An MS diagnosis can be confusing when it doesn’t fit your lifestyle

Parachuting from a plane was normal, but a chronic disease just wasn't expected

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

by Benjamin Hofmeister |

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A little over three years passed between my multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis and my medical retirement from the U.S. Army. Even before the diagnosis, I knew something was wrong and had taken a desk job while searching for the reason.

Since I was behind a desk in a swivel chair, I was chairborne rather than airborne, i.e., on jump (parachute) status. This felt a little clever while I was chalking up my MS symptoms to neglected knee and ankle injuries, but ceased to be so the second I knew I had a chronic condition.

Obviously, I eventually came to embrace this tongue-in-cheek title, especially since my mode of transportation these days is usually a (wheel)chair. But initially, my diagnosis made no sense to me or to others in my profession.

It wasn’t as though we in the Army were ignorant to the possibility of a disease, or even arrogant enough to think that it couldn’t happen to one of us. Our lives weren’t without risks, just not that one. In a world of known dangers, it was confusing in its randomness, and often still is.

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During my time at a desk, for example, a fellow medic (known in the service as an 18D) was badly injured overseas. While he was recovering in the hospital, I called to check on his progress and to ask if he needed anything. Immediately, and to my great astonishment, he told me that he’d heard about my MS diagnosis and wanted to tell me how sorry he was.

I thanked him, of course, but wondered why a guy who was going to spend the rest of his life on two prosthetic legs was sorry for me.

That’s an extreme case, but it was typical of the reaction my multiple sclerosis diagnosis got during my military life. The reason was simple. The life of a Special Forces Army soldier carries a certain amount of known and acceptable risk. (“Those who live by the sword —”; you know the rest.) No one expects to be injured (or worse), but the possibility is there and accepted. A random disease simply doesn’t fit the scenario.

Put another way, consider the risk of driving a car. We all know that an accident is possible. We probably even know someone who’s been in an accident. But we still accept that risk every time we get behind the wheel. A crash while driving fits the scenario, but choking on a bite of fast food in a parking lot does not.

I’m certainly not above this way of thinking and am speaking from the benefit, and curse, of hindsight. I often wonder how long I may have delayed my diagnosis because I didn’t consider MS. I don’t know that it would’ve made a difference, but I’m haunted by the possibility that it might have.


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.

Comments

June Liggins avatar

June Liggins

I really enjoy reading the stories on this site as it reminds me over and over again that this disease really is so very random both in terms of what it may or may not do to us, and in terms of who develops it. Thanks for sharing.

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thank you for reading and commenting June. For me, it's therapeutic just to contribute to this site, but it's even greater to know someone is reading and taking something from it.

Ben

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Luis Guerra avatar

Luis Guerra

MS is so random. Thank you for your service. Great post. MS has derailed my life... But...we gotta keep pushing forward.

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thank you for reading Luis! I plan on pushing forward as long as I can. Thanks for the reminder (I always need that) and you do the same.

Ben

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Marian Gent avatar

Marian Gent

Feelings of "did I ignore" flood my brain every day.. Too busy taking care of ohers. Thank you for your honesty and SERVICE

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Me too! However unproductive it is, sometimes I feel like I'm re-watching a movie, aware of the plot twists, knowing exactly what's going to happen, and wondering why the main character doesn't see it.

Ben

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Tom A avatar

Tom A

My first symptoms were in 1988. Thought I was falling apart by 1996 (on Betaseron already for a year, and for the next 23). I've often wondered where I'd be today if current DMTs were available then. I probably would have gone "full speed". But I am OK, with a limp and bladder inconveniences. I am more prone to thinking now, that perhaps shutting down (or putting in low gear), an immune system, over the long haul, may have its own problems, So to your point, and the other responses, I thinkl there is too much variability to know much, for sure. Yes, get on a DMT, but keep your eyes and ears open.

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Hi Tom! Variability both sums it up and barely scratches the surface all at the same time. Perhaps that's why I sometimes obsess over what I could or should have done while knowing it might not have helped.

Ben

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Tom A. avatar

Tom A.

I suspect the obsessing has worked for you in other circumstances. Relax! Some other things, just happen, and there ain't a damn thing we can do about it. I've had many of those. But I love it when I "win"!

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Lol, you suspect right!

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Robert B. avatar

Robert B.

Hi Ben, I too was in the military when I was diagnosed with PPMS. The docs at the Cleveland Clinic told me that in six years I should expect to be in a wheelchair - that was in 2005 and I'm still on my feet and doing PT five days-a-week. It took some time for me to figure out the best practices that actually work but I've fine-tuned an approach that may be useful to you [if interested].

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