Warning: Contains scenes of a distressing nature.
Saturday 21st August 2010 – ‘Flip-Flop Gate.’ Two days prior to embarking on our Great American East-Coast Adventure (see ‘How It All Began: Part 5’) and 3 weeks before my MS diagnosis, my boyfriend and I were busy packing our suitcase and checking through our guidebook. We were short of a couple of things that we needed so I thought I’d just pop to the shops – on my own. We lived 0.44 miles from the city centre, a short walk that would usually take around 8 minutes. It was the height of summer and I delighted in leaving the house without a jacket; feeling free and breezy in my favourite ensemble of t-shirt, shorts and… flip-flops (also known as ‘jandals,’ ‘thongs,’ ‘clam diggers’ or ‘slippers’ for my international readers). For any seasoned drop-foot-ed MSer, alarm bells will no doubt be ringing at the mention of Flip-Flops. Now-a-days I can only wear shoes that are both light-weight and strapped to my feet – a delightful combination of numbness and drop-foot mean that the likes of ‘flops and strapless sandals are a deadly no-go. But, back in those blissful pre-diagnosis days I was oblivious to the dangers of such innocent looking footwear and so skipped merrily out of the door unaware of the personal drama that was about to unfold.
A quick flick through my 2010 diary leads me to shake my head reprovingly at my younger self. Several fatigue-inducing factors were at play that day – It was a scorcher and I’d spent the morning at the gym, which was a killer of a 30 minute (1.5 mile) walk away in itself! I’d also done a spot of housework and packing before I’d even left for the shops. As I set out, I remember distinctly the long road stretching ahead of me as I stubbornly lifted one heavy flip-flop-ed foot in front of the other on my way into the city. It was the same straight road that I’d walked many times before and that would eventually defeat me in future quests and lead to us buying our first car. I’m sure there are many MSers reading this who can relate to that moment when you are faced with a street or staircase that abstractly elongates into the abyss, so that a 10 metre stretch of road becomes 10 miles. This surreal and disorienting hallucination frequently happens to me when my body is screaming at me to stop; and on that sunny Saturday afternoon my body was simply SHRIEKING at me to rest. You have probably worked out by now that I don’t do rests.
Halfway down this road there is a bench and further along a low metal fence lines the path. I made use of both these amenities – the first to sit down briefly to recover my vision and the second to cling onto as I heroically (foolishly) forced myself forward into the heaving throng of tourists and shoppers. How I made my way into, around and out of a shop, I don’t know; that part of my trip is literally a blur. I had no walking aid with me, no companion to cling onto and shoes that wouldn’t stay on my feet. I remember desperately trying to keep hold of my dignity as I felt my way along brick walls and the odd rail. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t stand. My flip-flops were falling off and tripping me up with every sorrowful dragging step. I needed to get out of the crowds and I finally managed to throw myself down and out of sight behind the city library. Flip-flops in hand, I found a depressingly fitting spot next to the bins and cried. I honestly didn’t know how I was ever going to make it home. I have never felt so totally and utterly disabled in my life; it was truly terrifying. I must have sat there for a good long time before I was able to pick myself up and walk and when I did it was with an agonisingly slow shuffling movement, with me hunched over and virtually blind. I lost count of how many times I had to stop on that long walk home; it’s no exaggeration to say that I pretty much climbed Mount Everest (whilst wearing flip-flops) on that day.
When I finally made it home, I threw myself down on the sofa and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed as my boyfriend looked bewilderingly on, and my flip-flops dangled pathetically off my blistered feet.