How I Respond to Typical Questions About MS From Children, Adults
Age makes a difference when discussing the condition, writes this columnist
As I’ve probably mentioned before, my wife and I have three boys in grade school. This means that between school events, sports, and play dates, I’m around a lot of kids. Considering I use a wheelchair, my multiple sclerosis (MS) isn’t exactly invisible, so I’m often asked a lot of questions. My favorite one so far is, “How do you pee?”
I think I prefer questions from children rather than adults. There seems to be a genuine curiosity behind the children’s stares, instead of the awkward — or worse, morbid — fascination of adults. Most adults seem embarrassed to be curious and avoid asking questions in favor of making assumptions. Unfortunately, these assumptions are almost never accurate. A typical conversation with an adult might go as follows:
“Were you in a wreck?”
“No, I have multiple sclerosis.”
“Oh. So your back’s not straight?”
“You’re thinking about scoliosis.”
“You don’t get enough vitamin C?”
“What? No, that’s scurvy!”
Children, on the other hand, almost never assume. They accept that they don’t know everything and aren’t afraid to add to their knowledge by asking. Some adults aren’t, either, but many don’t want to appear unknowledgeable. The remainder are walking, talking examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect: supremely confident in what they (wrongly) think they know.
The reverse Dunning-Kruger effect
I’ll confess that until I had MS, I knew almost nothing about it. I knew of its existence because I had a teacher in high school with the relapsing form, and it was mentioned in a class later in college. In the eight years following my diagnosis, during which you could say that it’s had my undivided attention, I’ve learned a lot — mostly about how much I still don’t know. It’s sort of a reverse Dunning-Kruger effect — I know that I don’t know very much and am flattered when someone, either an adult or a child, asks a genuine question that I can answer.
I see two neurologists, both MS specialists with years of study, research, and experience behind them. It’s unnerving and comforting when either of them tells me they don’t know everything. It’s unnerving because I’d hoped they would, but also comforting because of their humble honesty and my own confidence that they know far more than I do.
Yes, I know I’m very fortunate to have doctors like this. No, I don’t plan on telling them because I don’t want to spoil the humble part.
Besides their technical and professional expertise, nothing compares with talking about MS with other people who have it. That’s where I learn that each experience is unique, the internet isn’t always right, and what works for one doesn’t always work for another. Among my peers, my childlike curiosity is welcomed, and I’m grateful for it.
Oh, right, how did I answer that question I mentioned in the first paragraph of this column? I said, “The same way you do, kid. There’s just extra steps, so you can’t wait till the last minute.”
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.