the context. “Oh crap this indeed,” I thought, smiling. And then Dragon and I finished my column.

How to Improve MS-Related Imbalance

One of the earliest symptoms that appeared before my multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis was imbalance. I remember turning my head to look at something and feeling slightly off-balance. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but that wobbly sensation gradually increased through the years. Occasionally, I…

MS Pipe Dreams: Dealing with Urinary Tract Infections

I’ve been considering writing about the fun, fun world of catheters. As this column is morphing into some sort of diary, let’s deal with this week’s medical procedural drama. Welcome to UTI (urinary tract infection) week. Anyone who uses a catheter is prone to a higher incidence of…

Researchers Working on a Band-Aid to Replace Shots

How cool is this? Though it's not yet related to multiple sclerosis, researchers are developing a Band-Aid-size patch that can inoculate someone with the flu vaccine. The patch is made up of 100 solid, water-soluble microneedles that are just long enough to penetrate the skin. They’re contained in an area about the size of a dime. Adhesive helps the patch grip the skin during the administration of the vaccine, which is encapsulated in the needles and is released in about 20 minutes, as the needle tips dissolve. The patch is then peeled away and discarded like a used bandage strip. The researchers, working at Georgia Tech and Emory University, report that in their Phase I clinical trial the patch was just as effective in generating immunity against the flu as the traditional flu shot. They believe the microneedle patch can save money because it is easily self-administered, it can be transported and stored without refrigeration, and it’s easy to dispose of without needing a sharps waste container. Above all, says principal investigator Nadine Rouphael, MD, of the Emory University School of Medicine, “having the option of a flu vaccine that can be easily and painlessly self-administered could increase coverage and protection by this important vaccine.” Now, I don’t want to jump the gun. Although the researchers are working to develop these microneedle patches for use with other vaccines, including measles, rubella and polio, they’ve only completed the first phase of their clinical trials. They’re now planning a Phase 2 trial with more participants. Whether MS drugs might, someday, be administered this way is anyone’s guess. But, it certainly would be nice if one day, instead of jabbing yourself in the thigh for your scheduled MS shot, you could deliver your MS medication by just putting a Band-Aid on your skin.

Ocrevus and Me

I’ve done it! I made the treatment switch that so many people with multiple sclerosis are talking about: I said goodbye to Tysabri (natalizumab) and am now on Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) as my disease-modifying therapy (DMT). I went through 56 monthly infusions (or maybe more, I’ve…

Go, Go Avocado!

I don’t normally go in for trends. For example, I don’t own a single pair of skinny jeans. I’ve never tried a Unicorn Frappuccino. I’m not on Instagram or Snapchat. I didn’t participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge. And I refuse to use the words “doggo,” “pupper,”…

My Lemtrada Journey: A 6–Month Report

It’s been a little over six months since I completed Round 1 of my Lemtrada infusions, so it’s time again to ask myself, “How am I doing?” The answer: I’m not sure. For many years, my brain MRI has remained unchanged. I can’t remember the last time…

Can You Cultivate Happiness as a Habit?

Last week, I shared details of Everyday Matters, a program by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. This self-directed, multi-week program uses the principles of positive psychology. The readings, lessons, and exercises need not be completed in a particular order, but I am going to start my exploration of…

Pardon the Introduction: My Life with MS in Motion

Though my first brush with MS came in 2000 or so, I wasn’t diagnosed until December 2013 with primary progressive MS. Shortly after the diagnosis, I began scouring the internet for information about the disease and how to live with it. Sound familiar? I found…

So Tired of This

It’s summer in the U.K., and it’s hot. That’s cause for celebration for everyone but us. It’s actually the hottest June day since 1986. Heat immediately spikes my fatigue. For some of us, the cold does the same. Thankfully, not me — I get the winter off. According…

Ocrevus, Hope, and a Suicide Postponed

Several months ago, I wrote a column about Andrew Barclay. Barclay died in an assisted suicide in December. He’d had multiple sclerosis for many years. Colin Campbell is a 56-year-old MS patient who lives in Inverness, Scotland. He also wanted to die. In fact, he was scheduled…

Hyping MS Headlines Is Uncool

Once again, over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been blasted with headlines trumpeting a new MS discovery. Last month there were headlines about an inexpensive acne drug that supposedly could be used to reduce the symptoms of early MS. This month it’s headlines about a “cure”…