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|Dounreay Index||Multiple Sclerosis Society - Caithness|
MS is the result of damage to myelin, a protective sheath surrounding the nerve fibres of the central nervous system. When myelein is damaged, this inteferes with messages between the brain and other parts of the body. Put simply, it is similar to what happens when the sheath of an electric cable becomes damaged; the current can be interrupted, and its message, in this case the current, does not reach, for example, the light bulb. In the areas where myelin is lost lesions can appear, and in the case of multiple sclerosis they can appear at different times and in different areas of the spinal cord and brain. The term multiple sclerosis means, literally, many scars.
It is estimated that some 2,500,000 people in the world suffer from MS, with a ratio of two men to three women effected. MS is diagnosed generally between twenty and thirty years of age, although onset may be earlier; it is rarely diagnosed under twelve and over fifty-five years of age. It is primarily a northern hemisphere disease with the number affected increasing the further you travel from the equator. This has resulted in Scotland earning the dubious title of MS capital of the world, with 10,400 people affected.
By the early ‘90s Ian’s condition had worsened to the extent he was officially registered as a disabled person, and his employer made adjustments to his work. He worked on the Y2K project, and helped supervise some external projects. “This latter task was made easier by the cooperation of the site police,” said Ian. “They gave me dispensation to use my private car in an area where they were not normally allowed.” According to Ian, these are the common-sense adjustments a caring employer can make to allow a sufferer carry out some fulfilling role.
Today Ian is involved with the procurement of spares, working with plant engineers and operational staff, to determine current and future spare needs. Undertaking this role is important to him: “It is a job that requires to be done, it is not a job invented to fill your day. Psychologically, this is important, because you feel you are contributing to the management of the company.”
Another adjustment UKAEA has made to his employment is the hours he works. Ian works from six in the morning to three in the afternoon, and has been provided with a designated parking place for his car, which has been adapted to operate by hand controls. “By working these hours, I avoid the major traffic flows between Thurso and Dounreay, and I can use my wheel-chair with minimum disruption to other corridor users. I am very fortunate that my employer has understood my problem from the outset, and has responded very well.”
Ian is quick to right the oft-held belief that MS sufferers resent offers of help. “All of us were once active, mobile people. It is difficult to describe the inner frustration we all feel at being deprived of that mobility. To the onlooker, that frustration might appear to manifest itself in an aggressive way. Nothing could be further from the truth, we all are very grateful for the help and understanding we receive, and I, in particular, am very grateful for the help, and the humour, I receive from my colleagues.”
In all of this, one person is often forgotten, according to Ian: “ MS is often described as a ‘life sentence not a death sentence’. That life sentence also applies to your partner, in my case my wife Elaine, whom I’ve been married to for 40 years. She has to live life at my pace, cope with the vagaries of my problem, and understand my inner frustration. She has been a rock that has never crumbled.” This strong family bond has allowed Ian to cope with the rigours of transatlantic travel to San Diego (California), Harrisburg (Pennsylvania), Augusta (Georgia), and to Somerville (South Carolina), where their married daughter and two of a family live. A son, also married with two of a family, lives in Yorkshire.
Ian accepts that, given his type of MS, his condition will progressively and inexorably get worse, but with typical, phlegmatic humour he laughs it off: “After all, I was born to be waited on, hand and foot!”