News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Reasons to be Cheerful at Thanksgiving


While citizens of the United States celebrate thanksgiving this Thursday, the festivities are all but unknown in the rest of the world.

As my wife Lisa is American, it should be no surprise to anyone that my thoughts at this time of year tend to turn to thankfulness.

  • I am cheerful that the MS lesions in my brain and spine are currently inactive and that there are no signs of current inflammation.
  • I am cheerful that Lisa is my wife She is the love of my life, my lover, confidant, and my very best friend.
  • cheerfulI am cheerful to have enjoyed a career as a writer, about which I have a passion. Even today, when MS prevents me from going out to work, I am cheerful that I have the ability to write at home and to be able to use the internet as my method of publication.
  • I am cheerful for the support of members of the online community who continue to read my MS, Health and Disability blog at as well as for the owners and fellow writers who contribute to the various disease/disorder-specific news and information websites run by BioNews Services.
  • I am cheerful that Lisa and I moved to, and now live in, the sunny south of Spain.
  • I am cheerful for the ease with which we can communicate over such long distances in today’s computerized world. With friends and family in the UK and USA, as well as fellow writers and other contacts throughout the world, it is as though they are all just a couple of miles away.
  • I am cheerful for ease of travel and for the assistance available to people with disabilities when travelling by plane, ship, train, coach, bus, or taxi. Added to that, I am cheerful to have my folding electric wheelchair that makes such a huge difference to my life.
  • I am cheerful that I have been able to fulfil dreams that were once beyond the remotest of possibilities, such as sailing across the Atlantic, staying in New York City at Christmas-time, going to Hawaii, and visiting the Arctic circle. I am cheerful, too, that the opportunity remains to fulfil more dreams in the future.
  • I am cheerful to enjoy entertainment in whatever form it takes: films, TV, theatre, sport, music, ebooks, games or puzzles.
  • Finally, I am cheerful that I am alive and able to do what I can, when I can.

I may have MS but it does not have me, I refuse to let it!

Stay cheerful.

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ian is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/didorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.


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One year on: Living with MS in sunny Spain


It was this Sunday a year ago that Lisa and I arrived in Spain to start our new life in the sunshine, just 15 minutes from the Mediterranean.

Yes, although even the two of us find it hard to believe, we have lived here in Spain for 12 months. And we love it.

Two of the main reasons that we decided to relocate to the south of Spain were for better weather and for a hoped-for improvement in my health, having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in April 2002.

So, let’s have a look at what is going on in Spain:

  • My health: Well, of course, I still have MS but from an MRI scan last month I know that the lesions on my spine and brain are inactive. Now, I am not going to attempt to explain the technical details but will just say that my symptoms seem to have stabilized. I am now beginning to be able to move a few steps without holding on to furniture and walls, which is a good sign. It seems that I have got no worse since our move; whether that is linked to the sunny weather, I don’t know.
  • Weather: Sunny and warm most of the year. The area is renowned for having upwards of 320 days of sun per year. Such a change from the UK climate. Before we moved, it was not unusual to have to wear winter jackets in July; but here, in January his year, we were dressed in summer clothes sitting out in the sunshine. Luckily, my version of MS-related heat sensitivity is not affected by warm weather but by sudden fluctuations; this makes Spain an ideal place to live.
  • Healthcare: Like the UK’s NHS, the Sistema Nacional de Salud de España (Spain’s National Health Service) provides socialised healthcare for all residents. Our experience of this has included fast and efficient hospital service, both as in-patient and out-patient, efficient local health centre where our GP is based – including the ability to make appointments online. Prescriptions charges are so low as to be negligible and pharmacists here can provide certain products that require a doctor’s prescription in the UK.
  • Dentists and Opticians: While these are not covered by the health service, and so we have to pay, the costs are not excessive and even the sight test is free if you buy spectacles from the same place.
  • Roads and driving: Spain has the most amazing network of roads that are mostly wide, open and free. Some of the newest motorways, known as autovias, are toll roads. They have different designations. Near us, we have the A7 (free autovia) and the AP7 (toll autovia). Of course, like all mainland European countries, the USA and many more, the Spanish drive on the right-hand side of the road, unlike the UK. But, despite having driven on the left for more than 40 years, driving a left-hand drive car on the right side of the road has come naturally to me.
  • Restaurants, Bars and Cafés: There are so many from which to choose, featuring a wide variety of cuisines. Many also offer a Menú del Día option which is a reasonably priced Menu of the Day including a drink.
  • Shopping: We are well serviced by supermarkets, specialist shops, economy stores and the usual wide range of high street shops. No-one does home deliveries or click-and-collect however. Those advances haven’t reached Spain yet, at least not the rural part.
  • Motor fuel: Whether you want diesel or gasolina (petrol), they are both reasonably priced and cheaper than in the UK.
  • Electricity: The costs are higher in Spain but not so high as to detract from living here.
  • People: We have found everybody so pleasant and helpful; something quite unlike anything we’d previously experienced. Only two days ago, as Lisa was packing our shopping into bags at the supermarket checkout, a young man appeared and helped her, and then loaded them back into the cart. We thanked him but he insisted on escorting us back to our car where he folded and loaded my electric wheelchair plus all the shopping into the vehicle and even took the cart back and reclaimed the one Euro coin and returned it to Lisa. I was surprised to receive similar treatment in the USA but Lisa explained that the guy was paid to do it; it was his job. The man in Spain was not wearing the supermarket uniform, in fact it does not employ packers. He was just a member of the public who wanted to help!
  • Language: Our linguistic skills are improving and I find myself understanding the gist of what someone is Spainsaying in Spanish and being able to make myself understood.

To sum it all up, one year on from our big move, we both absolutely love it. We are healthier (in my case, with MS, I equate ‘no worse’ to being healthier), happier and financially better-off.

Now, where’s my Sangria?

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ian is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/didorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.


Can a healthy diet help MS? Yes, but it’s not a cure

Diet? Me? No. we just don’t get along. Try to lose weight, have some minor success, then get disillusioned when the diet continues but the weight plateaus out. Sound familiar? And you end up back where you started or, horror of horrors, even heavier.

And I have never paid much attention to people saying that diet cured them of MS. In fact, it’s nothing short of hogwash. That’s not to say that diet cannot help, just that it is not a cure by itself.

A few weeks ago, this site carried news that Lisa and I were going to start eating a totally healthy and balanced vegetarian diet.  Not one that has been sold to us but one that we decide for ourselves.

Before going further, l must make it quite clear, our decision to go vegetarian was not a desire to lose weight, there were no allergies involved, and we both actually like meat. Our motivation was purely the horrendous way we, as humans, treat other sentient beings with cruelty and contempt.

Hamburgers? No, no meat in these tasty veggie burgers.

Hamburgers? No, no meat in these tasty veggie burgers.

Having said that, how is our veggie adventure going? In short, amazingly well.

Lisa loves cooking and now uses her skills to create the most wonderful tasty meals that are nourishing and have a great balance of protein and everything else we need – minus the animal fats.

Must admit to having misgivings at first, but the dishes that are new to my palate are fantastic. We don’t just eat a plateful of vegetables, there’d be no enjoyment in that. There is so much that can be done in the kitchen, we have not even touched soya yet.

So, have we noticed any differences yet? Well, it’s early days yet but we are both delighted to have lost a bi of weight. Lisa has lost two kilos (almost 4.5lbs) while I am down to 105.8kg (that’s 233.25lbs to my American readers and 16st 9.25lbs to my British ones). Whatever way you say it, that’s my healthiest weight for too many years to remember. A few years ago my weight was more than 120kg (266lbs, 19st). A heart scare prompted my first step, the initial loss, and our new vegetarian way of life is helping me take the second.

What can a diet do for someone with MS? In my opinion, about the same as it can do for someone without the disease; a balanced diet helps to achieve and maintain a healthy level of fitness. But it is not a cure and never can be; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

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ian profile50shadesofsun is the personal website of Ian Franks who is Managing Editor of the columns division of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease-specific news and information websites, including MS News Today.

Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media; during which he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, he is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.


Taming Heat Sensitivity at 100 Degrees

Many people voiced their concerns to me about anyone with MS moving to live in a sunny climate. That worry is understandable. With a disease that includes heat sensitivity, where even a hot shower can make you worse, how can any MS patient move to live in an area where daily temperatures average 22 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit) in July and August, but where the highs this year have reached 40 C (104 F).

Well, it is now nearly 10 months since my beloved wife Lisa and I made the move from the mostly cloudy and often rainy U.K. to our dream home in Andalucía in the sunny south of Spain.

Back in the U.K., we lived in a ground floor one-bedroom apartment in an urban area, but now we have our own detached two-bedroom property in a rural community about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the nearest town.

With almost constant blue skisouth of Spaines, our home is nothing short of idyllic. We have palm trees visible from our kitchen window, an olive tree in the front garden, plus both orange and grapefruit trees very close by. And, in 15 minutes, we can be at the Mediterranean.

Our home has air conditioning and ceiling fans, plus we have an air conditioned car. I live in shorts and lightweight shirts, use plenty of sunscreen, and have a selection of summer hats.

Our home is just over 1 km (0.6 miles) from the main road, and that is reached by traveling between agricultural fields where, depending on the time of year, various crops are grown. So far, I have seen white cabbages, red cabbages and melons – to name but three.

The fields are planted and harvested by hand using gangs of traveling workers. Then, after the crops have been picked and sent on their way, a large herd of goats is released to clear the remaining plants.

Yes, it is hot here, but the good news is that it is affecting me less here than the very occasional hot day in the U.K., and that is because the humidity is much lower here.

The temperatures are more constant here, too. They change more slowly than in the U.K., where they can change up 10 or more degrees Celsius one day and down again the next day during what passes as summer. That volatility, the sudden changes, made me feel a lot worse. It took me a while to realize that my heat sensitivity was to those rapid and often frequent changes. I needed stability.

So having lived in Spain for most of a year, I can say that heat sensitivity is not an issue for me here. Overall, I still have good and bad days, but good now seem to outnumber the bad. Yes, I still fall, but far less often than used to be the case. Fatigue still happens but, again, less often. Pain is far less prevalent, too, but restless leg syndrome still plagues me in bed.

Mobility, or the lack of it, remains my biggest problem. But on my very good days, I can actually reach my car without sitting down halfway there, like I usually do.

So, do I regret exchanging the U.K.’s dreary weather for the almost constant Spanish sunshine? Not at all. Living it and loving it and, don’t forget, more sunshine means more natural vitamin D.

This article was written by me and first appeared in Multiple Sclerosis News Today.

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Ian Franks
Ian Franks is Chief Columnist and Patient Specialist at Multiple Sclerosis News Today. He has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media; during which he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain and uses his skills to write his own flourishing specialist MS, Health & Disability blog at Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.
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Handling sleep and rest with MS

Sleep, rest, tiredness, and fatigue. How many times have we heard those talked about in the same breath as multiple sclerosis? So often that they are getting somewhat repetitive and tiring, or should that be tiresome? If I dare say that!

Rest is very important, getting at least eight hours’ sleep at night is just what the doctor orders, a good night’s sleep will help to fend off fatigue. You must have heard all that before. And, before you think I am going to dismiss that, I’m not.

sleepHowever, for me, the idea of going to bed at what most would call a sensible time is out of the question on most nights. I am a night owl, not an early bird. Lisa and I usually go to bed at about 3am. It suits me because unless my body says otherwise, as it does sometimes, this is when it is ready to switch to sleep mode. Going to bed any earlier usually results in a lot of tossing and turning and very little sleep.

Not that turning in so late 1eads to ‘burning the candle at both ends’, because it doesn’t. I tend to wake up about seven hours later and so make my start to the day at about 10.30, now that is a civilized time.

Ten years without going out to work has helped the adoption of such ‘time-shifted’ hours and, now that I am writing for Multiple Sclerosis News Today, it works really well. As the company is based in Texas, when it is 5pm there, my local time is already Midnight.

What’s more, I need to be able to talk to people around the world, so a more flexible timetable is very useful.

Do I get tired earlier than 3am? Yes, naturally, sometimes I do. Then I go to bed earlier. And if a daytime nap is needed, my armchair also happens to be a very comfortable recliner.

Of course, like many people with MS, I am not excused from fatigue. It really can hit hard sometimes, like a train, and has kept me off my feet for much longer than simple tiredness. Actually, one thing that Lisa has just pointed out is that, since moving to the better weather we enjoy in Spain, the dreaded fatigue has only made a very rare appearance. But whether or not that is any way connected to the increase in sunshine and, consequently, vitamin D, I have absolutely no idea.


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Low fat vegetarian diet looks good for MS patients

How eating meat might possibly affect any disease, let alone multiple sclerosis, was the furthest thought from my mind as a child.

My family, as I was growing up, were all meat-eaters and this has continued throughout my journey into adulthood including one long, but ultimately failed, marriage right up to the current day – almost five years into my second attempt.

I enjoy meat and have always laughed off the scare stories about risks to health. From the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, I was a rural affairs farming journalist in an area renowned for both quality lamb and beef.

Yes, I visited many farms but was able to keep a clear, albeit false, distinction in my mind between animals in the fields and the food on my plate. Lambs could be cuddled but lamb chops were for eating. I carefully avoided visiting the local abattoir, however.

Well, this is now changing, not because of any desire by me to improve my health but because my wife Lisa has started a new anti-animal abuse website called Please – No More! She has uncovered such abuse in terms of the shameful and disgusting methods used in modern factory farming that we have decided to become vegetarians. It won’t happen overnight as we still have meat in our freezer and it won’t help those animals if we just throw it away.

vegiBut once it has gone, it will be gone – and both of us will hopefully benefit from enjoying a meat-free Spanish Mediterranean healthy diet. Right now, Lisa is honing her vegetarian cooking skills. Indeed, tonight we ate a completely homemade vegan lasagna and were both absolutely stunned by the fantastic taste.

Coincidentally, the potential gains to MS patients of a low-fat vegetarian diet have been a topic of discussion for quite some time but without any firm scientific evidence either way.

Now, however a pilot study seems to be saying that such a diet would be beneficial.

A team led by Dr Vijayshree Yadav, at the Oregon Health & Science University, indicates that a very-low saturated fat, plant-based diet, can be a starting point.

The results were published in the study “Low-fat, plant-based diet in multiple sclerosis: A randomized controlled trial,” in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

I am not going to go into all the details here but if you are that interested in reading the entire report, just click on the link above.

Although the results showed no effect on MS disease activity, neither in MRI nor clinical tests, improvement was found in quality of life, including overall mood and levels of fatigue, the latter being a debilitating problem among Relapsing RMS patients.

“Dietary intervention participants experienced reduction in weight, body mass index (BMI), LDL (“bad” cholesterol), total cholesterol and insulin levels,” the authors wrote. “These improvements would likely enhance their long-term general health if they remained on the diet.

“If maintained, the improved lipid profile and BMI could yield long-term vascular health benefits.”


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Looking forward with an occasional backwards glance

My way of living with multiple sclerosis, and a wheelchair, is to hold firmly to my mantra. And that is always to look forward and concentrate on the things I can do and get as much enjoyment out of that as is humanly possible.

But, just once in a while it can do some good to look back, not to mourn the present but to celebrate the major landmarks in your life. So here goes!

1953       Unbelievably, I have a childhood memory while just a few months old. My mum left me in my pram while she went into a shop. How times have changed.

1957       Aged 4, started in my first school. It was while at this school, aged about 8, I decided on a career in journalism.

1964       Aged 11, started in high school.

1968       Broke my ankle in two places in a cycling accident. In plaster for six weeks.

1969       Took examinations, got most but not all needed to be a reporter.

1970       Got my last necessary qualification and started work as a journalist.

19.82. aged 29. Had MS but didn't know it

1982. aged 29. Had MS but didn’t know it.

1975       Met the young woman who would become my first wife. My football (soccer) team reached the prestigious FA Cup Final but lost.

1977       Married for the first time.

1985       Noticed a problem with my left leg, had various tests but no problem identified

1992       Moved from London to North Wales

1994       Joined the staff of a local newspaper group, becoming both sub-editor and Rural Affairs Editor.

1999       Named as ‘Wales Farming Journalist of the Year’ at the Royal Welsh Show.

2002       Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis but was able to continue working.

2006       November the day after my 54th birthday, my mobility had progressed to the state that I had to give up going out to work.

2007       Despite my disability, I managed to visit Canada and visited the Niagara Falls, and my first (and only) baseball game.

2008       Unhappy in my first marriage, I turned to playing an online game.

2009       While playing the game, I met and fell in love with the woman who would become my second wife.

2010       I met Lisa face to face for the first time. If there had been any doubt, it had now gone. We were hopelessly in love.

2011       What a year.  Lisa and I were both divorced from our partners and we then married on a beach in Florida. Two weeks later I had to fly back to the UK alone as Lisa had to wait for her visa.

2012       Lisa got her visa on her birthday, Valentine’s Day and just five weeks later she arrived at Manchester Airport. A big kiss and “Welcome home” and we sped off.

2013       Our first two cruises together, first to the Norwegian Fjords and Arctic Circle and then around the western Mediterranean.

2014       Cruise bug well and truly caught, we went around Hawaii and stopped off in New York City on the way home.

2015       We booked a transatlantic crossing as soon as we got home. A couple of weeks later we decided that we wanted to leave the grey British skies behind us. So, I suggested that we move to Spain. In the end, we left our rented flat in October, sailed aross the atlkantic for eight days, holidayed in the United States for 9 days, flew back to the UK for two nights in hotels and then flew to Spain. And in between all that I started my own blog.

2016       The blog really took off this year and towards the end of May I was asked to write blogs for, and I agreed.

Not a bad life really, despite having MS.


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Heat sensitivity can affect us all differently

red sky at night spainMany people were amazed when they heard that Lisa and I were packing our bags and leaving the UK and moving to Spain where we arrived last November. It wasn’t just the move that took them by surprise, it was the fact that we were moving to sunny southern Spain. To Andalucía to be exact.

“How will you cope with the heat?” was a question that has been asked many times since we announced our plans to move. It’s a reasonable question bearing in mind that heat sensitivity is a common feature of multiple sclerosis. That’s when people with MS can often experience a temporary worsening of their symptoms during very hot or humid weather.

Of course, we know that it is not just weather, it could be because of overheating by taking a hot shower or taking excessive exercise.

Heat sensitivity can cause some people to experience a temporary increase of their usual symptoms. Exhaustion and lack of balance are just two things of many that can get considerably worse.

These temporary changes can result from the very slightest increase in body temperature; it can be as small as one-quarter of a degree. And, speaking technically, higher temperatures further reduce the ability of a demyelinated nerve to conduct electrical impulses, so making symptoms worse.

In my case, I guess that it is good fortune that my heat sensitivity is not about extremes of hot or cold but the speed and frequency of changes between ordinary hot and cold. Although the UK is not renowned for extreme weather, temperatures can vary widely from day to day-

So moving to Spain has taken me to a more constant, less changeable environment. So, while it may be hotter, it is more comfortable for me.

It also comes with many more hours of sun.  In fact, here we tend to talk about days of sun here. And that brings a great increase of naturally-created vitamin D.

MS or not, life in Spain is pretty sweet with an air-conditioned home, with additional ceiling fans, nestled among palm trees, as well as trees bearing olives, oranges and grapefruits. Oh, and yes, I drive an air-conditioned car.


‘New for old’ eats up the time

Yesterday was quite a day for me and meant that I did not have enough time to write a blog of the length that usually publishes.

The cause was the arrival of a brand new laptop computer because my last one had a damaged screen.

In fact, this was the second new laptop to arrive this week. The first one was delivered on Monday but, try as we might, neither my beloved wife Lisa nor I could get the screen to work, A call to the manufacturer’s customer services was less that satisfactory as they were more concerned with getting me to buy something than fix the problem.

We´d got the computer from Amazon in Spain, where we have lived since last November. So, I contacted the customer services via an online chat and, wow, what a difference. Katherin was brilliant. She proved to be the very epitome of customer relations; she listened, apologised, and took immediate action,

She gave me three options.Ok, one was to call the manufacturer but I had already tried that. The other two were to be sent an identical replacement or to receive a full refund. I opted for the replacement and it arrived yesterday.

Then the fun really started. We live in Spain and naturally bought the computer here. So, everything was in Spanish. But my language skills are less than perfect. No, they are basic, extremely basic.

That being the case, it took much longer than usual to get the computer set up.

Now, with Lisa´s guidance, I am almost through the set up stages and have produced this blog on the new computer. More than two hours late but better late than never.

Hopefully, normal service will be resumed tomorrow.


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Memory of exact date of MS diagnosis

memoryMemory is a strange thing and seems to work, or not work, in the most mysterious of ways, just like the concept of God.

My earliest recollection, believe it or not, was as a baby. I can recall being left outside a shop, in my pram, while my mum went inside. Now that is unlikely to happen today. Then I can recite old car registration plates going back years and years both my dad’s and my own.

But, for quite some time, all I could do was marvel at youngsters who knew their national insurance number, the UK equivalent of the US’s social security number, off by heart. Well, at least I didn’t know mine until multiple sclerosis put an end to me going out to work in 2006. Then I had to give my number to the authorities so many times that, suddenly and unexpectedly, I knew it.

But, although I have a clear memory of significant and important dates in my life, such as birthdays and anniversaries, there is one that just won’t come to mind.

Every time there is a social media post in an MS group asking when we were diagnosed with the disease, I am amazed that so many people are aware of the exact date; day, month and year.

Why would they remember that?

My diagnosis was made in April 2002. I can remember the circumstances and what the neurologist said. And how he showed me the MRI scan proving (contrary to the belief of some people) that, unlike the Scarecrow of the Wizard of Oz, I really do have a brain.

The relief in finally knowing what was immense. Yes, you did read that correctly. Being diagnosed as having MS was not a horror; it was a blessed relief. Now I could get on with my life.

But the exact day in April 2002? I haven’t a clue. What’s more, to be honest, that does not matter. It is not something I have forgotten, it’s just a date that, at the time, was not worth remembering.

It was just the same when I was diagnosed with epilepsy back in the early 1970s. Thinking back it had to be 1972 but that’s as close as I can get. You see, to me, that date was not worth remembering either.

Now, I am waiting for my Spanish NIE, my foreigner’s identification number. We are required by law to carry that with us, but I’ll probably end up knowing it anyway. That’s life!



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