by Sheila Fitzgerald
“Let’s take a walk.”
Brian Murray, my physical therapist, had made a few last adjustments to the technology banded about my knee and then I took a step. And then another.
It was a February morning in 2010 when we embarked on our trek from the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins Hospital, down the hallway and then left past the cafeteria. “This is going to take time to build up your strength and build up your muscles,” he counseled. We stopped a few times as Brian made some more adjustments. My legs were tense. My shoulders were tight. I hadn’t been upright like this in many years. I was winded, but I kept moving.
You’ve got to make this work, Sheila, I told myself.
Those slow steps in the hospital were little miracles. In some ways, I began that walk almost 30 years ago on North Broadway, just west of the School. In 1981, I was a PhD student in Environmental Health Sciences. I had a husband, a seven-year-old daughter, a master’s in nursing, a dozen years of teaching and work experience and an enthralling challenge studying individuals with cardiovascular disease returning to work.
I started noticing that the late afternoon walk to my car parked on Broadway taxed me more than it should have. I had problems with balance. A heaviness in my right leg made me unsteady. The doctor confirmed something was wrong.
Multiple sclerosis. The autoimmune disease destroys the myelin sheath protecting nerve cells in selected parts of the neuromuscular system. I was 35 years old, in the first year of my PhD, and I thought the world was going to end.
It didn’t. My husband, Bill, was very supportive and told me there was no reason to stop studying. Life was pretty good for five years. I continued my studies, completed my degree and then joined the faculty. Eventually, my endurance decreased. A full-time job, a long commute and maintaining my family life became increasingly challenging. Walking for any distance became difficult. Trips to the grocery store required exquisite planning or else I would have to find a place to sit and rest. Recouping my energies became a big part of my day. Eventually, I purchased a scooter and a minivan with a mechanical lift. I could navigate the halls of the School and zip over to the nursing building to teach a class. (I had a reputation for driving full-tilt. I never got a ticket, but I once almost ran over former Dean Al Sommer.)
Amazed? Enthralled? Disappointed? We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts on articles and your ideas for new stories:
Get a copy of all News Briefs articles in PDF format. Read stories offline, optimized for printing.