July 1988, The Hague, Holland. FISM. The world's biggest and most prestigious magic convention is held every three years - and I was honoured to be appearing in the gala show.
It was about 2pm, and I had just arrived at my hotel feeling very tired, so I decided to take a soak in the bath. As I was about to climb into the bath I felt a twinge of pain in my right leg but I didn't take too much notice of it as I lay down in the bath. I then felt a strange sensation, or lack of it, from the tips of my right toes up to the middle of my chest. The hot bath water felt cold on my right side. I climbed out of the bath, dried myself off, got dressed and eventually decided to call my doctor in London.
I explained where I was and the symptoms I was experiencing. He must have suspected MS, because of my past medical history. Inner ear, balance and fatigue were all symptoms that I had suffered from on previous occasions. His immediate response to me was that I had probably trapped a nerve, and to call him as soon as I returned to England.
I had to get myself together for the gala show the following evening. By the time I was due to perform, my right leg felt a little heavy and I was dragging it slightly. I wasn't worried, just concerned. As I was performing my act I couldn't help noticing Paul Daniels sitting in the fourth row of the audience. All of the audience were laughing except him. He just sat there with a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp! At the end of my act I was given a standing ovation from the whole audience.
The next couple of days were spent at the convention, enjoying the compliments I was receiving from my own peers regarding my act. I felt really proud - there is something very gratifying about receiving praise from fellow magicians. They were very kind to me and I really appreciated it.
After a couple of days, I returned to the UK. Whilst waiting for my flight at Schipol airport in Amsterdam, my right leg was feeling very heavy and I was dragging it constantly. I was now feeling pretty anxious about seeing my GP.
On returning to London I went straight to my GP, who in turn sent me to see a neurologist, and he sent me for an MRI scan. The neurologist also made me a reservation for a night's stay in hospital, where he wanted to perform a lumbar puncture. I had to ask what a lumber puncture was, and when I found out, I wished that I hadn't! It was the insertion of a very large needle in the base of my spine, whereupon a quantity of spinal fluid would be extracted and sent for diagnostic tests. The MRI is a type of scan that shows very explicit details of your brain and spinal cord. Bear in mind that I still believed that they were looking for a trapped nerve, nothing more sinister than that.
I went along to a clinic on Marylebone Road to have my MRI scan. I checked in at the reception and waited. As I was waiting, a young foreign-looking guy about 22 years old was ranting and raving at the receptionist about wanting a second opinion on his diagnosis of a brain tumour. I went cold and started to wonder what I was in for! I went straight to the receptionist and explained that my leg felt much better and that I didn't need to have a scan. She said that my appointment was now due and that I should go and get changed into a gown in preparation for my scan. I was really scared and felt very alone.
Once changed into a very unflattering gown - there was no back in it, which meant your arse was there for all to see - a nurse escorted me to a rather large room that was home to the MRI scanner. It looked like something that should have been launched into space. My whole body was about to enter a large tubular chamber. Once inside, the scan started. It lasted about twenty minutes, and was extremely noisy. I was glad to get out. The next couple of days were spent at home wondering what the scan was going to reveal. I checked in at a hospital in London, and it wasn't long before I was about to be given the worst news of my life.
As I was watching the TV in my room, there was a knock on my door, and my consultant walked in and introduced himself as Dr. Hopkins. He sat on the edge of my bed and proceeded to tell me that my scan had shown lesions on my spine that indicated that I might have Multiple Sclerosis. "What do you mean, I might have Multiple Sclerosis? And what is Multiple Sclerosis anyway?" I said in quite an abrupt but inquisitive manner. He then explained that it may just be a one off attack, and that he would see a better picture once he had got the results from the lumber puncture. I felt completely numb, speechless! I thought this couldn't be true! Things like this don't happen to people like me. The reality then set in as the doctor asked me to lie on my side and bring my knees up to my chin, whilst he inserted an enormous needle into the bottom of my spine. This really hurt! However, I couldn't help thinking about what he had said. My pulse was racing, I was thinking, 'last month I was given a contract for my own TV show, and now I have just been given another contract, possibly for a wheelchair! Surely life is not this cruel?'
I was then informed that the lumbar puncture was complete, and I was instructed to lie on my back for 24 hours, otherwise I would probably get a nasty headache. At that moment in time a headache was the least of my worries! I just lay there and tried to think about what to do. I called my GP, who already knew the results. He told me not to worry, and that we should discuss things when I was thinking clearer. I then remembered that I was supposed to be getting married the following month. I asked the receptionist to call Karen and ask if she could come to the hospital to see me.
Karen arrived at the hospital about two hours later. I told her the news, and I suggested that we postpone the wedding until she had had time to digest things. I wasn't being a martyr, it was the way that I felt. She told me not to be so stupid and that she wouldn't hear of such a thing. She said it didn't matter about me having MS; she would stick by me whatever!
After Karen had left the hospital I kept thinking about what she had said, and I asked myself: 'Am I doing the right thing?' Of course I was, she was a good person! The wedding duly went ahead and like all couples when they marry, we thought it was forever.
However, within a few months of getting married I knew that I had made a huge mistake. Karen couldn't handle it, and she seemed to blame me for burdening her with my illness. She would not accept any talk of me having MS, but I knew it was for real. Every time I suffered any symptoms she used to look at me as though I was imagining it. Maybe she was scared? I tried to put any thoughts of MS to the back of my mind. If I didn't think about it, maybe it didn't exist? I have a theory that the bliss of ignorance is better than the truth of reality! Some people would probably disagree with me on this philosophy, saying that I was in denial of the situation. But it's my life and my body and that is the way that I dealt with the situation! Surely it's my choice?
"Me secretly placing a sponge ball in the hand of Her Majesty the Queen!"
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