What I Learned About Multiple Sclerosis from My Uncle Paddy

Tony Carroll
Written by
Tony Carroll

In my child’s mind Uncle Paddy was old. Not only because he was my grand uncle, but also because he used two walking sticks at the same time to get around. He was also bald, a hereditary feature on my mother’s side of the family which has been passed down to me. I loved his company. Despite his quiet nature, he always had a roguish smile on his face and a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

His persona and my childhood innocence created an atmosphere of suspense as he performed magic tricks. One trick was to create a large jug of orange juice from water and a magic potion. I did not know then of orange squash. Nor did I know what a cuckoo clock was as I watched him turn the clock to twelve and say the magic words to make the cuckoo appear. In the garden shed was a magic vespa scooter that could fly if only the secret magic word was spoken. Uncle Paddy couldn’t fly it anymore. His legs could no longer control it. He never told me the magic word but often let me sit on the scooter as I recited all the magic words I could think of to make the bike fly.

In time, I lost my innocence and Paddy lived to become a really old man. In his long life, he raised a family who loved and respected him, as did his wider family and friends. I grew up and got on with my own life. A life shaped by many experiences and many people, some of whom had a positive influence on my life.

Paddy had a positive influence on my childhood, but long after his passing he came through for me again at a time when I needed positive people around me. My partner, Karen, had recently been diagnosed with MS. After the initial shock of the diagnosis, we were in the acceptance stage and I was doing all I could to be supportive. One day I called to my aunt for no particular reason, or so I thought. I told her about Karen. She offered the usual condolences, poured a coffee for me and we just talked. She asked if I knew that my Uncle Paddy had had MS? I was astonished. Of course it made sense, but why hadn’t I realised it sooner?

Driving home I asked myself this question over and over again. The answer came to me. I did not know that Uncle Paddy had MS because I had never thought twice about his two walking sticks. I saw a jovial happy old man who made me laugh and entertained me. Karen has MS, but again, it doesn’t define her in my eyes. She lives a full and happy life with it and I can be there with her. Paddy was Paddy and Karen is and always will be Karen. I will never let her forget that.

I arrived home content and happier in myself. Uncle Paddy could perform magic after all.

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