With MS, sometimes it's better to roll with it

8 April 2024

Martin with cabbage

Sadly, since writing this article, Martin passed away suddenly on the 26 February. His wife and son are keen that we publish this article to continue Martin’s legacy of raising awareness of the impact of multiple sclerosis. We thank Martin and his family for all the support he has given to the MS Trust over the years.

Struggling to find a mobility aid as stylish as him, Martin’s search brought him to a rollator that unlocked his independence.

The sales blurb for my new rollator is impressive. It’s got these big pneumatic wheels, it's lightweight, foldable, and even comes with a handy seat.

I’m an ex-petrolhead. So, you can imagine how excited I was to discover that it was inspired by the Range Rover Defender. Plus, it comes in two serious colours: Defender green and Bentley brown.

I was ready to bond with this walking aid.

I got the brown which I felt was more than appropriate, if I was going to go off-roading with this bad boy.

Who wouldn’t be impressed with it? Well, in a word (and for full disclosure), me.

Although I have had MS for over 40 years, progression of this condition has been a slow burner. However, progressed it has.

I now find using a walking stick more of a hindrance than a help.

I am certainly not a pessimist, but I have to be realistic and have always known the inevitable MS progression of further mobility problems was bound to happen.

With that time getting closer, the very thought of evolving from one walking aid to another mentally feels as challenging as being a contestant on ‘The Crystal Maze’.

So, there I was, given this mode of transportation to try over the Christmas period, which was fortunate as I needed this time to mentally get over ‘it’.

‘It’ being defined as, ‘What if I meet somebody I know?’

Will they judge me for being disabled and needy? Do I really need people’s pity, or likes on social media? This really was a big deal.

Biting the bullet, together with my wife/carer, we loaded the rollator into the boot of our hatchback, drove to our local park and thought, ‘To hell with the consequences.’ 

My wife pointed out that there was no need to be humiliated.

This is who I am. I’ve conquered embarrassment before, as I also have prostate cancer and self-catheterise twice a day.

I’ve shared intimate parts of my body with such a plethora of medical experts who have prodded, poked and inserted things into places you don’t want to know.

Being seen out and about with the type of walking aid I’ve been dreading should be – literally – a walk in the park by comparison. As always, of course, my wife was right. This was not a time to be a wimp.

I do have a reason for baulking at the idea of using a rollator.

Whilst I’m now a 64-year-old man who has declining mobility issues, I’ve grown up with an imagery of skeletal walking frames being cautiously accompanied by frail older people.

Although I was yet to take it over hill and dale, I was immediately disarmed by something more stylish than I ever imagined possible of its ilk. After all, it’s still just a rollator, right?

It was as if it spoke to me saying, ‘Hey, don’t worry dude. Relax.’

Today, products are about aesthetics. Walking aids have been slow to catch up but even I had to admit this futuristic rollator was far removed from the Jurassic era of mobility dependency.

It oozed beauty and artistic taste.

Aesthetics are important; I know this from my traditional walking sticks, which vanity prevented me from using long before I did.

I detested the aluminium NHS model as much as I did anything collapsible but that all changed after I inherited my late father’s cabbage stalk walking stick, grown from actual cabbage, would you believe.

Its uniqueness gave me confidence to walk with it ever since, such was its allure to others who admired it.

In much the same way, I was seduced by the attractiveness of the rollator and how easy it was on the eye. This stylistic walker wanted to escape the shackles of its unattractive past and be at one with the 21st century.

At this stage, without yet having stepped out with it, I had no idea how it would perform. 

I was trying not to be too judgemental about the front wheels, which looked like they might behave like a dysfunctional supermarket trolley.

Looking at it, for all its graceful seductiveness, I had not the foggiest idea if it was a beauty or a beast. There was only one way to find out. It was time to get the rollator to the park, make like Rawhide and go rollin’ rollin’ rollin’.

Out of the boot it came. I unfolded it, adjusted it and it was time go.

Initially I was taking baby steps, trying too hard to concentrate, keeping my head down, trying not to draw attention. But once I was out there, my confidence in the rollator was sky high.

It was doing what it was meant to by keeping me steady and sure-footed. After keeping to the path, I decided to take it off-roading onto the muddy grass.

It was a challenge, but not so much for the rollator as it was for me. It cut smoothly through the damp terrain without issue, although the same could not be said of my now inappropriate and sodden footwear, such were the wet conditions of falling snow.

Note to self: with the confidence to walk more, wear better shoes.

As far as this new experience went, it reminded me of the first-time I used my father’s cabbage stalk. 

The positive effect of using (and being seen to use) an aid did wonders for my mental health. 

It helped me finally get over ‘it’.

Thanks to the uniqueness and aesthetics of Dad’s plant-based walking stick, this was the reason I could connect with the rollator, which has been instrumental in helping me to get over another mental hurdle.

It looks good – sexy might just be pushing it a bit. It’s sleek without screaming, ‘Look at me, look at me.'

This is important. The designers should be praised for abandoning the ladder frame and making their rollators more accessible to sexagenarian people with MS like me.

I want to blend in without looking like the stereotypical old geezer shoving an ugly, rickety walking frame about. Now, I can!

Read more of Martin's blogs