When I walked into the offices of the neurologist Dr. Cook sent me to, I was in awe of the beautiful facility. My primary care doctor offices were pleasant and clean middle-class America welcoming. However, this new doctor’s office felt like I walked into upscale offices on Saks 5th Avenue. When I spoke to the receptionist, she did not wear typical medical scrubs but instead a business blouse and slacks. I gave her my name and appointment time, and she handed me a clipboard loaded with paperwork to ask medically all about me. I had a seat and began scribbling away, answering their queries, knowing the doctor would soon ask the same questions in his initial examination.
Shortly after I finished the paperwork, I was taken back to an exam room, where I waited for the doctor. The room for my examination looked like no other medical exam room I have been to. In this room, there was a small office desk, a padded patient table with carpeting on part of the floor. There was casual artwork adorning the walls though they made it look a bit more upscale than the average exam room of my past.
Soon the doctor walked in and introduced himself as Dr. Michael Mann, one of four neurologists at his medical office. I told the story of the verbal sparring between my lips and tongue and the conversation complications it caused for me. He did not tell me what he thought my ailment could be, but said he would be sending me for various tests. This doctor of few words did not explain the tests at all, and I left without asking for details as I was apprehensive about everything.
Over the next month or so, I completed several strange medical tests. For the first test, I had to look at a small TV screen showing a black and white checkerboard. I had to keep my eyes focused on a black dot that sat in the center of this checkerboard. The squares on this checkerboard rapidly flashed between black and white. Although all the squares were dancing I was supposed to continually focus on the dot at the screen center. The attendant continually reminded me to keep my eyes focused on the dot and never explained why. The problematic part is my eyes are attracted to movement, making the task an impossible imposition. Keep your eyes on the dot! he said repeatedly.
The next test was an exam of my brain. The nurse had a swim cap looking device, which was prodigiously perforated and loaded with metal prongs. Wires connected these metal studs to a machine for reading my brain waves as she placed it on my head. The nurse took some gel and put it on the underside of each of these metal nodules. She then took the cap, placed it on my head, and began wiggling and digging each metal nubs into my skull. This nurse finally had me lie on a padded exam table in this dark room and said it was OK to fall asleep during the test. I had dozed off several times as the test was incredibly dull for me.
The last test they performed was called a lumbar puncture, known initially as a spinal tap. A nurse hooked me up to a machine that continually monitored my heart rate and other vital information. Finally, after thirty minutes, the doctor came in and began explaining the procedure for the lumbar puncture. He had me lie on my side with my spine, facing him, bending my knees toward my chest, and holding that position. However, despite my fears, the doctor did an excellent job with the lumbar puncture. My experience compared to the horror stories I heard from other MSers, I had much less pain and discomfort.
The doctor scheduled these tests, so they were spread over the next month or so. On a brisk October day of 2001, my primary care physician called me into his office. I waited for him while I sat on the padded exam table as my trepidation made me ponder the worst-case scenario. When the doctor came in, he pulled out and sat on a wheeled metal stool that squeaked as he rolled towards me. In a calm and clear voice, Dr. Cook said, Scott, you have Multiple Sclerosis.
I got quiet as his words soaked into my brain like a paper towel that picks up spilled milk. The fear settled deep as I did not know what any of this meant for my life while my imagination had me six feet under within a year. I sat quietly for a minute, staring at my feet, not knowing how to feel, and as my brain was drowned in confusion. Drenched in dismay fearful of the unknown, I simply asked, OK, doc, what’s next?
Things began turning ugly…