My Husband Was Diagnosed With MS a Year Into Our Marriage

“I remember Peter called me from a conference and said, ‘Something’s wrong with my leg. It feels numb.’ ”

spouse with ms

One Philly woman describes what it’s like to have a spouse with MS. Photograph by Andre Rucker

This story is one piece of our Marriage Stories feature, a look inside real-life Philadelphia marriages. Here, Denise and Peter Mariotti, married 33 years, share their story.

I met my husband at a mutual friend’s wedding. He was the best man, and I was the maid of honor. He was a very, very handsome guy, still is, drove a little Italian sports car, the whole thing. He wanted absolutely nothing to do with me, but our friends kept trying to get us together. Long story short, we dated for about three years and got married.

It was a fun life, our first year of marriage. But I remember Peter called me from a work conference and said, “Something’s wrong with my leg. It feels numb.” I didn’t really pay much attention until he came home. When I saw him get off the plane, I’m like, oh, something’s wrong. He was almost dragging his leg. We weren’t even married for a year — I was 28 and he was 31 — and he was diagnosed with MS. But his symptoms subsided, which often happens with that disease. So it was a terrible diagnosis, but it wasn’t really impacting our lives very much at that point.

When our youngest daughter was born, Peter started to experience more symptoms and began to need a cane to get around. Then he moved to a walker, then a walker and a wheelchair — like, a normal wheelchair — and now, he can’t get around without being in his power chair every single day.

I think if you asked him, he would say the thing that frustrates me the most is that chair — it’s a giant electric wheelchair, the limousine of wheelchairs. He was a crappy driver when he used to be able to drive a car, and he hasn’t improved at all in driving a wheelchair in my beautiful apartment. He’s constantly banging into a wall, banging into a door, scraping something. I am always furious with him about that.

We have made a very good life for ourselves, but I’m 59, he’s 62, and it seems unfair that we can’t do things together that our other couple friends are able to do, like pick up and go away for the weekend. Our friends invite us down to Florida all the time, but Peter can’t do that, and I don’t really want to go by myself. I have a lot of work events, and he can come with me, but getting him in a tux and being at a function where people are dancing the night away isn’t fun for him, and it’s not fun for me. But I can’t focus on that. It’s just not what our life is.

There are many days where I’ve thought, Please don’t make me do this one more day, and I’m certain, God love him, that he actually thinks that more often than I do, for many, many reasons. But together, we get through it all, and we pull each other through. We kick and scream and holler at each other sometimes, or get frustrated — with the disease, not the person, but that’s not how it always comes out — but I just think we have been so incredibly blessed in our lives, despite this crazy, horrible, rotten, lousy disease that we both hate. People always say to me, “I don’t know how you do it,” and I’m like, well, I have the same issues in a marriage as you do. The same ups, the same downs, it just has this extra little complication. I won’t say it hasn’t been hard, but it’s actually pretty okay with me.

Published as a part of a “Marriage Stories” feature in the April 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.