The Earthquake

I opened my eyes for maybe the third or fourth time. That was a mistake. I was still in the coffin that was the MRI and when I saw, yet again, that the ceiling or whatever it was, was just inches from my mouth, it made my heart pound faster in my chest. I felt the reassuring hand of my husband on my knee.

I could not believe I was in this tube, awaiting confirmation. I could not believe that just three days before this, an expert had told me, “You have a very high chance of having MS.” I had sat staring at him, my numb leg dangling from the exam table.

Multiple Sclerosis.

“I’m sorry. I don’t want to be this guy,” he had said. I had liked him until this moment. I had been told he was the best in the field. And suddenly I hated him. Because with those few words, my life, my 44 years, were ripped from beneath me, as quickly as the ripping away of the paper on which I sat.

I didn’t cry. I had the presence of mind to ask a thousand questions. I listened. I was in reporter mode. I tried not to look at my husband who was across the room, in the same stunned shock as me. My voice cracked when I asked, “Will MS impact my longevity?” He had quickly assured me it would not.

I take care of myself. I am constantly teased at work about eating ‘tree bark and dirt.’ I am committed to sleep and exercise and hard work. But my left foot had been getting a pins and needles feeling for a few weeks. I had blamed it on the new, overpriced running shoes my husband had bought me. Then the pins and needles moved to my left hand. And then one day, when I got to work at 3:30 am, I could barely type. The weakness in my hand extended to my elbow. And then I thought about it, and my leg was pretty weak, too.

In the span of a few seconds, I connected the dots. I was left trembling at my desk. I still managed to do two hours of live television that morning, but I remember little of it, my imploding life hidden beneath a robotic smile.

In NYC, getting an award a few weeks ago, my left foot was going numb then.

In NYC, getting an award a few weeks ago, my left foot was going numb then.

We spent the weekend waiting for Monday, for the MRI that would give final confirmation. I googled and cried and prayed and begged and bargained. I never asked ‘why me?’ I’ve always been more of a ‘why not me’ kind of person. When you’ve told stories about hundreds of people hit by the randomness of disease, you know the only thing that separates you from them is the measured distance between you.

I didn’t troll for bad information online. The accurate information was bad enough. More than half of people with MS suffer cognitive issues. Half to three quarters are out of their jobs within a decade. And then there’s the mobility issues. People use canes, walkers, wheelchairs. Not all, but many.

My prayers were pitiful, almost unintelligible grunts of “help me help me help me help me help me.” I asked not to be in a wheelchair at my son’s high school graduation. I asked if the disease took part of me that it be my body and not my mind. I asked to be able to continue to write. I asked for help for my husband, who would be my caretaker. The calls to my family were met with gasps and the kind of sobs reserved for someone who has died.

jude and iris1Sitting in my living room chair, watching my son and daughter play with our dog, I had to remind myself to breathe. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them, and yet it was almost too painful to watch them. My disease would cut short their childhoods, forcing them into a world of sick mothers. Would they remember me as I was now?  Crazy and loud and always moving. Probably not. By the time they grew up, most of their lives would have been filled with a version of me who could be a shadow of who I used to be.

I kept telling my husband I was sorry. Like I had tricked him into this, timing it to happen after two kids and ten years of marriage. He said we would get through it, that he would ‘take care of me.’ It was the most tender, devastating thing I’d ever heard him say. We held each other in bed that weekend, and when I closed my eyes I kept seeing myself floating away from him, tethered, but floating away. IMG_0706

I suddenly saw my life for what it had been, a series of beautiful moments strung together, like lights on a Christmas tree. That’s all I kept seeing. All the hard, worst, crap, awful, painful parts were gone. What was left to contemplate was only the beauty of all that I had been given, the bounty I had failed to appreciate every single day of my life.

It had been exquisite, my life. More than I deserved.

On Monday morning, I emerged from the deafening MRI tube after 45 minutes. “So we’ll get the results right away?” I asked  the woman.

“Yes, the doctor has already looked at your MRI. He’s finishing up now.” She led us to a room to wait.

We waited for maybe ten minutes. I looked at my husband. “This is the worst moment of all, isn’t it?” Of our lives, I wanted to add. He nodded.

The doctor walked in. “You’re clear,” he said. “Your brain and spine are clear. You don’t have MS.” I wish I could remember what he said after that, but I don’t. I heard the sobbing of my husband, and then I heard my own sobs as the doctor handed us tissues and urged us to cry all the happy tears we wanted.

He used words like extraordinary and unusual. He told me I wasn’t off the hook. I had an inflamed spinal cord. Nobody knows how you get one, same as nobody knows why you get MS or most cancers or other weird stuff that steals your life away. I got a fairly large lecture about changing my life, reducing my stress. He told me I had just dodged a bullet, but urged me to live my life like I hadn’t, and to make the changes I planned to make.

Stress stress stress, he kept saying. I’m a working mother of two children. Reduce stress? It would be easier to move to Mars and colonize the planet.

The bugger is that stress makes my condition (which should heal on its own in a few months) worse. It makes MS worse. I would imagine stress makes just about everything, including after school tutoring, piano practice, and ballet lessons, worse.

I had one friend say to me, “You’re not stressed. You are stress.” That hurt. But she was probably right.

I could give you a million reasons why I am stress. I have a demanding career. People depend on me to help them. Everyone depends on me to help them. Is that not the definition of life as a woman?

But as I sat in the doctor’s office — my life  handed back to me, not one of those reasons was worth it. Not one.

For the three days I had MS, I cared only about one thing.


It was why I begged and prayed. It was why I cried and googled. It was why I wanted to keep living.

It’s been three days since I got my life back. A second chance at the exact same life is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given.

I’m not going to screw it up.


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37 comments on “The Earthquake
  1. Jaimie Moore says:

    Holy roller coaster ride.
    Aaaand I think I’m going into labor… 🙂

  2. Frank says:

    awesome jaye! that was a great read, but way cooler than that is your health and family! so proud of you

  3. Elizabeth Crabbe says:

    Jaye, I read your very moving account of your recent medical scare and I wanted to say that when I was slightly younger than you, approximately 19 years ago, I went through very much the same thing. However, there was no actual disease found, no actual diagnosis, no real protocol or a cure. I suppose that a full time job, three children and a husband with a constantly hectic and uncertain schedule along with my penchant for internalizing stress were more to blame than anything. I did the only thing I could do, and I cut back; I went to work part time, I spent my energy focusing on my boys, I rested when I needed to, I mapped out my day based on the way I felt, i.e., looking for down time in the afternoon for an hour or so or an earlier bedtime. There are sacrifices – I made far less money than I should have, I know I am not fit, I am not strong, lost my looks and my figure and I know I will not live as long as I wish I could but I look at each day as a blessing – new script to write my own story and I try to make my life count. I hope you are able to weather through this illness and I hope you will emerge stronger and more able. Best wishes to you.

    • Jaye Watson says:

      Thank you, Elizabeth. Great advice. I appreciate all of it. And you’re so ahead of the curve, in knowing the value of each day of your life. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Craig Ashwood says:


    I was in radio and TV here in Atlanta for many years and can relate well to the stress of the job. The strange hours alone will get you!

    3 years ago I started falling at work and home for no reason. Long story short, I was diagnosed with Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP) which is very very rare and often misdiagnosed as MS.

    I’m now 100% disabled with only very limited use of my hands and near zero for my legs. In a wheelchair. I live alone but do ok. CIDP is rarely fatal but is incurable.

    All this, and life’s still great!

    My advice to you is to definitely try to find a way to de-stress as much as you can. I rely on my faith, ambient music, and trying to laugh as much as possible. Plus the odd whiskey here or there; luckily it doesn’t conflict with my bajillion different medications! Ha!

    Best of luck and hug your family close. Please say hi to Hullinger for me next time you see him!

    • Jaye Watson says:

      Craig, you’re amazing. I love that you say life is still great, after listing all that you go through. And thank God you have have the odd whiskey here and there! Thanks so much for writing me. My best to you.

  5. Ray Voltz says:

    Oh my, what a great read. Glad you are OK. Wish you and your family the best!

  6. Oh lord I felt everything you did reading that! Last year I thought I had cancer – I tried to prepare myself for death – it was the scariest time ever not knowing. I wonder now how I would actually cope if I did ever get that diagnosis – it’s definitely the uncertainty that is worse that knowing one way or the other. I’d cope fine if I wasn’t so terrified about leaving my kids motherless. xx

    • Jaye Watson says:

      Yes, we’re not meant to outlive our kids. And I felt like they had been duped..that this wasn’t the life they had signed up for. They signed up for the healthy mom..not this other Mom. So glad you’re okay, too. Blessings to you. xx

  7. Will Partenheimer says:

    Your writing is pleasure to read. Very glad you are OK!If you ever figure out that stress thing, please pass it along.

    • Jaye Watson says:

      Hey, thanks. And why don’t you figure out that stress thing for me. Because it’s very stressful trying to figure it out.

  8. Dana says:

    Jaye! You helped me so much when I began my long and winding road of neurological issues. I am so sorry you had this scare, and I hope the inflamed spinal cord puts itself out soon!

    Stress is so… vague. The follow up question to “are you stressed?” should be “How do you manage your stress?” I don’t think I understood this set of questions fully until this year when I did two rounds of physiotherapy for unrelated issues and began seeing a naturopath.

    If I don’t do yoga, don’t exercise, don’t laugh, don’t play, don’t watch ridiculous movies with my partner, don’t sing into a karaoke microphone to blow off steam, don’t look at a green thing or a body of water, and drink enough coffee to drown a family of badgers, then I’m not managing my stress.

    Good luck to you, and my fingers are crossed that a skilled but rag-tag team of likable ne’er-do-wells explodes your bucket of stress.

    • Jaye Watson says:

      Dana! Thank you my dear woman. Stress is indeed, vague. And overwhelming. I can name my stressors. And I can name what I do to manage them. But I don’t do near enough. Because I’m tired or I’m cranky…or I’m stressed. Vicious cycle. I have an amazing ‘team’ that’s going to help me make these changes. I don’t pretend I would succeed on my own. And I know it will take some time…in my case..maybe a lot of time. I’m so so happy to hear from you. I love keeping up with your funny, lovely life on FB. Cheers to that exploding stress bucket! xx

  9. JEssica says:

    I breathed only when I got to the part where the Dr. says “you are clear'”. You scared me! But glad you did as I will hug my babies and my husband a little tighter tonight. What a difference a day makes, right? So, so glad you are going to be ok. Love you!

  10. Jody Noland says:

    Bawling. I am bawling. And am adding you to my prayer list. XOXO So thankful for you, Jaye.

  11. Victoria Andersen says:

    Beautiful article, Jaye. I saw you with your Mom and husband at King + Duke some 3 weeks ago. You look amazing. Keep on living! Victoria 🙂

  12. Jim Grey says:

    What a harrowing story! I’m so relieved that it’s not MS, but I hope that the doctors can figure out root cause and help you heal from it and stay healed. Good luck!!!

  13. Carl Ambrose says:

    You and your family are in thoughts and prayers. Obviously God has plans for you, sometimes…He just reminds us that all it’s really about is Love. Tho I no longer live in Atlanta or work in the business, I know how much of a blessing you have been to Atlanta, by simply helping people. Wishing you the best.

    • Jaye Watson says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Carl. The people whose stories I tell are a blessing to me. And you’re right. It all boils down to love. That’s it.

  14. brenda says:

    Beautiful Jaye! Life’s blessings. So great. So much to take in. The deepest gratitude often comes from desperate dark places.

    • Jaye Watson says:

      Thank you, Brenda. And you’re right about desperate, dark places. Amazing what you can find in those places. Thanks for reading, my friend.

  15. Jez says:

    Reading this was sending me through a roller coaster of emotions. Fear, sadnesses, stress, relief. Your writing is like a life of its own. I’m crying and heart pounding. I can’t even imagine this journey. So glad you will recover. Hope you really will slow down a little if you can. Thinking of you and the vacation you deserve! xo your dizzy sis

    • Jaye Watson says:

      I thought of you during all of this. Just wondering how dizziness could lead me to this. Thank God I’m still in dizzyland..with you. xx

  16. Jack Watts says:

    Jaye, I was on pins and needles reading this—no pun intended. I’m so grateful and relieved. It seems that God provides these wake-up calls when we least expect them, but they always refocus us to what is really important.

    Thank you for being so vulnerable. It’s what makes your stories come alive.


    • Jaye Watson says:

      Thank you, Jack. A wake up call for sure. I’ve been telling people I’m Roadrunner and the boulder finally landed on me. And clearly, I needed it. Thank you for reading, and for your kind words.

  17. Barb Hiob says:

    Great article. So good to see you and your beautiful family. I used to work with your sister Lisa at FamilyCare Dentistry.
    Take care of yourself!
    Best of luck to you,
    Barb Hiob

  18. David Laufer says:

    A great reminder that every day we participate in a great miracle. The video you and Steve made about our Little Free Library was a gift and a miracle—I know you will use every day to apply your prodigious talents to making many more such miracles! Thanks for sharing your story.

  19. Cecelia says:

    I had that roller coaster life for too long and then dealt with cancer. It does make you reevaluate life & realize what is truly special. Wake up calls are a Blessing; Embrace them.
    You Ladies are always in my Prayers. . . (I have 3 other Special Ladies in my life that I worry about also.)
    May only the best come to all of You– and Yours.

  20. Jane Reid says:

    You’ve inspired me, Jaye. I am so sorry for your recent scare. I can’t imagine the fear. So, I think will join you in journey to doing my part (what’s within my control) of making sure I don’t have to lie in that MRI or CT one day. I fill very similar shoes to you and we all a nudge, or in your case and 2×4 to the head, to take action and do what’s right for ourselves. I wonder how much better of a spouse I would be, a better parent, productive at work, etc. if I would just put myself on the ‘taking care of myself’ radar. Just when I get a glimpse of how good it feels to do that, STRESS or ME, rather, gets in the way and I stop. I loved the comment by your friend, “You’re not stressed. You are stress.” SO TRUE! Who wants to be around that! You would think all the self-help books I’ve read would have kicked me into the the right gear of taking care of myself. It feels like I’m light-years away from being able to say that I take care of myself. But, in reality, I am but only one footstep away from being able to say that I have STARTED to take care of myself. Thanks for the inspiration!!!

  21. Leslie says:

    As a woman actually diagnosed with MS two and a half years ago– when my son was 6 weeks old– this was painful to read. Thoughtless to those of us who went through the scary MRI to then learn they had lesions all over their brain.

    First I read the AJC article and felt like I was going to vomit. Then I read your blog and felt worse.

    I am a lawyer, a mother, a wife…and my fears were realized. That yours were NOT is NOT A STORY TO TELL.

  22. Dawn says:

    Glad to hear they cleared you for MS. My mother suffers from MS but gets great treatment at the Shepards Clinic in ATL. Dr’s thought I had MS but instead I have Chronic Lyme which strongly imitates MS but very hard to dx without the proper doctor. Hope you are feeling better.

    • Jaye Watson says:

      Thanks, Dawn. I lived in Connecticut and knew a lot of people with Lyme. One of my best friends in Atlanta (from CT) has it. It’s really difficult. I am feeling better. I hope you are, too. Thanks for writing.

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "The Earthquake"
  1. […] There’s nothing like a major health scare to focus your mind on what really matters, as Jaye Watson discovered when her doctor told her, “you have a very high chance of having MS.” Read The Earthquake […]

  2. […] Watson also noted in her blog: “More than half of people with MS suffer cognitive issues. Half to three quarters are out of […]

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