Precisely one year after my first scan and in the lead up to starting treatment for my MS I was required to have a second MRI. Knowing already that I had MS I wasn’t worried about the scan and so confidently dressed myself in the blue gown provided and sat down to await the radiographer’s instructions. Running through my pre-scan questionnaire he seemed pretty happy to proceed and, calling me forward, said, “Right, let’s take a look at how your disease is progressing.” Disease?! I have a DISEASE?? That moment has stuck with me all these years later. ‘Disease’ – it’s not a nice word. Disease conjures up a whole host of negative connotations; it sounds menacing – deadly even, not to mention contagious or something that can be caught. It sounds serious. And I know MS is serious, or at least can be, but it’s not deadly serious; it’s not going to kill you. It’s perhaps a word that should only be used when you really want to big up your MS or when you need the shock-factor. For example, if I want sympathy, I may have a ‘disease,’ but if I want to be treated like normal then I might just have a ‘condition!’
So, which is it? Disease? Or condition? From what I can gather both terms are correct and acceptable. The NHS website calls MS a ‘Lifelong CONDITION.’ The MS Society calls it ‘a CONDITION that affects your brain and spinal cord.’ And MS Trust calls it a ‘Neurological CONDITION,’ but goes on to say that ‘MS is a DISEASE affecting the central nervous system.’ Several other MS websites also call it a DISEASE. And what of MS treatments? Are they not called DMDs (DISEASE Modifying Drugs)?
I have discovered over the years that it is a sticky issue for a lot of MSers and I have read many heated exchanges online. The sense I get from such debates is that ‘condition’ is deemed a more positive term whereas ‘disease’ is reserved for the more negative, woe-is-me approach. But when you actually look at the definitions of these terms, neither one is terribly scary. Collins calls DISEASE, ‘Any impairment of normal physiological function.’ Oxford states that it is ‘a disorder of structure or function … especially one that produces specific symptoms.’ Whereas a CONDITION is ‘a state of physical fitness esp. good health… An ailment…’ (Collins) So, why can’t it just be both?
Sing with me:
You like potato and I like potahto
You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto
Let’s call the whole thing off…