The MS Handshake

Out here in Texas there aren’t many fans of the D.C./Virginia sports teams so whenever I wear any Redskins, Nationals or Hokies gear, it stands out. 

Last week, while I was at the store, an older man started a conversation with me. “Go Nationals!” I heard him exclaim as he was staring at the Washington Nationals hat I had on.

Within moments, we were discussing where in Virginia we grew up, how we found our way to Texas and the chances of the Nationals winning the World Series.

Something as simple as the hat I was wearing forged an instant connection between two strangers. 

Later that day, I was out to eat with my family and a young man entered the restaurant with his wife and two children. He was about my age, his wife and their kids were a similar reflection of my own…but he was walking with a cane.

As the hostess sat them at a table near ours, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Does he have MS?”

Sounds silly, or perhaps inappropriate, but living with a chronic disease can be a lonely battle. I’m blessed with family and friends that I can count on for love, support and understanding. But it’s impossible for anyone to truly get this disease unless they actually have it.

When I meet another person with multiple sclerosis, there’s an instant connection, like we root for the same sport’s team.

It doesn’t matter if they are male, female, black, white, short or tall – if they are living with this disease, they get it.

But, unlike a favorite sports team, people with MS don’t typically wear shirts or hats that boldly proclaim our affinity with the disease.

There’s no polite way of introducing myself and asking if he had MS so dinner ends, we both go our separate ways and I’m left to just wonder…does he?

Maybe his cane is to help him recuperate from a recent accident. Or perhaps he is afflicted by another disease?

That night got me thinking; wouldn’t it be nice if those of us with MS had a secret nod, wink or handshake to alert each other of our medical condition? 

If only, right after my diagnosis, the conversation with the neurologist went something like this…

Mr. Wentink, your spinal tap results confirm you have MS. I’ll now review with you various treatment options but first – and please pay attention because I can only show this to you once – introducing…the Secret MS Handshake™!

Our new social media world creates countless opportunities to connect with others that have MS and various support groups exist where I can meet and talk to others living with the disease.

But to just give a special “I got MS, too” wink, nod or handshake to the guy or gal sitting next to me at a restaurant? That would be magical.

Instantly, I’d no longer feel alone on an MS island. They, too, would likely understand the fatigue I face as I struggle to find the energy to just read the menu...or the dizziness that comes from all the movement within the restaurant.

It’s not the first time I wondered if somebody else has MS and I know it won’t be the last.

The neighborhood pool, grocery store, church, ball game – countless times, I’ve seen another person and couldn’t help but wonder, “Do they have MS too, and know what it’s like?”

We all want to be happy, loved and understood.

Misery may love company but that is trumped in my world by a different, more positive adage: “Multiple sclerosis loves understanding.”  <Wink>
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Michael Wentink, Blogger

In 2008, Michael Wentink was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. At 31, he was a new father, a recent MBA graduate and a Director at a Fortune 500 company. MS altered this path and after an early retirement, Michael is now navigating life on a road less traveled. A native of Northern Virginia, Michael currently resides in San Antonio, Texas with his wife and two young children. Read about his journey with multiple sclerosis at and follow him on Twitter.

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  • Kimberly   Jun 23, 2016 10:28 AM
    Hi Michael, I totally agree about an "MS Handshake"! I too, wonder when I see someone walking with a cane or walking with a drop foot (as I have done in the past) if they also have MS. BUT I don't ask and am left wondering, too......
  • Avatar
    teeter1122  Jun 23, 2016 10:32 AM
    Hi Michael. This is my second response to your blog post. I really appreciate you and your writing. I'm from SA town too and was recently diagnosed with MS. Hard as it may be dealing with the disease, I appreciate people like you and the knowledge that there are those that have been there and done that. Thanks!
  • Lexie   Jun 23, 2016 11:21 AM
    Hi Michael, you are so right about wondering if someone you see has MS. I've had this happen many times. We do need a way of communicating to another person with MS with a wink or handshake! Love it!
  • Zane Graves   Jun 23, 2016 9:09 PM
    We win IF we lean on GOD....I have since 92 ....I was mute ,blind and paralyzed on my right can not tell anything ever happened now....still have trouble now and then but do not let it slow down!
  • Calvin carlson   Jun 23, 2016 10:54 PM
    I was diagnosed in 2000 and I just tell people I have ms and unfortunately the person will either have it as well or have a family member who has it.
  • NB   Jun 24, 2016 12:44 PM
    Hi Michael,

    I so love this and can relate. I too wish it was some kind of MS handshake. Wish all the best to you😊.
  • Marie Kreger   Jun 24, 2016 1:35 PM
    I have found uttering something about "spoons" opens up immediate conversation if the other person has a chronic disease. Most of us have read and understand the spoon theory.
  • Avatar
    TheRanger  Jun 27, 2016 11:50 PM
    This is perfect it hits how I feel, and I use these handshakes in another Fraternal Brotherhood I belong to, I'm down for the secret handshake!
  • Avatar
    ATX_MIKE  Jul 4, 2016 9:18 AM
    thanks for contributing Michael.
  • mhill2924  Jul 12, 2016 4:25 PM
    I have never really worried about this, & I rarely think someone has MS if they are using a cane! It could be anything! You must be newly diagnosed& are very sensitive or extremely aware of the things that you probably didn't think twice about before! Many times, I have asked individuals, did you have an accident, or
    If you don't mind me asking, why do you have to use a cane? I used to see a man in the grocery store
    In a wheelchair (he worked there). So I thought he had no use of his legs for the longest time. Then one day, I saw him walking to his car after his shift. Another day I was back at the store & he was sitting in the chair near the door. I did ask him something like was he injured or something! I think he told me he had been in a car accident several years ago, & since then, could not stand for extended periods if time!
  • Alisha   Jul 20, 2016 6:47 AM
    Hey all my name Alisha and iam desperate need of get help . I have no insurance and need to get to neurologist as my day get worse and months go by. As soon as I was diagnosed with ms I lost me insurance 2 years ago. And still fighting for ssi. I can't get Medicaid or Medicare until I gey accepted. Even tho I have no income
    . Is there any research or any kind pro bona dr out there. To help get my treatments started tia have bless day
  • Alisha   Jul 20, 2016 6:53 AM
    I feel ill almost 3 years ago this month and iam not getting any better. Nerves are wearing down so I can't do tomuch walking anymore. Sit for to long. Can't wLk stairs anymore if I do I can't walk for days or sometimes weeks. It hurts to walk with out any support but . When I use it either damn kids yank it out from under u or others look at u funny. Iam 40 years old but look like in my 20 so iam sure that trows lot people off oh well the ones that don't understand can kiss my cane.
  • Kaye Osborne   Jul 28, 2016 10:08 AM
    I have had MS since 1984. Over the years I have had dear friends tell me that they could not be my friend anymore because they could not watch me deteriate. I have had a good friend since the 4 th grade tell me a year ago they thought I used my MS to get what I wanted. She had wanted to set in a open patio in 82 humid degrees . I had said I could not because it was too hot. It truly broke my heart. I have another friend call me her disabled friend when they introduced me. It is hard to have MS unless you have a friend that has it also. I found that friend on line through a group of MSers online. We hit it off and broke away from the group . We talk every day. And love each other for our connection. I had a friend in1998 but she passed away 2 years ago. It took me two tears to search for a new friend . I found Jojo in California . I am in Ohio. I would suggest everyone with MS find a fiend to talk to. It makes you feel normal. Although we can't make a handshake we are able to understand .
  • William Peterson   Jul 28, 2016 11:59 AM
    My cousins' wife had MS and Jerry took such good care of her. I still have a picture in my head of having Dolores winched onto a ship for their final cruise. Dolores was a beautiful woman but I only saw her occasionally because of great distance. And too, Dave, a friend of mine was easily our favorite salesperson (by a factor of at least 2or 3). I never knew he had MS because he didn't want to bother anyone with it, I wish I still had him here to talk with because he is such a wonderful person, but he moved to Florida with his wife. I too have a neurological condition, a (fortunately) rather mild seizure condition which though mild does impose some limitations. One neurologist told me to keep it to myself because of the misunderstanding of other individuals, and he was correct in that it changes relationships. I continue being very proud of Dolores and Jerry and Dave. It would be truly wonderful to have a handshake that told others we care, and I'm fortunate that you'd share.
  • tweety55  Jul 28, 2016 3:30 PM
    Fabulous idea!
  • capitolcarol   Aug 10, 2016 5:48 PM
    I was really struck by your story. I too have wondered about others, but it would have been too impolite to ask. I wish there was some way we could communicate with others to let them know that we also have MS. Sometimes having MS can be so lonely.