Living with MS

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

About 12 years ago, John Murray thought he had a circulatory problem. At the time, Murray was in his late 20s and was working as an attorney with Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly LLP, a Minneapolis law firm. "Initially my arms and legs felt like they were falling asleep. and I was getting clumsier," he said. After several trips to the emergency room, he hadn’t gained much information.
"All they said was that it wasn’t a stroke or a heart attack," Murray said. "It got progressively worse. I lost the coordination to be able to run."
After he had lost strength from the left side of his neck down and lost feeling from the right side down, a neurologist checked Murray into a Minneapolis hospital.
"They came in the first day and said, ‘Well, you don’t have AIDS and you don’t have a tumor,’" Murray said. "After a week, all they could tell me was that I probably had MS (multiple sclerosis)."
Murray said he had a sort of mid-life crisis when he received the diagnosis.
"It’s a wake up call," he said.
The diagnosis was even more difficult to accept because Murray’s wife was pregnant with their first child.
"It was daunting,’ Murray said. "We hadn’t told anyone (about the pregnancy) yet."
Now their big news would be tempered by Murray’s diagnosis with MS.
His Minneapolis law firm, however, was understanding of the situation.
"I was off work for a few weeks, and then part-time for a couple of months," Murray said. "It was hard in a variety of ways because fatigue is one of my symptoms."
He describes his first challenges as primarily personal.
"My wife at the time was scared I’d end up blind and in a wheelchair," Murray said, "It hasn’t happened yet, knock wood."
For eight or nine years, Murray experienced an MS attack every 12 to 18 months.
"For the last four or five years, I have not had an attack in the same way, probably because of the injection of drugs I’m taking," he said. "Rather than a full-blown attack, new symptoms might appear, like being tired or having to go to the restroom more often."
Eventually, Murray decided to try working at a smaller law firm, believing it might offer him a better quality of life.
He tried to put limits on himself, working from 8:30 a.m. to 5 or 5:30 p.m.
"The firm was not supportive," Murray said. "They thought someone with MS couldn’t handle the rigors of private practice. They were not sure if someone with MS who places limitations can be successful in private practice."
So, he joined the HR Law Department of Gardner Carton & Douglas LLP’s Milwaukee office, where he is proving that an MS patient can handle the rigors of a private practice. Recently, Murray was named a partner with the firm.
When he decided to make the job change, Murray says he was very conscious of taking law firms’ attitudes toward his MS into account.
"I wanted to know on the front end if someone had a problem with it," Murray said. "There will be times with 60 to 70 hour weeks where I may need a long weekend."
He says Gardner Carton & Douglas has been flexible with his circumstances.
"I probably work as hard now as I’ve ever worked," Murray said. "You learn when to say when."
Murray, who has joint custody of his two children, Meg and Sam, is also an actively involved parent.
"I coach soccer and teach second-grade Sunday school," he said.
Murray met his second wife, Missy, and her son, Gabe, through his church in Pewaukee.
"I saw this tall, blonde lady walking across the parking lot with this little blonde boy," Murray said. "I thought she was very attractive."
He took his two children out to eat after the service and saw them again. The restaurant was crowded, and he offered the two a place at his table.
"She told me I was either the nicest guy she had met in a long time or a pedophile with a van with shaded windows outside," Murray said.
Missy did have to learn how to cope with Murray’s MS diagnosis.
"She had been with the MS Society and was scared of marrying a guy with MS," Murray said.
To deal with those fears, the couple sees a counselor so they are able to talk about them.
"There are times when I need to let her talk about what she’s afraid of," Murray said.
In return, he believes, Missy is particularly empathetic about his condition.
Murray, who ran competitively in high school and college, is still adjusting to a new pace.
"Back in high school, I could run 10 miles at a seven minute pace and do a 5-K in 16 flat," Murray said. "Now I’m lucky to do five miles at eight. I can’t do a marathon because it heats my core body temperature too much. My wife understands that some people might not think that’s a loss, but to me it is."
Although he takes drugs for his symptoms, fatigue, urinary urgency issues and headaches are still recurring problems for Murray.
"You lose a little something with every attack," Murray said. "You recover 90 to 95 percent of the strength you had before, so it’s a decline as it goes on."
Despite his symptoms, Murray still runs, lifts weights, boxes and plays the piano.
"I have a brace for my left foot because it drags when I run," Murray said. "I’ve cut my ankles with the back of my shoe, and my socks will be bloody. The kids worry, and my wife tells me that stupid and stubborn begin with the same three letters."
Despite these trials, Murray says he is in even better shape today than he was ten years ago.
He also believes MS has given him a renewed appreciation for some of these activities.
"I play the piano almost every night, because who knows how long I’ll have the manual dexterity?" Murray said.
"There’s an art of not knowing how long I will be as good as I am," he said. "It makes me willing to make each day as good as I can and put into it what I can. If I wake up early to exercise, and the kids want to play cards, I play cards with them. I’m lucky because a young lawyer in a private practice firm (might) not spend enough time with their family."

Small Business Times, December 16, 2005, Milwaukee, WI

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