MENTION the word “disabled” and most people will think “wheelchair”. True, one of the most powerful images of disability is, in fact, the wheelchair.
And it is not surprising why a wheelchair logo was selected internationally to represent handicapped people in general all across the world.
However, the wheelchair logo has a special reference to people with physical disabilities and even those who use crutches and other mobility aids.
This comes with an advantage. When one’s handicap is so visible, it is also easier to draw attention to the condition and get help. But when you have an invisible disability, it can be a different story.
Kirubalini Balasubramaniam, 52, knows this all too well. Even though she is a full-fledged disabled person, she is able to walk around like anyone else.
Kiru’s nightmare began way back in 1995. The mother of three had quit her job as an analyst programmer to look after her children and run a side business. A few months after she quit her job, initial signs of her insidious disease started to show.
The whole family was enjoying a dinner prepared by Kiru when she sensed that something was not right.
“The food tasted like sand. The rice was rough and hard to swallow,” Kiru recalled.
Much to her surprise, no one complained. They were all enjoying their food.
Kiru decided to keep what she experienced to herself. However, everything she ate in the next few days tasted like sand. This included burgers and even ice-cream.
Kiru’s went to see a general practitioner who brushed it off. She forced herself to eat even though everything was tasteless.
A mysterious knee pain followed which caused her to walk with a wobble.
A month later, she went to see a private neurologist who attributed her problem to a twisted nerve in the jaw. A jab arrested Kiru’s problems in a couple of days, and everything was all right, or so she thought.
Little did Kiru and her family realise that her problems were only about to start.
Six months later, whilst on a business trip to Chennai in India, Kiru decided – on the advice of a cousin in India – to consult a neurologist there to make sure that everything was really okay.
“I was shocked when he concluded after an MRI test that I had pork tapeworm in the brain and suggested deworming for a week,” said Kiru.
“I followed his advice as instructed. I didn’t want to disappoint my cousin. I also wanted to make sure that I was fully cured of whatever it was that I was afflicted with.”
Everything was virtually forgotten until the problem returned two years later. This time, it started with a numbness in the hands which came and went.
An MRI scan conducted at the KL General Hospital in 2002 confirmed that Kiru was suffering from multiple sclerosis or MS.
MS is a disease in which the covering of the nerves gradually becomes destroyed, impairing a person’s speech, sight and ability to move.
Over the years, Kiru and her family have accepted her condition and now are doing their best to cope with it.
She was given injections on alternate days for a couple of years and then switched to daily tablets to control her symptoms.
The cost of medication comes up to between RM3,000 and RM6,000 a month. Incidentally, MS is not recognised as a disability in this country.
“Walking in a straight line is extremely challenging for people like me. I can’t go long distances.
“There is always the fear of someone bumping into me in public, so I avoid crowded places most of the time,” said Kiru.
“My kids are my greatest inspiration. I climbed Mount Kinabalu in 2008, and it was my most unforgettable moment. It proved that nothing can stop anyone from going to the very top in life, if we are determined.
“I may have MS but it certainly hasn’t gotten me,” Kiru added.
- Kiru is treasurer of the MS Society of Malaysia. To find out more about MS, call 03-7874 6601.