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White Marks on the Brain

- Ananya Rao-Middleton (She/Her), London based illustrator, Public Speaker, Chronic Illness Advocate, Post-Concussion Syndrome Survivor and diagnosed with MS.

January 2019

I was in the hospital for my brain and cervical spine MRI results and was certain I knew what to expect. After all, this MRI was to examine any possible physical injuries that might have caused my Post-Concussion Syndrome, the symptoms and details of which I had become painfully familiar with over the past 4 months. I didn’t think that it would show me anything I didn't know. At the most, I expected to see some signs of temporary inflammation, or maybe evidence of whiplash damage to my neck, and nothing more.

While I had attended all my previous appointments alone, this time my mum came with me. We walked the long white corridor to my consultant’s room and waited. Unusually, my consultant was running late. After a few moments of sitting outside her consulting room, we heard the urgent clip-clopping of heels as my consultant came rushing towards us. She looked concerned. Apologizing for being late, she hurried us into her consulting room.

I won’t ever forget the way she looked at us both, then. There was something in her eyes that said that something was different. Something was wrong. She took a deep breath in and looked us both in the eye.

“We got your MRI results back, and, well… There’s something in here that we didn’t expect. You might want to just bear with me for one moment, and if you need any tissues let me know.”

I felt a knot develop in my stomach. She turned her computer screen to us so that we could see my MRI scans.

“There doesn’t appear to be any structural damage from the accident in relation to your concussion, which is good. However... The Radiologist has noted several lesions on your myelin sheath, which is the tissue that connects the nerves. Can you see these white dots scattered here across your brain?” She gestures to several blurred dots across the scan of my brain, “These are what we think could be lesions in the white matter of your brain. I know this might be a lot of information for you, but it is urgent that we investigate this as really the only thing that presents in this way is… Multiple Sclerosis.”

I can feel my mum tense next to me as her eyes start to water.

“Take your time, take a tissue. Have you heard of Multiple Sclerosis before?”

“Yes,” I whisper, “But I don’t really know anything about it.”

"Okay, I'll give you some information now, but just don't look it up on the internet. I don't want you to get scared. We need to give this information to your GP so that you can see a Neurologist as soon as possible." My consultant said empathetically.

To this day, I remember the feeling I had when my consultant told me that I might have MS. I sensed her urgency and empathy - she felt terrible about having to relay this news to me.

Not really knowing much about this disease, anxiety was quick to take over. The sadness in my consultant's voice and my mum sobbing beside me was hard to witness when I knew they were mourning me. I didn’t know what it would mean for me, why this was happening, and whether I would have to make even more wild adjustments to my life (I’d already made so many to accommodate my Post-Concussion Syndrome).

I didn’t cry until I got home, but my mother wept in the hospital and called our doctor relatives in India to get their advice.

It felt like the world was collapsing in on me. None of it felt real.

These lesions remind me of the default soft brush on Photoshop.

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