Today in my Neurobiology class, I had my first episode in a long time of squeamishness over medical topics. The guest lecturer was a neurologist (who is currently working at a local biotech co.). He brought with him a man in his 40’s who has Multiple Sclerosis. And they walked through the man’s medical history, starting with the onset at age 38 of some mysterious symptoms – numbness on one half of his body. His primary care doc couldn’t make any sense of it and thought it was probably nothing, but sent him to a specialist. He went to three specialists, including an ophthalmologist, before seeing a neurologist. They ran him through an MRI and found signs that “might” be MS. He says he was in denial for about six months, hoping they just had it wrong. But the episodes kept recurring. I guess MS tends to flare up every few months. It’s a disease that hits certain spots in the nervous system, almost like a bruise. If the spot is in your neck, you get numbness below that point. If it’s in your brain, it may affect your vision. He’s been taking drugs that prevent new occurrences, although the existing ones keep getting worse. MS causes the insulating layer of cells around nerve connections to decay.
I had to leave before further discussion of his case, to make it on time to my Biology class. But I was ready for a break anyway. Why did this bother me in a visceral way? I think I was empathizing deeply, and imagining myself having a sudden and mysterious onset like that. Whenever I get squeamish, it's because I'm imagining myself being the victim.