PEACEFUL LIVING

Christine M. Brosnan Merritt,
Class of 1975

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Christine & Husband, Rick Merritt 

When Your Body Gets Tired...
Swim with God's Peace in Your Heart...
             
 

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Christine and her Dad

I Let Go and Let God!

In October of 2008, I started having pain on the left side of my temple.  My vision started to fade in the left eye, and then I went completely blind in that eye.  Something was going on behind my eye.  My doctor told me to go to Wills Eye Hospital, right now.  

So, my husband and I went straight there.  The place was packed with people, suffering from eye injuries.  I sat there and waited, and waited.   I didn't realize I was an emergency. 

 

My doctor sent me to Wills Eye with a note that said I should be seen immediately.  I guess I was blocking it out because I had tickets to see Carly Simon that night at the Borgata in Atlantic City.   I wanted to see Carly.  I have been singing her songs since the early 1970s.  I never showed the staff my note.  I left and went to the Borgata, and had a ball at the concert.

 

On Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m, I went back to Wills Eye Hospital...and they treated me like there was no other patient.  Every eye test was done.  Every question asked, including one specific question repeatedly.  "Does anyone in your family have multiple sclerosis?"  

 

When they tried to do an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), I started screaming my head off.  Apparently, I am claustrophobic.  My doctor asked me if I wanted some happy juice.  Oh yeah, I needed the happy juice.  Once the happy juice, an IV with a sedative, was consumed--I was able to calm down and complete my MRI.   I was at the hospital for a total of nine hours.

Tips to Taking an MRI

How to survive a MRI without freaking out?

Ask your doctor in advance for a sedative if you are claustrophobic or get anxious. Take sedative at least 30 minutes beforehand and arrange to have someone drive you, and hold your hand, if possible. Wear comfortable clothes and no jewelry. Arrange to have a relaxing tune pumped into your headphones.

Still, Nobody Mentioned MS

They told me not to go to work on Monday, I needed to see an opthalmologist and a neurologist. (neuro-ophthalmologist) 

When I saw the specialist, he told me..."I can give you a 90% chance of regaining your vision.  He arranged for a home nurse to put a PIC line in me for about a week.  There was still no mention of MS.  My vision came back a week and a half later.

I remember...the Phillies had just won the World Series.  I went back to the specialist.  I said, "Can I ask you something?  What caused me to lose my vision?"  It was called optic neuritis.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Optic neuritis is often associated with multiple sclerosis, and can be an early sign of the disease.  Pain and temporary vision loss are common symptoms.  Optic neuritis usually gets better on its own. In some cases, steroid medications are used to reduce inflammation.

My doctor said, Christine...you have MS.   I said, how could you say such a thing?  How do you know?"  

"I looked at your MRI...there are a dozen lesions on your left side to the right of your eye.  Nine or more lesions...that's an MS diagnosis," he said.

"Life is going to be a little different for you.  It's not a death sentence.  You will live a different kind of normal.  We'll talk about how you can have the best life, living with your new normal."

My New Normal

That's exactly what MS is--a new normal.  After I received my diagnosis on November 3, 2008, I began living my best life with this new normal. 

It's not a one-size-fit-all treatment.  I take injections  three times a week.  Before it happened to me, I didn't know MS showed up in your eyes.  What I learned is that MS is an autoimmune disorder.  It's an overactive immune system.  It crosses over the blood brain barrier.  The white blood cells migrate to the central nervous system.  It can cause disease lesions in your brain and spine.  I get an MRI once a year.   I still have the original lesions, there are no new ones.

WEB MD:  An autoimmune disease is when the immune system attacks nerve cells, (Christine Merritt - Actually, with MS, it first attacks the myelin sheath, the outside covering of the nerve cells.  It's similar to an extension cord--this is a good visual.)  MS causes symptoms that can include pain, blindness, weakness, fatigue, impaired  coordination and muscle spasms . Various medicines that suppress the immune system can be used to treat multiple sclerosis.

The severity, and duration can vary from person-to-person. Some people may be symptom-free most of their lives, while others can have severe chronic symptoms that never go away.  For more info., click this link - Mayo Clinic 

My Struggles

Extreme Fatigue.  I feel like I'm literally being pulled.  Fatigue is one of my biggest battles.  It is referred to as a lassitude.

Cognitive Issues.  I often feel foggy.  You're not fully conscious of doing a simple thing like laying down your glasses.  You don't remember laying it down.  This happens usually when you are overtired.

Heat and Humidity.  I have a very low tolerance for heat. I have to be in air conditioning during the summer months.  The  swimming pool helps tremendously.  I try to swim regularly. 

A lot of electrical stuff happens to your body.  You need a strategy if you're going to be in the heat.  You need a strategy in everything you do, and hope it will carry you through.

I struggle with asking for what I need.  I'm not doing myself any favors by keeping my mouth shut.  I walk a bit slower and people (i.e. friends, family, etc.) just keep zooming past as though they are oblivious.  I've had to speak to various people about their pace when they are with me.

You have MS?  You look so good.

When people say that, I want to tell them...that's the shell you're looking at.  They don't know what's going on inside.  I also have balance issues, and have to walk slower.  It's challenging when you're walking with someone who walks fast.

However, even with my struggles I have a full life that I enjoy.  I travel to the beach, enjoy concerts, gardening, crafting, and dining out...   I can do pretty much what I want, but in a different way.  I love to sing.  I have been known to show up at a local karaoke joint and belt out the tunes.

Retired Paraprofessional for the

Philadelphia School District

After some time off, I went to the School District's doctor to discuss my return to work.  As we discussed my situation, I told her of my diagnosis.  I voluntarily disclosed my medical condition/disability.  Her response was, "You don't want to tell people that.  I don't think it is in your best interest to share that information.  You may not like the way you are treated.  You may be treated like there's no use for you."

I walked out feeling ashamed.  So, I kept it under wraps going forward.  

Upon retuning to work at the building where I had started, I received a warm welcome back.  I told the principal at that building the truth.  He was very understanding and I was treated with respect.   

After a few years, there were transfers due to School District layoffs.  So, from the list of available job assignments, I picked another building where I could be transferred.   A new school year would begin in September, and I was assigned another location of my choosing.   

 

By the end of the summer, I arranged to go and meet the new principal on my free time before the school year started up again.  Once again, I voluntarily disclosed my medical condition.  I did this because I wanted to see about being in a cooler classroom setting, if possible, due to my heat sensitivity. 

In my opinion, she (principal) handled the news in a very unprofessional manner.  I learned that she was not really interested, and thought it would be a hindrance to her.  She feared that it would make her look bad, as though she could not manage her school building with top efficiency.  She said a few things that were terribly inappropriate, such as; "Why did you come to my building?"  Her tone was loud and cold.  She behaved just as the School District's doctor predicted,  "You may not like how you are treated if you reveal your diagnosis."

I Discovered a New Me.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is amazing!

They sent me to an exercise class.  I started helping out with the annual Walk MS Philadelphia prior to COVID.

Walk MS® 2021 is Coming to You!

This year, Walk MS will meet you where you are to connect, celebrate and make a difference like never before. While we will not gather in person in 2021, you can still end MS, your way.  All routes will come together to end MS through powerful online tools and exciting events.

Share how you're doing Walk MS, your way by using #walkMS.  Christine Merritt -- My hope is to help once again behind the scenes when COVID is under control.

Christine's Advice

MS is not as bad as you think.  It's not a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all disease.  Sure, it's a different lifestyle, but I'm still Christine Marie. 

 

Go out and live your life to the best of your ability.  It's not as scary as you think it is.  You'll have to learn to take your time.  But, you can still have a good quality life.  With COVID it was hard, but walking with God made it easier.

Attending Frankford was the

Greatest Experience!

I wouldn't trade my Pioneer experience for anything in the world.  Mr. Boris, the head of the science department tutored me.  He broke physics down into a digestable course.   The word problems became a lot easier to deal with.

I had a funny accident with my hand during a science lab project that went wrong in Mrs. Fields' Chemistry class.  Because of this, she wrote in my yearbook, "To Scar Hand and the lovely girl attached.  I wish you the best in the future."

I participated in field hockey briefly, and wanted to sing in the choir.  Unfortunately, my part-time job conflicted with the choir's practice times.  I worked at the Philadelphia Naval Depot in the Aviation Supply Office when I was 16.  I actually went there with my boyfriend, who was applying for a job.  He didn't get the job...I did.

After Turning the Tassle

I received an Associate Degree in Science at Community College of Philadelphia and a Medical Lab Technology Certificate from the American Society of Clinical Pathology 

I worked for the American Red Cross, performing antibody testing, syphillis testing and quality control.  I also worked for the Health Maintenance Organization (HMO).

This was during the time I had started my family.  There was a strong maternal pull.  I didn't want to leave my baby, so I left HMO and raised my two daughters.  I now have two beautiful grandchildren.  I created my own part-time cleaning business to allow time for my girls.  When my youngest was in high school, I went to work for the School District.

Advice to Current Frankford Students

Don't panic if you don't know what you're going to do in the future.  There's a lot of pressure in high school.  Get involve in activities that could spark a career interest.  Talk to teachers--they're a good source for career information.  Reach out to Frankford's Alumni Association, there's a wealth of career advice and encouragement.

What Would You Tell Your 17-year-old Self?

If I could time-travel to 1975, I would tell myself to relax.  Don't jump toward the first opportunity that comes along.  Talk to people in different professions and ask them about their careers.

Also, just because you studied a particular field, doesn't mean you have to do it for the rest of your life.  

My father used to say, "As far as I'm concerned, education is never wasted."

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Christine & Dad 1979

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Christine & Brothers - 1960s

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Christine & Rick

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Christine, Husband Rick, Daughters - Michelle & Jeanette, Granddaughter - Autumn Rose, Grandson - Ben and
Son-inLaw Jonathan

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Christine, Rick, daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren
at the O.K. Wildwood

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Christine, Rick and daughters - Enjoying family time
 

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Christine & Arcelle & Christine Seeling at Class of 1975
40th Reunion - 2015

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Christine & Rick - Enjoying each other
on the beach

RESOURCE BOX

Multiple Sclerosis - Mayo Clinic
National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Support Groups - Find a group in your area here, or to talk to someone about establishing a group, contact an MS Navigator at 1-800-344-4867 or online.
10 MS-Friendly Exercises You Can Do at Home - Healthline
10 Best Exercises to Boost Wellness When You Have Multiple Sclerosis - Water Aerobics is #1 on the list
10 Best Foods for MS

 

 

Eight Tips to Manage MS Fatigue

1.  Keep a Fatigue Diary - By rating your fatigue at  different times of the day, and in relation to different activities, you might start to see patterns. 
2.  Take Rest When You Need It.
3.  Maintain Moderate Regular Exercise - It can improve your fitness, endurance, and strength in your arms and legs.  Studies have shown that this can also give you better control over your bowel and bladder function, and decrease overall fatigue. It can also give your mood a boost.  Great exercises are swimming, walking, water aerobics...
4. Prioritize Tasks - Prioritizing activities can mean you save energy for the things you really want or need to do.
5. Organize Your Living and Work Spaces -   

Re-organizing desks or cupboards, or adjusting the temperature or lighting to suit you better.

The simplest of changes can make the workplace or home more energy efficient for you.
6. Improve Your Posture
Keeping a good posture takes practice, but with time it can become easier.  As your body re-aligns itself, it can help you save energy.  A physical therapist can help you identify any posture problems and suggest suitable exercises to help.
7. Healthy Eating - (See Above Resource Box Link) 

Fatty Fish

Herring, mackerel, albacore tuna, sardines, and salmon all have omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation in the body. One large study showed that people with MS who took 10 grams of fish oil a day were less likely to relapse.

8. Finding Help and Taking Help that's Offered - It can be useful to prepare a list of tasks that you’d like help with. That way, if someone does offer to help, you can easily tell them how they could help.