I was a week into my second trimester of freshman year when my mom lost all feeling in her left side. She tried to blame it on a pinched nerve for days until we convinced her to see a doctor. The day of parent-teacher conferences at my school I met her in front and could tell she had been crying. She assured me that everything was fine and we went in, but she could barely walk up the stairs and refused to tell me what the doctor had said. She just smiled and tried to stay cheery.
That night we ordered pizza and my mom ate in bed because she was so tired. After dinner my dad told my brother and me that we needed to have a family talk. As I sat on the foot of my parents’ bed watching my mom struggle to tell us what was going on, I heard the two words that would alter my whole universe: multiple sclerosis.
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I was only 14 and hardly well versed in neurological disorders so, naturally, all I could do was burst into tears. She explained to us that multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological disease that involves the central nervous system – specifically the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves – and that MS can affect muscle control and strength, vision, balance, and mental functions.
The tone in my house was a mix of mourning and solitude in the weeks that followed. My mom’s condition got severely worse before it got better. She was on steroid treatment to reduce the swelling in her brain, and was chronically fatigued and often confused.
In the months after her diagnosis I took on a new role in our family. I cooked dinner every night, did laundry, went to the supermarket, and even paid bills. It wasn’t hard at first, but after a while my schoolwork started to catch up with me. If only you knew my mom: she was one of those super-moms who found time to get everything done and was never crazed or disheveled but calm, collected, and great at everything! And then I lost all of that in what felt like the blink of an eye.
I had never felt so alone and helpless. I’m sure if I hadn’t gotten help I would have gone crazy. After a few months I went to my first MS support group. By then I had read every article on neurological disorders. I was excited to attend these meetings and ask the doctors all the questions the articles hadn’t answered. When the speaker that night stood and introduced herself, I was surprised to hear she was a registered nurse who specialized in multiple sclerosis. I had never heard of a nurse having such a specific field, and as she spoke I discovered how much Rita understood about how this disease was affecting my family.
I continued going to the support group, and over time I realized what Rita’s job really entailed. I had no idea how interactive a nurse’s career could be. I told her that I had been curious about a career in medicine but had never felt as passionate about it as when I realized how much an illness can affect a whole family. That’s when I discovered I wanted to be a nurse.
I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders, because I knew that I had finally found something I could be passionate about for the rest of my life. The work my mom’s doctors and nurses have done with her has vastly improved the quality of her life. They teach her to be optimistic and supply her with many types of support.
I think the best people to help others through hardships are those who have experienced them firsthand. And I feel that my experience will help me become an amazing nurse who can help other families through the difficulty of having a loved one with an illness.