Living with MS – The Sobriety Test

Some people wonder what it’s like living with MS. Sure, you hear all about complications like fatigue, loss of motor control, blurry vision… but you don’t often hear about the not-so-common ways that it affects those who have the condition.

I Was *This* Close to Failing a Sobriety Test… Sober

This seriously happened to me.

I drove home one night, with family in tow, from a dinner and social gathering at a friend’s house. It was around 11 pm, and my husband was too tired to drive. My kids, who were ages 4 and 6 at the time, were nestled in their booster seats, cuddled under a giant blanket, fast asleep. We had just started out on our one-hour journey, which included some side streets that led to a major highway. Around 10 minutes into our journey, I saw blue lights flashing in my rear view mirror. A flurry of thoughts flew through my mind, most of them being:

Crap crap crap crap crap crap

Seriously?!

Crap crap crap crap crap crap

It’s always pretty stressful to be pulled over by a cop, but being pulled over at nighttime is a whole different story. I mean, those blue lights are BRIGHT, and when you are pulled over on a side street in the middle of a neighborhood, it’s like EVERYONE is watching.

So, I pulled over.

A big burly state trooper informed me that I was weaving (Seriously?!), and that he would have to administer a sobriety test.

This ought to be interesting.

Now, let me stress this point: I WAS SOBER. Honest to goodness truth: I had consumed a glass of wine at dinner, which was around 6:30 pm.

The sobriety test started off like the exam I get when I visit my neurologist. ‘Put one foot in front of the other and walk so many feet. Now turn around and do it again.’ I comply, but I am a little shaky. I am always a little shaky when I do this test.

Then came the fun part. ‘Stand on your right leg and count to 30.’

Nope.

I can’t do that. I can’t stand on my right leg for 3 seconds without losing my balance, let alone 30.

The officer advises me to try my best. I try my best, and 3 seconds later, both feet are on the floor. He looks at me disapprovingly. “Try again.”

Doesn’t matter how many times I try, I can’t do it because I…

CRAP. I have to tell him I have MS!

Let me reset the scene for you. It’s around 11 pm, and I’m in a neighborhood with lots of houses, with the reflection of blue lights flashing everywhere, failing a sobriety test. My kids are sleeping in the back, completely unaware of what is going on. My husband is in the front, holding his head and regretting his decision to ask me to drive. I am trying to explain to this officer, a complete stranger, that I can’t comply with his orders because I have MS.

But what if he doesn’t believe me?

At first glance, I don’t look like I have MS. I hear that a lot from people. I don’t have a walking or mobility assistive device. I’m not in a wheelchair. I am not wearing a t-shirt that says, ‘EXCUSE MY CLUMSINESS, I HAVE MS.’ No sign in the window of my car that says, ‘MS PATIENT ON BOARD.’ Pain and fatigue and muscle spastisity and neuralgia and balance issues and all the fun things that are associated with MS don’t always have a distinct LOOK to them.

The look of disapproval on the officer’s face turned to one of understanding. “My aunt has MS. I get it.” He nodded his head and proceeded to administer the breathlyzer test – which I passed – and sent me on my way.

This was one of the incredibly weird and pivotal moments of my life. I usually hide my condition pretty well. If it affects my ability to participate in an activity, I usually just excuse myself from the activity. No explanation. No excuses. I just say no, and I don’t even feel bad about it. The subject of MS just doesn’t come up. People who know me just kind of know that if I’m not up to it, I’m not up to it. But this time I had to say it OUT LOUD: MS limited my ability to complete a task. Saying it out loud was just – weird.

The kids slept through the entire ordeal. I’m pretty sure the neighbors enjoyed the show.