Helen Fowler: MS forgotten on frozen camp trip - temporarily

Helen Fowler. Picture: Julie Bull
Helen Fowler. Picture: Julie Bull
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WE’RE sat around the stove, huddling as close to it as we can. I’ve temporarily forgotten about my Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in the more pressing and immediate struggle to keep warm.

We’re up in the Highlands for a couple of nights, camping at Comrie Croft; it’s less than seventy miles from where we started back in Edinburgh but feels far removed from our normal lives. We’re staying in a Nordic kata, a kind of wigwam made of wooden struts and canvas.

It’s bed time. After climbing into our sleeping bags we lie down on the sheepskin rugs spread out on the raised platform in the kata that serves as our sleeping area.

Before the children settle down for the night we play a few rounds of “Guess the Animal”. One of us thinks of an animal and the others try to guess which one. Is my husband really secretly an elephant, I wonder?

READ MORE: Helen Fowler: MS and the importance of family support

I try to cover my head with my sleeping bag to stay warm. As I do so I realise that only rarely do we spend time like this together as a family when we’re at home. Here at Comrie Croft we go to sleep to the sound of deer and owls outside.

The next morning we sit in our kata playing game after game of Snap and Happy Families.

Life in the kata feels like miles from the present day. There’s no electricity in our little cabin and no running water either (unless you count the babbling stream a few yards away from our temporary home).

Later that day I can’t help glancing anxiously at the box with eco-friendly firelighters and logs for fuel. Good, we should have just about enough to last us until bed-time tonight.

Both our daughters are tired but happy. They’ve spent the day riding bikes, roasting marshmallows, swinging on a tyre and climbing onto a hammock strung up between two birch trees.

“I like all of us snuggling up with the stove on,” says our younger daughter.

Two hundred years ago women (and quite a few men too) would have been coping with just these circumstances as well as battling MS. They weren’t just on a holiday for a couple of days, like us, but living in these sorts of conditions every day of their lives.

READ MORE: Helen Fowler: MS diagnosis was almost a relief

Most of the women with MS would have been written off by family, neighbours, the wider community and even doctors as hysterics. Neurotics.

They would have been struggling with their nervous systems turning on them, robbing them of speech, movement, memory, the ability to perform even the simplest calculation. And they wouldn’t have had a clue what was happening to them.

They must have wondered what on earth they could have done for their bodies to fail them so catastrophically.

As I wake up back in my own bed at home, I remind myself to have my “disease-modifying therapy” – a medicine that only became available two years ago.

I feel grateful for all the medication, warmth, facilities and other help available to us in the early twenty first century.

Okay, no doubt future generations will look back at our arrangements and marvel at how primitive things were.

But I feel lucky to have so much more help than earlier generations did. We all had fun at Comrie Croft, perhaps because we knew we were only going to live that way for a few days.

I have turned up our central heating with the cold snap of the last few days. One of the symptoms of MS is a heightened sensitivity to temperature. Turning up the thermostat is an awful lot easier than scouring the countryside for firewood.

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