Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pushing the MS limits in Morocco


Traveling with multiple sclerosis can often be tricky. Traveling overseas, even trickier. But because I love to travel so much, I usually say pshaw to my disease and dive into the experience with reckless abandon. In late 2008 I voyaged to Morocco, an enchanting and diverse country in northern Africa. I had to worry about my meds freezing while camping the Sahara desert (Christmas night got down to 36 degrees!), getting run over by donkeys along the impossibly narrow stone paths that weave through the ancient medina of Fez, and fending off with my cane snake charmers and monkey wranglers in the plaza of Marrakesh. Nothing though, challenged my MS quite like a traditional Moroccan hammam.

A hammam is a public bath with steaming hot rooms, slick tile floors, and little else. No benches, no railings, no chairs—absolutely nothing to grab onto. It was just me, my bare feet, wet tile, near sauna-like temperatures, and one very important new friend. Fortunately my guide knew about my issues and I was assigned a strapping and impressively chiseled young Moroccan man to lead me through the hammam. Lowering me to the ground carefully in the hottest room, my new companion proceeded to scrub me down from toes to ears while I lay on the warm tile floor, protected only by a bathing suit. And when he scrubbed, I mean scrubbed, using everything from coarse soap to full-on loofahing (is that a word?). I was so clean when I stood up (okay, technically I was lifted up with one swift tug) that it didn’t bother me that afterward I couldn’t see too well and that my balance was even sketchier.

Now I’m not encouraging everyone to rush out and do something that amps up your MS symptoms. I’m just saying, don’t necessarily avoid those experiences, either. In minutes my vision came back and I was walking as normally as I could those days … and I got a memory that will be with me until my last breath.

Originally published January 30, 2009. Edited for clarity. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Yo, Pal, Gotta Permit???

On a recent late fall trip to Wisconsin, my wife and I had grand plans to go out to dinner to a nice restaurant near the Madison state capitol. As we were circling the capitol—parking is notoriously challenging near the statehouse—a handicapped parking space opened up just steps away from the restaurant’s front door (and a scarce few minutes away from our reservation time). What a perfect start to what was surely going to be a memorable evening.

That is, until the car in front of us suddenly veered over into the precious spot. And a college-aged driver bounded out of the car with nothing hung on his rearview mirror. Really? It all happened so fast I didn’t even realize that I had rolled down my window to holler at the guy. 

“Yo, pal, you gotta permit?” I yelled out of the car window into the frosty night, clearly interrupting his Chariots of Fire reenactment. He stopped mid sprint, already 20 yards from his vehicle.

“Uh, no, but I was only running in for a just sec…” His voice trailed off as if waiting for approval. Waiting for me to say, “No problem dude, we’ll idle next to your car for 10 minutes and keep an eye out for any cops. If it looks like you are going to get busted, I’ll throw my placard on your windshield and mingle around your car until you return. Take your time!”

And then my brain said something else. “I would love to run anywhere for ‘just a second.’ Think about that. You don’t ever want my disease. You don’t ever want to need that handicapped placard. You don’t ever want to be the guy who misses an important appointment (or a fun date) because a total inconsiderate lazy bastard like you took the parking spot he needed. Karma is a bitch, my friend. Move your vehicle or I’ll get it moved for you. Trust me—don’t make my gimpy ass get out of my car to beat you silly with my forearm crutches.”

Fortunately my vocal cords didn’t listen to my brain. They just said, “Sorry.” I shrugged my shoulders and held up my blue placard. He moved. We parked. And my wife and I had a magical evening, complete with the best mac-n-cheese imaginable … without me even having to open up a big ole can of whup-ass.