Imagine one day life as relatively normal. You go about your usual routines and everything seems to be going smoothly.
Then one day, one of your legs goes numb. Then the other one. Numbness spreads into other parts of your body, and at first, there is no explanation why.
Later on, doctors diagnose multiple sclerosis.
For former Red Deer resident William Boulton, 29, that’s how abruptly his life changed – starting in early 2007. He’s recently released a book – I Miss Me – that chronicles how he came to terms with MS and not only held onto an amazing and positive attitude, but remains determined to help others who find themselves on the same journey.
Boulton, who was raised on a farm in the Lousana area, was settling into a life with promise of a bright, solid future ahead of him. He worked hard, had a steady girlfriend, a tight-knit family and a sense of security. He couldn’t have imagined what lay ahead.
It was back in January of 2007 he was playing pool one evening with his dad.
“In the blink of an eye, one of my legs went numb. I mentioned it to my dad, but didn’t think much more about it.”
But it didn’t go away. “A few shots later, the other one went numb.” He told his family and it was decided he’d get it checked out the next morning in Red Deer.
“You can’t tell when you are walking – you can’t feel your feet hit the ground. So it got pretty bad from there.”
Doctors believed at first it was a pinched nerve. Next, the numbness spread to his abdomen and the side of his arm.
Doctors sent him to Calgary promptly for a battery of tests at Foothills Hospital.
It was eventually confirmed, after a second episode of symptoms, that he had multiple sclerosis. “When you hear those words, it’s like everything else around you disappears and the phrase MS just sinks itself in.”
It was also determined he had the relapsing/remitting form of MS, where symptoms flare up unexpectedly and then vanish later on.
According to the MS Society, multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system which is composed of the brain and spinal cord. The disease attacks the myelin which is a covering wrapped around the nerves of the central nervous system. The flow of nerve impulses along nerve fibres (axons) is interrupted or distorted.
For Boulton, doctors couldn’t say how long the symptoms would last during that first episode. It ended up being about two months.
“One day I was back in our apartment in Red Deer. The sun is shining, I’m reading a book and all of a sudden I’m feeling some warmth in my legs. It was like extension cords being plugged back in. It happened that fast. I could feel ‘reconnecting’ instantly.”
During these months, there was still a wariness about completely coming to terms with what doctors suspected. “It was like, MS you stay there, I’ll stay over here. Let’s not learn about each other.”
Meanwhile, spring and summer came and went and he felt pretty much back to normal. But that fall, he developed double vision.
He ended up back in Calgary for further tests and a whirlwind of doctor visits. Numbness was returning. His balance worsened as well.
“I was slurring my words. My balance was off. I would get cold at times.”
That was also the point where he was officially diagnosed with MS – the fall of 2007.
And although hopes to leave the hospital were always there, his condition was worsening. Medications were given to him to reduce swelling. “They were tackling it as hard as they could.
“You feel lost. At the very beginning, you never know the body could do things like this. I went through almost a whole month of tasting salt because the spot in my brain that knows when it’s tasting salt was activated. And it wouldn’t let go.
“You can’t walk. You can’t talk very much. And you are wondering when did I lose my vocabulary? In my mind I could say a whole sentence, but getting it out it was one word at a time. It was so slow. By the time I got to say half of what I was thinking, I’d forgotten the other half.”
At this point in time, he was just 22 years old. “You’re sitting back watching how much can fall apart.”
The harsh realities of how devastating MS could be was truly hitting home.
“On the inside, I never felt like I would pass away. You get low, but you are always fighting. Even at the start when all this is happening, you are thinking ‘I’m fighting, I’m fighting, I’m fighting. I’ll wake up with my boxing gloves on, and I’ll got to sleep with my boxing gloves on’.”
At that point, in October of 2007, symptoms started to plateau and improve.
After using a wheelchair and walker for a time, he took the bold step of trying to walk. And he succeeded. “That was the key indicator to me that I was on the road to being who I remembered I once was. Until I could walk again, I never felt like myself.”
Boulton then went for quite a while free of symptoms, until earlier this year. There was a numbness for several months. But through it all, he explains his goal these days is to keep a manageable perspective on things. He believes stress and lack of rest only help to trigger symptoms as well.
And in spite of everything he’s been through, there isn’t a hint of self-pity, defeat or a shred of fear in his voice. He tells his story with absolute calm and a remarkable determination to reach out to others as well. Family has been a huge source of support too. His sister Randi Boulton, a well-known and tremendously talented local singer, wrote the music to and recorded a song called Angel on her latest CD that their father actually wrote the lyrics too – inspired by William.
“People ask me, How does it feel having a song written after you? I say I understand it was written for me, but it’s bigger than that. It’s for everyone to share.”
Meanwhile, he’s moving forward with an optimism that really shines through.
“With fear, you can either let it take control of you, or you can face it head one and fight back. I always liked the second option,” he adds with a smile.
“Really, I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world and I love everyday. I appreciate everyday. If I can go to bed at night and put my head on a pillow, I’ve got the day beat. Sometimes you can conquer big things in your world.”
He also knew early on he wanted to write a book about what he had been through. William describes himself as a spiritual person, and felt that if he could recover to a certain level, he would share his story and do his best to help others.
“I (knew) I would write a book, and share this message with others and help give people hope and inspiration. If there is someone out there that would come up to me and say ‘I’ve read your book, it’s an amazing story and it gives me hope and inspiration and the ability to fight’ – to me, that’s the greatest reward ever.”
A few book signing are coming up – one at the Elnora Library on Dec. 2 from 1 to 4 p.m. and another at the Lacombe Library on Dec. 11 starting at 1 p.m.
For more information about the book, or to purchase a copy, check out www.iwantmyexplosive.com or visit his facebook page ‘I Miss Me’ for updates.
Copies are also available at the Lacombe library.