Al Jazeera Correspondent

The making of MS & Me

Boats, wheelchairs and being half frozen to death.

Last Modified: 26 Oct 2013 12:34
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Stephanie Scawen has had MS for 17 years but had to scale down activities only in the past two years [Al Jazeera]

We nearly did not make this film – thanks to my body giving me a poorly timed MS attack the week before we were due to start filming.

I telephoned Lynn, my producer, and said: "My leg feels funny. I might be having an MS attack." Being my surrogate mother for the making of the film she ordered me to see the doctor. "Yes Ma'am."

Five days in hospital before I was due to make a long haul flight to Europe at least gave me the chance to catch up on sleep before the start of three weeks of 15-hour days without a day off.

But none of us were sure how I would cope. I think Farid, the executive producer, was quietly having kittens.

But as we say in TV, "It will be alright on the night", and off I went to the UK, although my bags took the scenic tour of Heathrow airport and arrived in Edinburgh five hours after me. Good job too. I had already been in the same clothes for two days and was feeling a bit stinky.

Then it was off to Orkney for the true start of filming. I had never been this far north in the UK before. Edinburgh airport was packed. Airports are a challenge for me.

They involve avoiding other people, moving quickly and walking for what feels like miles. Being disabled does have its advantages though. Queue jumping at check-in and airport security being the primary one.

Lynn and Ben, my cameraman, were soon saying how useful I would be to hire out on other shoots for wading through the crowds. "Aaah thanks guys. You're too kind."

We took so many flights for our shoot that I began to ask all my wheelchair pushers how far they thought they walked each day. The average was 15km in smaller airports, 25km in larger ones like Heathrow.

But most of them moaned that it had not translated into weight loss.

Orkney was cold and windy. The pictures I’d seen on the internet made Orkney look stunning, but the Orkney I met was grey, bleak and icy. In the three days we were there we had hail, rain, sunshine and wind. Actually I do not think the wind stopped blowing the entire time.

Granted, I now have tropical blood having lived in Asia for 17 years, but 6 degrees and a wind chill factor meaning the ambient temperature was -8.5 centigrade! And you think TV is glamorous? Anything for my 'art' I guess.

But it felt like I was standing on the beach for 40 minutes. I was frozen to the spot by the time Ben said I could move. He insists it was only five minutes.

The beach I much preferred being on was in Puerto Galera in the Philippines. Sorry Orkney. Ambient temperature: 32 degrees. Wind chill: zero. My home away from home. I feel I know every dive site here like the back of my hand.

I cannot say I know every fish personally – well apart from the tomato anemone that bit me hard on the hand a few years back (they might be small but they have got very sharp teeth).

Getting onto and off the dive boat was a challenge until Francis, one of the boatmen, came up with an interesting way of helping out. A big test of faith was required, and firmly closed eyes.

Thanks to all who helped us make the film. The wonderful doctors and scientists who gave up so much of their time. And the brilliant MS sufferers who shared their own experiences of MS with me. Thank you Hayley, Angela, Sanjay and Suzanne for being honest - and for your kindness. I hope we meet again one day. You were not phased by the cameras at all (you do not get to see all the times I fluffed up making the film. The joys of editing.)

Of course we could not have made the film without the help of the MS Society in the UK - who hooked us up with experts and many of the people with MS that I spoke to. This and other MS societies all over the world do a fantastic job helping people with MS and raising funds for vital scientific research that one day could lead to the one thing all of us want: a cure.

Al Jazeera Correspondent can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Thursday: 2000; Friday: 1200; Saturday: 0100; Sunday: 0600; Monday: 2000; Tuesday: 1130; Wednesday: 0100; Thursday: 0600.

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