Tricia Geater is age 60, lives in Puyallup, Washington, and has multiple sclerosis. She regularly reads this column in her hometown newspaper from the Midwest.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that causes inflammation and scarring of the tissue protecting nerves, and affects body movements by disrupting communication between the brain and muscle. There isn’t any known cause or cure. Geater has relapsing remitting MS, which a Mayo Clinic website says is characterized by clearly defined flare-ups, followed by periods of remission.
Each (new) time I come out of a remission, it takes longer and longer to return to normal, said Geater in a telephone interview. When having a flare up at first, the symptoms would go away after a week, but no longer. The flare-up I am fighting now has involved extreme pain in the lower extremities and weakness for more than two months. I’m able to stand up for no more than five minutes at a time.
Her first brush with MS came in 1993, when, working as a nurse, she felt a sudden tingling and burning sensation in her legs, lost feeling, and collapsed to the floor. It happened a second time. Later that year, after trips to various specialists, she learned she had MS.
She worked as a head nurse until 2000, when she could no longer walk using a cane. Then she had unrelated open heart surgery. Wanting to continue working, she became a staff development nurse and, using a wheelchair, began teaching nursing. A year later, she physically couldn’t work, and had to go on disability.
However, she soon realized that if she quit living, the disease would emotionally overpower her. So she started volunteering as a Girl Scout leader. I lead 86 girls while in a wheelchair, she said. I have assistant leaders helping, and take kids with disabilities, either mental or physical, and work with them, too.
Besides double vision, she regularly experiences involuntary shaking, a scissors gait when trying to walk, and extreme pain during flare-ups.
Geater first contacted this columnist two years ago saying she’d just read the Ron Roy A to Z Mysteries book White Wolf to her Girl Scout troop. That book featured my daughter with spina bifida as a character. Geater had a girl with spina bifida then as a troop member, and said, That book changed everyone’s outlook on disability, totally.