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A Piece of My Mind
January 8, 2003

Family History

JAMA. 2003;289(2):142. doi:10.1001/jama.289.2.142

My father was 31 years old, with seven young children, when our family learned he had multiple sclerosis, to us then an unpronounceable, incomprehensible disease. It soon became obvious, even to us kids, that something was seriously wrong.

One Christmas season several years later, Dad took all of us with him when he drove downtown to pick up my mother just as the big department stores were closing. The downtown streets were crowded with cars, the sidewalks with shoppers. Mom was not at the pickup spot, so we circled the block. As he drove, Dad's foot began jerking. The car leapt and bucked as he wrestled his unresponsive foot between the accelerator and the brake pedal in heavy traffic. Zoom! Jerk! Stop! It was like an amusement park ride. We kids thought it hilarious, until we noticed that Dad was scared. He struggled to control the car, muttering, "Mary, where the hell are you?" as he circled the block again and again. Finally, Mom appeared on the curb with her shopping bags. That was the last time Dad ever drove a car. He was 35 years old.