The “Common” Cold

It’s that time of year again. Everywhere you turn, it seems like someone is sniffing, sneezing, or coughing. For most people, cold season is a nuisance, but for people with MS, cold season can be debilitating, and even lead to health complications.

Cold viruses often impact people with MS differently than the rest of the population, making cold prevention and recovery very important. This month, many in our MS community shared their experiences with the common cold and we thought you might relate as well. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Symptoms & Recovery Time

“The past two winters, I have caught my daughter’s cold and I get hit HARD to the point I have to go to emergency and get booked into the hospital.”

“Like having life sucked out of you”

“Whenever the rest of my family gets a cold or virus, it passes within a week. When I catch it (and I almost always catch it) it lasts for weeks, PLUS I get pseudoexacerbations on top of it. No fun.”

It takes me 3 times as long to get over a cold than it does anyone else. So frustrating!”

“When I get a cold now, it lasts 2-3 weeks”

According to our MS community, the “common cold” is anything but common. While most people recover from a cold in seven to ten days1, for MS patients, it can take much longer. According to many of our community members, cold symptoms are also more intense for people with MS, often making underlying MS symptoms more noticeable.

In addition to typical cold symptoms (such as fever, cough, congestion, body aches, and headaches1), cold viruses can also lead to MS pseudoexacerbations, which usually last less than 24 hours and may mirror the symptoms of a full-blown MS relapse. Because a fever can trigger a pseudoexacerbation2, you may want to ask your healthcare provider if over-the-counter fever reducers (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen) are safe for you.

When You’re Surrounded by Sick People…

“Every time my parents get sick then I will catch it…I just wish they would learn about MS.”

“Unfortunately for us, even the hospital and doctor office can be risky.”

“People just don’t understand, no matter how much you explain it to them.”

I try to stay away from sick people.”

“Do NOT expose yourself to sick people. If they don’t get it, tough. Please protect yourself.”

MS is understood to be an autoimmune disorder.3 In terms of immune health, many community members have shared that MS has made them more susceptible to colds, as well as other illness. According to many of you, being around sick people almost guarantees that you catch whatever’s going around, making doctor’s offices, public transit, and even the workplace risky during cold and flu season.

For many community members, it can be difficult to avoid the cold germs, especially without accusations that you’re being “rude” or “overdramatic” when asking sick people to keep their distance. However, if you’re managing MS, your health is the priority. To stay healthy during cold season, many community members recommend avoiding sick friends, family, and strangers all together, and talking to people about how MS affects your immune system.

Cold Complications

“Sinus and ear infection, felt like I had the flu. Going on day 8. Ugh.”

“I have a cold and 2 infections right now. It can’t ever just be one thing.”

“Ear infections”

In addition to experiencing more intense cold symptoms, a longer recovery time, and increased susceptibility to the cold virus, individuals with MS are also more susceptible to infections.4 Common colds can spread to the ears, chest, and sinuses,5 leading many MS patients to experience other complications as a result of a cold, such as ear infections and sinus infections. Because MS can make it harder to fight infections, be sure to talk to your doctor if you think you’ve developed an infection, or if you experience a pseudoexacerbation lasting more than 24 hours.

Staying Healthy… or Recovering

“NO double dipping, sharing drinks, utensils, and most definitely, the cook must NOT lick the spoon the put it back…Even if your family and friends are not showing symptoms, they could have picked up something.”

“Wash your hands all day, all night, and eat tons of veggies. I drink a blender full, and it really helps. Take good care.”

“Wash your hands, don’t kiss anyone (except your honey), tons of veggies, exercise as tolerated, and get LOTS of sleep.”

As we move into cold and flu season, many of our community members have suggestions for staying healthy and cold-free, such as good handwashing, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep. If you do develop cold symptoms, consider these tips for fighting a cold. To prevent the flu, you should also talk to your healthcare provider about getting a flu shot, especially if you are exposed to family members and co-workers who may carry the flu virus.

Works Cited

  1. Mayo Clinic. “Common Cold.” Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/ symptoms-causes/syc-20351605. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
  2. Editorial Team. “Is It an MS Relapse or a Pseudoexacerbation?” MultipleSclerosis.net, Health Union, 6 Mar. 2017, multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/relapse-or-pseudoexacerbation/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
  3. Health Union. “What Is MS?” MultipleSclerosis.Net, Health Union, multiplesclerosis.net/what-is-ms/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
  4. Montgomery, S., et al. “Hospital Admission Due to Infections in Multiple Sclerosis Patients.” European Journal of Neurology, vol. 20, no. 8, Aug. 2013, pp. 1153-60, dos:10.1111/ene.12130. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
  5. NHS. “Common Cold: Complications.” National Health Service, NHS, www.nhs.uk/conditions/common-cold/complications/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
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Holiday Assistance

With the holiday season in full swing some individuals may find themselves busy making plans and preparations for this festive time of year. For others this season may represent a time when some extra help is needed to make the holiday special. Financial challenges can make expectations of the holidays a struggle, but it’s important to know that there are resources available that may help support your holiday activities, and therefore lift some of the stress that can accompany these festivities. The following community resources may be able to offer help through the holidays. Be sure to check with the organizations directly about their application requirements and deadlines as many have specific time frames to apply for help.

  • Salvation Army offices offer seasonal services and holiday assistance programs to help families in need with holiday dinners, toys, and clothing. Search for your local office to inquire about direct programs and services and application deadlines.
  • The United Way can offer information and referrals for holiday assistance programs in your community.
  • The Toys for Tots Program provides new, unwrapped toys during the holidays to children in need through community outreach and support efforts.
  • Catholic Charities Services and other local religious organizations may offer seasonal assistance as well, though these programs can vary based on location. Contact the groups in your area directly to inquire of services available.
  • Contact the county department of family/social services in your area, as their office may have additional holiday assistance and resources available.
  • You can also check with local schools in the community that may know of holiday assistance programs for families.
  • Community food banks may also be able to offer holiday assistance programs in your area during the season.

Again, many community assistance programs have specific application deadlines and requirements in order to receive holiday assistance by a certain time. Be sure to reach out to the resources to see what’s available in your area and how to apply.

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You Are Stronger Than You Think

By Penelope Conway

There are so many things that I’m thankful for. I could list the usual: family, friends, warm fuzzy slippers and coffee…but those things seem so shallow to me now. Not because they aren’t important, but because my focus has shifted greatly over the years.

This morning, as I sat asking myself why I’m thankful, a flood of thoughts came to my mind. I have seen people faced with terrible circumstances who have become bitter in the process, and I have seen others rise above their challenges and become a light and a source of hope to the world around them. Which am I? Which are you?

As someone living with multiple sclerosis, I remember the day I sat in the doctor’s office when he gave me the unwelcome news that I have MS. I went through a full range of emotions in the weeks that followed from denial, to pain, to anger, to depression, to acceptance. It was a shocking blow to my life and something that I never saw coming. I had plans and MS wasn’t one of them.

It’s definitely been a hard road. I have had to adjust the way I do just about everything because even the simplest of daily tasks have become challenging for me. Some days I even have arguments with myself about getting dressed for the day or going to the store for something other than toilet paper. It’s amazing how much I took for granted before MS.

But you know, regardless of the struggle, I refuse to give up. I will NOT let MS keep me from being thankful…or from living.

The questions that I’ve asked myself, even just recently, have been simple. Can I be thankful regardless of the circumstances I find myself in? Can I find beauty in the chaos? Can I look this disease of MS square in the eyes and say, “I am not defeated because of you and in spite of the challenges I face, I will be thankful for each new day I am given.”

I decided to stop questioning why I was going through this crazy storm in my life and resolved to be thankful as I go through. I pictured myself as a tree swaying in the wind, but anyone who has ever lived through a tsunami, hurricane or tornado knows that even the strongest of trees break. It may still be standing when the storm subsides, but scars are left behind as a reminder of what once was branches and sometimes even the trunk breaks.

The truth is, multiple sclerosis changes you. It leaves scars both in your brain and spine, but also in your heart. You change. The storm you are enduring…people can’t see it. Some try to understand, but without living in your body and experiencing your journey by walking in your shoes, they just can’t understand the mental and emotional pains you face each day along with a slew of symptoms. They don’t know how often you cover your tears with a smile and piece together your heart with bubble gum and shoestrings.

Are you stronger because of MS? Absolutely you are. You are stronger even in the breaking. You have endured much and just like how a tree grows new limbs once a storm has torn it apart, you are growing and changing every day. You may be at a place where you feel like the storm is overtaking you, but the winds will calm and the sun will come out.

Hold on with everything you’ve got, then when you find your strength again…hold your head high proud of what you’ve come through and choose to be thankful for all you’ve overcome. I have learned that strength isn’t measured by the amount of things I can do or by how little I cry, it’s determined by the attitude that I have while going through the storms in life.

Not many people can make it through a storm, break, then keep going…but you are doing it. So the next time someone tells you to stay strong, smile in your brokenness realizing that your scars speak of your strength and tell a story that only a warrior can tell.

*Penelope Conway was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in November 2011. She is the author and founder of Positive Living with MS (positivelivingwithms.com) where she uses humor and her own life experiences with MS to help others navigate this unpredictable journey. She believes that staying positive and holding onto hope is the key to waking up each morning with the strength to get through the day.

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An Ode to Mobility Aids

By Doug Ankerman

As one with multiple sclerosis for twenty-one years, I have much gratitude and thankfulness to share.

Certainly family comes to mind with their heartfelt devotion, care and attention to my round-the-clock stumbling.  My health practitioners earn a much deserved shout-out.  As do complete strangers willing to help load packages into my car, offering their place in long lines, to the deputy opening the cell door.

But this isn’t about them.

This message of gratitude honors the gaggle of mobility aids I depend upon each day.

First, my wheelchair.  My loyal steed.  Though reluctant to use the chair at first, it has become a savior of independence.  Taking me through sun, snow, rain and mud, my wheelchair has jostled my backside countless miles.  It has allowed me to see nature’s wonders.  Witness major events.  And traverse cavernous big-box stores.  Yes, independence would not be possible without my chair and for that I am grateful.

Next, my rollator.  The rollator sits in the garage mostly waiting for yard work to be done.  On those intrepid days, the rollator allows me to walk over uneven grass while keeping my weaving body upright.

Plus the rollator’s basket is perfect for carrying small gardening tools, gloves and chilled beverages on warm days.  (An MSer must keep hydrated, you know.)

Lastly, canes are my everything.  Always within arm’s reach.  Canes allow me to shuffle along without leaving messy fingerprints on the walls.  My canes help me stand.  Canes let me look someone in the eye.  And feel somewhat unburdened.  Although my gait is glacier-esque in speed, I have tried to create an illusion of fleet-footedness with the clever use of Nike swooshes added to their tips.

If you are curious, they didn’t help.  I am still sloth-slow.

My mobility aids have given me life post-diagnosis.  Hand controls, wheelchair, AFO, rollator, Dyna-splint, canes, grab bars, I feel like the Inspector Gadget of disability.  But it is all for a purpose.  A purpose of independence.  And for that I am grateful.

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Gratitude and Thankfulness

By Susan Russo

The holiday season is once again fast approaching. I honestly feel like I just finished boxing up all my decorations from last year. This is a time when everyone tells us to be thankful and to be grateful. But why are these sentiments so pressured into us at this time of year? Why not all year around? I don’t actually have an answer for you except for what these graces mean to me in my own life and why I choose to celebrate all year long.

I remember when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Was I grateful and thankful for this disease at the onset? Absolutely not! I was angry and frustrated and in a serious “why me” phase. But, as time seems to heal all wounds, over the following months, my heart softened and I started appreciating MS for what it is; a disease that can crush you or build you up. I chose the latter.  MS taught me a strong lesson about gratitude and being thankful, I promise you.

I am a single lady with no man to date as far as the eyes can see. My son is grown and my family lives out of state. So when Thanksgiving arrives, I tend to feel really sad and lonely. It’s a time for families to celebrate. And I’m reminded it’s just me.

I try to chalk it up as just another Thursday in a world of Thursday’s. But the season itself reminds me I am alone. Many people are alone. I get that. I can choose to wallow in self pity or I can choose to see what is all around me.

I have a home which did not flood during Hurricane Harvey. I have people who love me. I have a strong faith in Jesus. My son has grown up into an amazing man. (I raised him by myself; jus’ sayin’). I can still walk and when I can’t, I’ll buy myself a purple scooter. I’ve always wanted one anyway. And purple is my favorite color.

My point is this: being thankful and grateful are a choice. It’s not easy to be appreciative of life when all around us, our world is falling into pieces. But here’s the thing: choose to take a long hard look at all you have in your life. I am certain there is always something to be grateful for. If you feel stuck, begin a life of service to others. I did, and this one choice completely changed me for the better.

About a year ago, I became a member of the Pearland Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association. I volunteer to serve our officers and believe me, if anything will teach you to be thankful, it will be the police officers and their stories of courage and strength against all odds. These men and women leave their homes every day to keep us safe, not ever knowing if they will come home. But they do it anyway. This choice alone has made me eternally grateful for our men and women in blue.

Here’s the thing: becoming a police officer was never a choice for me, but serving them and my community are; MS was not a choice. But becoming healthier in mind and spirit was a decision I happily made. Being alone at the holidays is not my choice. But giving back to others is something I have grown to love. Not having a decent, God-fearing man to share my life with is not my choice. But believing God will one day answer my prayers, well, that truly is my choice.

And baking apple and pecan pie is not my choice either, but eating every single one in sight until I disappear into a sugar coma, well, now that’s a decision I never regret.

Until I stand on the scale…

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Candied Sweet Potatoes/Yams

This is a simple and quick way to enjoy a Thanksgiving classic! Canned yams or sweet potatoes may be used.  Bruce’s Brand of canned yams is easy to find this time of year at your local grocery store.  It is a crowd pleaser and easy to make.

Ingredients

  • 1 (29 ounce) can sweet potatoes or yams
  • 1/4 cup butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place sweet potatoes/yams in a medium baking dish. Place butter pieces evenly over the top of sweet potatoes/yams. Sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.
  3. Layer with miniature marshmallows.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven 30 minutes and marshmallows have melted.

 

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving from my table to yours!

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Home and Lifestyle Modifications – New Edition of The Motivator

The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America is proud to introduce the latest edition of The Motivator, available now in both print and digital versions! This edition’s cover story, “Home and Lifestyle Modifications for Safety and Accessibility,” covers various strategies for better living at home – from strategically placed grab bars for safety, to building ramps and widening doorways for increased accessibility. Learn about easy DIY changes you can make, as well as tips on how to choose the right handyman to make any larger changes to your home.

Also included in this edition:

  • Organization updates from MSAA President and CEO, Gina Ross Murdoch
  • MSAA’s Chief Medical Consultant, Dr. Jack Burks, answers reader’s questions
  • MS research news updates, and much more!

Read an excerpt from our cover story here:


I remember skipping down the stairs and leaping over the baby gate at the bottom with my hands full of laundry. Then I’d run down another flight of steps to the basement to fill the washer before sprinting back up with the wet sheets. With one arm full of wet sheets and the other grasping my son, I’d jump down the back steps and hang the sheets on the clothesline. And that was all before breakfast.

I never dreamed that a few years later, I’d be stranded on my front landing, unable to get down the two steps without holding onto my husband. I certainly never imagined that I’d get stuck in my bathtub, unable to stand up without my husband to pull me out.

Over time, I found solutions to some of the obstacles I was experiencing. Some remedies were not difficult. For instance, I learned that showering was easier than taking a sit-down bath. When the time came that I needed to sit while bathing, I purchased a shower chair at a medical supply store. When the single railing on our inside staircase became too difficult for me to navigate, purchasing a second railing at a home-improvement store was a simple fix.


Continue reading the cover story at support.mymsaa.org/motivator to learn more about home and lifestyle modifications you can use to make your home more accessible.

 

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Thank You, Maybe

By Lauren Kovacs

I admit this is a tough emotion for many MS folks. I am not exactly the “glass is half full,” sparkles, and glitter type. Not sure how I survived as a college cheerleader. Many were bubbly, barf. I was more of the stick in the mud with a giant white bow.

Gratefulness has been a learned trait. I force myself to see the green grass and pretty unicorns. I often see giant animals pooping on my lawn with sharp pointy things on their heads. Many of us have to really try to be thankful. Come on! MS has taken a lot and it is not a generous disease.

Alas, finding thankfulness is hard, but we must try. I would fit in well with a Grinch family, however green is not my color. See, glass half empty!

I have to “cheer” myself on just to get to the bathroom in time.  Finding things to be grateful for takes on a new identity. If I manage to tie my shoe or put elastic in my hair on the first try, I celebrate it.

Small things deserve great thanks. MS folks adapt better than most. I am a lefty, yet I have learned to apply eyeliner with my right hand. I drove my figure skating instructor nuts because I spun like a lefty and jumped like a righty. In kindergarten, I cut paper right but, wrote left. Drove my teacher crazy enough to put me in some special ed. classes. Little did I know that one day this ambidextrous trait would come in handy. That is something to be very thankful for.  I still can’t write right handed, yet every other thing I can do with my right hand.

I learn to be thankful for much smaller things. Simple stuff does matter. Think about just getting through the day. Toilet paper, straws, walkers, naps and all that meaningless stuff is, in fact, deserving of our thanks.

I am thankful my boys can enjoy gluten. Stuffing at Thanksgiving would suck. I am grateful I have enough self-control to resist it. Talk about resisting temptation.

MS reveals how tiny stuff can induce great thanks. I am very thankful for anti-bacterial wipes. I can de-germ my walker and wheelchair wheels pretty easily. Think about where they go. When I did horseback riding therapy, those wheels went over horse poop.

Even though I have had to give up my jeans, being small enough to wear fun kid-size leggings is a trade off. Yes, I have lots of sneakers too, but less of an ankle injury risk than heels. I am truly thankful for that.

It may take some thought, but we can find stuff to be grateful for. It might seem simple to some. I get weird looks for being thankful for my piggy dog, but he cleans up all the food I drop on the floor. He is now on a diet though. Poor guy. He loves food.

I am thankful for having a life jacket. Drowning in my own pool was not on my bucket list. Small things to be grateful for shows humility. It can be fun, too.  I love that I can paint my own nails, if I use glitter polish. Covers the mess well.

When going around the table talking about what you are thankful for, think. Small things show that you have character. It might make someone else see how blessings come in all sizes. I personally, am grateful for whoever invented elastics for pants. Sweet tea is a close second. Electric toothbrushes are a lifesaver, too. No swamp mouth.

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Being Grateful: Validate the Hardship and Strive for the Bronze

By Stacie Prada

I used to think being positive meant focusing only on the good things in life.  I was really good at it too. A friend would say she’d had something bad happen, and I wouldn’t miss a beat to respond with how great it is that a worse outcome didn’t result.

I did it with myself too.  It seemed like if I let myself think about the difficult things, that it was being negative. That it could lead falling into a dark place of feeling bad and never climbing out.  I once had a counselor tell me after 9/11 that thinking about what happened doesn’t make you sad. What happened makes you sad.

In that way, thinking about having multiple sclerosis doesn’t make me sad. My chronic illness and progressing MS symptoms make me sad.  Ignoring them doesn’t change the fact that I have both. We’re not limited to feeling one emotion at a time, and feeling sadness or frustration with one aspect of life doesn’t preclude feeling optimistic.  I’d argue that we need to feel one to appreciate the other.

To feel genuine gratitude, I need to know it’s not mandatory to stuff my feelings and be happy every moment. I can’t ignore the tough parts of my life and only acknowledge the things that make me grateful. I can’t just write a list of unrelated things to be thankful for and stay sane. If I’m feeling sad or resentful, I need validation that it’s understandable to have those feelings. If I skip this step, I’m minimizing my frustration or implying I don’t have a reason to feel bad. Once I sit with it, grieve for it, and assure myself I’m not weak or overreacting, I can then choose to focus on things that make me grateful. Sometimes it’s a quick shift, other times it’s a rough climb out of funk. Either way, it helps me come to a place of genuine appreciation in my life.

I think about it as winning a bronze medal. There’s an article in Scientific American, Why Bronze Medalists Are Happier Than Silver Winners, that I think we can use in our own lives to be happier.  People who compete and miss winning first place exhibit less happiness than people who don’t perform as well but still make it to the podium. Silver winners focus on the one person who did better.  Bronze winners compare their performance to all the people that tried and didn’t win anything.

When I’m grateful, I’m recognizing my efforts and satisfaction. I’m not seeking perfection.  I’m looking at how amazing things already are.  I may acknowledge what could be better, but I’m recognizing all the ways it could be worse. Some people seem to have a point of pride of noticing the error or the flaw in things. They can make you feel like you’re never good enough. Try not to judge yourself harshly and add to feeling miserable.

How we perceive our situation makes all the difference. When living with a progressively disabling chronic illness, things will stink and be sad and frustrating and feel too big to deal with at times. Sometimes the best I can do is know that how I feel right now won’t last forever.

The measure of success changes depending on my health.  If I can participate in a race and come in last, I’m grateful that given my circumstances I can do it at all. If I feel bad, I know that’s a part of the condition and grateful for the abilities I still have.  If I’m experiencing a permanent loss, I acknowledge that it’s sad to experience the loss and grateful for the time before the loss.

Strive to have a mindset of someone who’s coming in third.  Or someone who’s in last place and may or may not finish. You’re still doing it.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38.  Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/ 

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Talk About Something You’re Grateful for…

Gratitude is a beautiful concept. Feelings of appreciation can really fill the heart and help to create a more positive outlook on things. When I was in graduate school I had a counseling seminar course and one day my professor asked us to go around the room and talk about something we were grateful for. Now the idea of this was great, however, it happened to be a very difficult time period for me. I had just lost my grandmother and it was my first class coming back, so the exercise was not very appreciated in that moment. I think I said I was grateful I made it to class and that was it. It’s beyond challenging to try to think of things to be grateful for in dark moments, but since then I’ve tried to learn how to look at the things that are still immersed in the light. Gratitude does not always have to be an extravagant or grandiose notion in order to feel it, actually most of the time it’s felt in the simplest of moments. We just have to allow ourselves to embrace it.

A stranger holding a door open. Someone else making dinner. A note of thanks for something you did. Having a day off. It doesn’t matter the action or words but the feelings behind it. Being thankful for things, big and small, can help to improve well-being and attitude. They study gratitude in the research area of positive psychology nowadays and have found that it helps to increase happiness and optimism. Many individuals use gratitude journals each day/week to note specific things they’re thankful for, which can really help to change one’s perspective and views. The world can sometimes be a very dark place with very unfortunate moments, but if you choose to see the light that still lives just as strong as this darkness, that generates hope, and hope is what keeps us all moving forward.

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