J.K Rowling asked if I had MS during chance meeting on a Scottish street
The long, sleepless nights have taken their toll, it’s like I’m sleepwalking as I trudge along Morningside Road. Looking down at my baby daughter in her buggy I see she’s sleeping – at last!
I could quite fancy a snooze myself, except we’re out and about, and the figure standing in front of me looks vaguely familiar; I just can’t quite place her. Did we meet at a mum-and-baby group? Or school? Perhaps university? I smile at her, she smiles back.
In the strange, immediate intimacy that exists in the baby world, I start unburdening myself, though I’m not sure we’ve ever even met before. But she seems like a kindly sort, and I can tell from the sympathetic way she smiles at me that she’s a parent too.“I'm exhausted,” I say. “I’d only about half an hour’s sleep last night.”
“Aw, that’s not enough sleep to keep anyone going,” says the woman kindly, though I’m paraphrasing here; our encounter was a few years back now.
We stand there for some moments, me feeling like a soldier in wartime who’s stumbled upon a comrade and can relax for a few precious moments while the war carries on elsewhere.
But then my new-found friend says something that startles me. No, more than that, not just startles, shocks me.
“Do you have multiple sclerosis (MS)?” she asks.
My jaw drops open.
Multiple Sclerosis? Like that poor cellist, what’s her name? Jacqueline du Pre? I most sincerely hope not. And nobody’s ever suggested such a thing to me before. I start wondering again who this lady is, filing through the rusty mental rolodex of my mind.
“I thought that was why you wanted to talk to me?”“No! No, I don’t have multiple sclerosis.” At least I hope not, I think silently.“I'm sorry.”
As I walk away, the truth dawns on me. This woman is more than another sleep-deprived new mother, she’s the internationally best-selling author of children’s books. It’s JK Rowling, creator of the child wizard, whose late mother had MS.
I often find myself thinking about the writer’s prophetic words that day; eight years after that chance meeting in the street I found out that I do indeed have the illness. Watching Harry Potterfilms I now ‘get’ the subtle references to the disease, for example the ‘forgetfulness’ spell that mimics MS memory loss.
I'm very grateful to JK Rowling for helping and supporting us MS patients. She is our champion. Thanks to her generosity, we have a purpose-built facility out at the Royal Infirmary. Its vaulting rooves and skylights make us feel like we’re still – just about – human.
It’s not just the improved care environment that’s giving us hope; the writer has also announced another generous donation to fund disease research. Thanks to JK Rowling, an end to the suffering caused by MS is edging into sight.
Helen Fowler writes on health issues for The Scotsman and is an MS campaigner