Neil Brown talks of his journey with Multiple Sclerosis from first symptoms to diagnosis. He explains his experience of religion and how this has guided and helped him through this time. The care of his wife clearly demonstrates her commitment through the vows made in marriage: to love, for better for worse…in sickness and in health.

Neil Brown was a pupil at St Aloysius’ College in Glasgow when he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1987. As the years went on, he kept in touch with his former Latin teacher, Fr Nicholas King SJ, who suggested that he might find it helpful to commit his experiences with MS to paper. Neil’s story – Our Friendship with Multiple Sclerosis – has just been published. Some extracts from the book are printed below with the permission of the publisher, and at the bottom of the page, Nick King offers his own thoughts on Neil’s work.

The journey with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) began in March 1985, when I was 16 – although I wouldn’t know it was MS until it was diagnosed in 1987. The first signs of it were on the rugby field at school. We had to play rugby once a week – that involved the practising of moves and often going for a run if the conditions meant we couldn’t play rugby. What I noticed was as I was walking back to the changing rooms I felt as if my right leg was limping … When I got back to the changing rooms and sat down, even before I went for a shower, it went away. Things returned to normal and I never gave it another thought.

These symptoms persisted and got worse over the next few months …  by July the limp became more permanent and I also found around this time that my right arm had become heavier. Later in that month I took part in my first Children’s Fund holiday. I was walking up stairs one evening whilst talking to someone and I was limping quite markedly and he said I should really get that seen to. So after that tiring week I found an additional factor had come into play, that was that the right side of my lip didn’t react the same way as the left side. To explain this I mean that when I smiled the right side didn’t raise as high as the left. On 23 July, my mum helped me along to the doctors and explained all this to the doctor and the fact that I now had three elements in play. The doctor had her secretary contact a consultant neurologist’s secretary, and so an appointment was arranged while I was in the doctor’s surgery to see the neurologist in eight days time.

On 31 July, I arrived at the Southern General Hospital to see the consultant neurologist who examined me thoroughly and in his report at that consultation, which I wouldn’t see until 20 years later, he thought that my symptoms were probably due to a ‘space occupying lesion’ or in plain English a brain tumour …

I obviously didn’t know in March 1985 that I was going to become disabled, I thought it was merely an injury I had sustained in rugby … If I had known then how my life would transpire I would have been very afraid and would have thought, what is the point of going on. In actual fact this was my first reaction on being told by the doctor that it was Multiple Sclerosis I had. I just felt like lying down and dying. As time has gone on I have needed more and more help to carry out the daily tasks of living. Joanna (whom Neil married in 1999) is now my main carer … When I ask her about all the work she does for me, (she) says that when we got married in her vows she said she would be with me in sickness and in health, for better for worse, till death us do part and I firmly believe that she has every intention of sticking to these vows …

… There are some readings from the Bible which have had a profound effect on my life and I still remember where I was when I first heard these readings. My experience of religion continues to support me through this journey and hopefully it will continue to support me through the rest of my life … I have certainly found my religion to be a great help throughout my life – I have continually focussed on areas and people throughout the world who make my position with Multiple Sclerosis and all that entails pale into insignificance …

Published with permission of the Jesuits, http://www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/themes/human-dignity/stories/sickness-health/

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