Former drummer, DJ refuses to let MS take his “happy”
Eddie Roebuck’s index and middle finger tap against the side of his leg and his wheelchair with intensity and intentionality. At first glance, this could be dismissed as nerves misfiring in a haphazard way, yet something begs for a second look.
The beat his fingers tap out is steady, matching the slight bob of his head, and gets faster, louder as he breaks into song.
“Blinded by the light,” his voice bellows. “Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night.”
The impromptu concert is disrupted by Eddie’s giggles and followed by a fit of coughs. The left side of his throat is numb today, and phantom tickles are getting the better of him. He drinks water to alleviate the itch, but the numbness makes it more likely he could drown from simply taking that swig.
His legs are aching, too, and moving from the bed to the wheelchair and back hasn’t helped. Multiple sclerosis has taken a lot, but this is his new normal.
“I think my life’s theme song has changed, and now it’s Rocky,” he says. “Yeah, Rocky because it’s a fight some days to feel good and put on that smile, but it’s always worth the fight.”
MS is an unpredictable disease with a wide range of symptoms. Mr. Roebuck has primary progressive MS — the kind that packs a one-two punch of steadily worsening neurologic functions without any chance of remission.
For him, it has meant a steady descent into disability and a reliance on his mother, Gloria Roebuck, a slight, 77-year-old woman with a fighting weight of just 103 pounds.
They do life together daily, sharing a house and the wild punches MS throws at them.
“You do what you have to do when it’s your child, whether they are 5 months, 5 years or 54,” Gloria Roebuck says. “You do it for a loved one, for anyone really, because that’s what it means to be there for people, for each other. I know he would do the same for me.”
January 8, 2015, was a hard day.
Mr. Roebuck had been in the hospital for nearly a week. He thought the extreme fatigue and muscle aches wreaking havoc on his body were side effects of aging and the twice-a-day insulin shots he took as a Type 1 diabetic.
Not being able to walk has been the hardest thing for me to do, but as soon as I can, I am going back to physical therapy. I’m going to walk again, and then — then I’m going to dance.”
It was his 49th birthday.
“I do my research, and I knew that if we were going to find out what was wrong with Eddie that we needed the best doctors and that meant going to EVMS,” Gloria Roebuck says. “I wasn’t prepared for them to say MS. It’s the one thing I hadn’t researched, and it’s a son-of-a-gun, but with Dr. Flemmer’s help, we are doing everything we can.”
Many wouldn’t have taken the diagnosis well. But that’s just not Mr. Roebuck. He believes that laughing is more fun than wallowing and chooses to face the challenges MS deals him head on.
“You get up in the morning, you look in the mirror and you smile at yourself,” he says. “If you smile at yourself, it will cheer the rest of your day up. I swear, it works like a champ.”
Today Mr. Roebuck is a “regular” around the halls of EVMS. Between his appointments with Dr. Flemmer and his visits with EVMS diabetes expert Elias Siraj, MD, he makes a point of telling people how much his doctors mean to him.
“They are the smartest people I’ve ever met,” he says, “but it’s more than their degrees. It’s how they know MS and they know diabetes. They make sure I know that they see me, not just my disease.”
Once a drummer and a DJ who worked the hottest clubs on the East Coast and spun records at parties for celebrities like Mary Tyler Moore and Calvin Klein, Mr. Roebuck still has the contagious energy of an entertainer. There isn’t a karaoke challenge he won’t rise to, not a joke he won’t tell, not a battle of music trivia he won’t win.
“Music is a real healer — I don’t know if people realize that — and it can help you find your happy,” he says. “MS can take a lot from me, but it can’t take my happy.”
He’s got plans for the future. Plans that he won’t let MS undermine.
“Not being able to walk has been the hardest thing for me to do,” he says, “but as soon as I can, I am going back to physical therapy. I’m going to walk again, and then — then I’m going to dance.”