Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence
Life is a Journey... Savor the Moments!
Dave Peterson -- State of Washington
As a kid, one of my favorite television shows was Sea Hunt, which followed the underwater adventures of a Navy diver. I was fascinated by the sea rescues and adventures and knew that was what I wanted to be when I grew up. I delayed enlistment into the Navy when I was a sophomore in high school and joined right after my graduation in 1975. Unfortunately, I only served for 5 years. I became medically disqualified for diving after a chemical exposure incident, and without diving, my heart just wasn’t in it.
It was many years before I was diagnosed with MS. I was 48 and I went blind in my right eye. At the time, I thought I had a stroke, or worse. When I received the diagnosis of MS, I thought to myself, well this isn’t so bad. I dove into learning more about the disease and started volunteering at my VAMC in Seattle, WA, talking to other Veterans with MS. I developed relationships with a lot of the Veterans in the MS clinic. I found these interactions to be a great way for me to learn, heal myself and help others. I’ve always enjoyed meeting new people and being around my friends. Following my diagnosis, I made sure this important part of my life didn’t change.
I’ve been volunteering at the Fort Nisqually History Museum in Tacoma, WA since 1992. One day I had a life changing moment. Someone approached me about watching their pets while they were gone and I said “yes, I was happy to help”. Now, that doesn’t seem like a life changing moment, but it was for me. Soon others, who learned about me through word of mouth, were asking me to watch their homes and pets while they were gone. In time, I had to start a Facebook housesitting page so people could find me and know when I was available.
Now, my house-sitting services are a little different from others because I do it for free. I get a place to plug in my remodeled RV, my primary residence, free Wi-fi, critters to keep me company and interactions with new and old friends. They get someone to watch their place and take care of their animal family. I’ve housesat for chickens, pigs, dogs, cats, birds and even a llama. I have lots of pets, even though they don’t live with me all the time, and I have made many friends.
While some people like to stay in one place, I’ve learned that I like something a little different. I’m someone that is willing to work but I also enjoy the journey from one destination to the next. Through my volunteer work with the Snoqualmie Train Museum, I discovered that I was living the hobo lifestyle. They asked me to portray a hobo in a living history reenactment. To do so, I had to research what a hobo was. I was pleasantly surprised when I learned I was a hobo and became fascinated with the concept. I have a lot of admiration for hobos who are survivors, adapting to their surroundings.
Before I was diagnosed with MS, I had no patience. I wanted everything immediately. MS made me take a step back and let things happen as they were meant to. I’ve learned to adapt and accept that life changes you. I’m not the same man that I was 20 years ago and that’s okay. I don’t have the same lifestyle as most people and that’s okay too. I’ve found something that works well for me and so should you.
Living in various places gives me the opportunity to participate in local activities. I research activities in the areas around me, making sure I visit local events, finding things that give me opportunities to look forward to during the week. I’ve found that having a list of things to look forward to, plans for my day, can be a light that gets me out of bed.
Having MS can be hard at times but I’m a fighter and I’m going to do what is needed to survive. I’ve learned to adapt to my surroundings. I’ve also learned to accept help when needed, whether from friends or the great providers at the Seattle VAMC. Without the Seattle VAMC, I wouldn’t be as healthy and active as I am now. I am so thankful to them.
MS is not what it was 20 years ago. There are more medications and things that can be done to keep MS symptoms at bay. A diagnosis of MS is not a lifetime sentence to sit on the couch. People with MS can do many, if not all, of the things they enjoy. Make an effort to find joy and activities around you. Get a calendar set up with things to look forward to for the month. If something isn’t the same, be willing to adapt and enjoy life a little differently. And most importantly, surround yourself with people who care about you, it can be life changing.