By Charles Hallman
When doctors told her “around my birthday” in 2000 that she had multiple sclerosis (MS), Linda Gill asked a ton of questions.
“’What is MS? Explain to me what is it?’ My kids thought I was going to die the next day,” recalls Gill. “I felt that way too when I first got it.”
After learning of her illness, “I think my hardest thing was how my friends and family would perceive me now,” continues Gill. Before she retired from her job, her unusual walking caused an unnecessary stir among coworkers: “I walked like I [was] drunk, and I [was] accused of [being drunk],” she recalls.
After hearing a security guard “making these little statements the third time, I said, ‘You know what? I have MS. If I walk like I’m drunk, before you…make any kind of accusation, ask me and I will tell you I am not drunk.’” Though her balance causes others to make false assumptions, Gill says, it also allows her opportunities to share what it’s like to have MS, and that helps her to deal with the illness.
Her social life suffered a setback because of the disease, she points out. “I used to be so active — I was bowling, skating, swimming, and danced a lot — now I’m not. The knowledge of not being able to do the things I used to do, a lot of that bothered me. I get annoyed with people that still go bowling or out partying, and they don’t invite me. I can still go, sit there and watch.”
She also battled with depression: “That sets in for a while, but you got to fight your way out of it,” says Gill.
Gill is one of Dr. Jonathan Calkwood’s patients. The director of the Schapiro Center for Multiple Sclerosis at the Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology in Golden Valley recently was featured in the MSR August 23 edition (“Early diagnosis critical for treating multiple sclerosis”).
“He has a lot of patients. It’s a big wait when I go see him. But he’s there,” admits Gill, who now lives in Hudson, Wisconsin. She is looking for a MS doctor closer to her home “if I can find one,” she says.
Gill volunteers as a MS group leader. “I get approached by fathers, mothers and other people who are suffering,” she points out. She also participates each August on a MS motorcycle run. “It’s a 600-mile ride. We stay at a hotel, have dinner and a silent auction. We meet people.
“I’m disabled, but I’m still very, very able.”
“I would tell anyone recently diagnosed, or have been with it for a while — get involved with the MS Society. They are there for you. Any kind of questions you might have, call them,” advises Gill.
She proudly proclaims, “I’m loving my disease. I have MS. I have met so many people [of] all races. I got new friends. I’m disabled, but I’m still very, very able. I’m still doing it and loving it.”
Gill agrees with MS medical experts that the disease affects each individual differently. So does the stricken person’s attitude towards it afterwards, she believes. “You don’t know what is in my heart, or know what I am going through. You don’t know the tingling and numbness, the falling down and can’t get up. It’s a lot of struggle but you got to keep fighting. Don’t give up. Don’t hide it. I have it, my brother had it. You just can’t give up.”
Although she takes her condition very seriously, Gill says she refuses to let it take her down. “My hands are numb and tingling. I walk like I’m drunk. So what! I have fallen down and couldn’t get up. So what! It takes one day at a time.
“God did not put me here to give up — you got to fight,” says Gill proudly. “It’s kind of scary but I am still breathing. I’m still here and I will survive.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]