Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Running with the Bulls

We were woefully early for dinner. The hotel’s restaurant opened early to cater to tourists and when we sat down to dine at 8:45 p.m., not a single table was taken. See, dinner in most of Spain doesn’t really start until 9:30, maybe 10 at night. For a pair from Albuquerque, where the evening “rush” happens as early as 5:30, eating at our typical bedtime took some getting used to. Back home, the last time we saw midnight might have been New Year ’s Eve. Uh, New Year’s Eve, 2008. Now we were lucky to get the check before the next day arrived.

As an MSer, staying up late typically holds about as much appeal as sunbathing midafternoon in the parking lot of a Walmart on a sweltering, humid summer day in Houston. But after living with this disease for nearly a decade, I’ve learned that if I don’t adapt and adjust, I’ll face unkind consequences. In this case, starvation and a hungry, grumpy wife.

Travel always tosses curveballs into your daily routine, just like MS does. Fatigue can trample you like a wayward bull terrorizing the streets of Pamplona (I survived). Some hills are just too steep to safely navigate. Sandy beaches slowed my already slow walk to a crawl. Cobblestones meant I had to pick a very careful path. And at times, stairs were simply unavoidable if I wanted to see some sites, like the otherworldly rooftops of famed architect Antoni Gaudi.

 Even so, travel with MS can lead to special opportunities. Heck, I went into the back rooms of Gaudi’s masterpieces—people gaped at me behind glass doors as I enjoyed unprecedented access. I rode the King of Spain’s elevator at his Royal Palace in Madrid. (Given that there are 3,418 rooms, our paths sadly never crossed.) At an 11th century monastery I enjoyed a private concert, complete with soaring arias, as the rest of the tourists on my tour of the World Heritage Site trundled upstairs. (The organist and singer conveniently were practicing for an upcoming wedding, and I was happy to chill in the ground-floor chapel.)

 Of course there were the misadventures that somehow follow me around whenever I step foot outside my front door. Like the time I locked myself into a handicapped bathroom so securely it took nearly 15 minutes, a credit card, and a bit of prayer to jigger the stuck lock open. Visions of Spanish firefighters sawing through the door as a flotilla of television news cameras captured the extraction on national TV were thankfully not realized. And then there was the time we somehow, unbelievably, ended up at the finish line of a road race exactly where runners were sprinting for the ribbon. There apparently was a good reason such an appealing gap existed in the sea of euphoric pink-shirted sweaty people. “Hombre with Esclerosis Multiple Causa 27-Persona Accidente“ the headline was certain to scream before Laura pushed my wheelchair at a clip that I swore broke the sound barrier.


Ah, life with multiple sclerosis. Homer (the Greek poet, not the Simpson) once wrote “the journey is the thing.” Indeed it is. In his tale The Odyssey, it took Odysseus ten perilous years to return home to Ithaca after the fall of Troy. Meh, whatev. I’m already in my 10th year of my personal MS odyssey, and I intend to press on as long as the heart beats, forever adapting to my ever-changing world. I have to. All of us with this disease have to.

Now of course Homer prophetically also wrote that “even a fool learns something once it hits him.” Like a pack of runners barreling into you while unwisely crossing the finish line of a road race that is at its conclusion. Touch√©, Mr. Homer, touch√©.