Five

Five years ago today, my life was split in two. My life B.C. (Before Crisis) and A.D. (After Diagnosis)

Five years ago I was told I was going to die. Pretty horribly. My prognosis wasn’t great. ALS typically kills you in 3 to 5 years. I had a feeling I had a few years – my progression was pretty slow. Six months after exhibiting any symptoms, I was still on my feet with no assistance, no degradation in my hands, breathing was excellent, swallowing and speech still perfect.

Only ten percent of people with ALS live longer than 10 years. I optimistically vowed to be among them. (….as if I have any control.)

It’s five years later, and I’m still doing pretty well, all things considered. I may make ten years yet, though I don’t think so, honestly. I’m definitely showing signs of wear. I can no longer stand, let alone walk, without assistance. When I try REAL hard, I can still sliiiiightly move the big toe of my left foot sometimes. My hands are near useless garbage meat noodles,
my posture like a T.Rex . I can curl my fingers in but not flex them out, the only digits I still have some control over is my thumbs. I type with the knuckles of my index fingers. Bladder control is completely a thing of the past. My breathing is getting shitty, but it’s nothing I need assistance with, yet.

This last month, I’ve started to exhibit bulbar symptoms. Mannnnnnnnnnnnnn it’s hard to admit that. I’ve been biting my tongue in my sleep, but luckily I already had a night guard so it’s not a problem. No choking or drooling or slurring yet, but my tongue sometimes gets a little tired if I’m eating something really chewy or hard.

It’s not the end of me, but I’m starting to think I can see it from here.

Not sure I’ve got another five years, but I’m going to try like hell. I’m pretty confident I won’t make it to fifty years old. (..This disease sucks, man, don’t get it.)

BUT.

BUT!!!

I have outlived the average. Some folks don’t even get one year. I’ve gotten FIVE. So far. It’s been such a rare privilege to make friends with my own death, to know what’s coming and have a chance to plan for it. My employer had amazing benefits and was completely understanding. My friends, my circle, they have my back in ways I never would have dared to expect. I was already death positive and prepared to think about my own demise in very real ways. I am doing SO WELL, all things considered. I was positioned to handle this with some grace and lots of support.

This sucks, but it could have been so. much. worse.

Tonight, instead of mourning my life that won’t be, I can celebrate the life I’ve had so far. Old school – I’m throwing a freaking pizza party to mark beating the typical prognosis. It’s going to be great to be with my planets, to eat and have some laughs and be grateful for five years of life so far. A very full life containing an amazing cast, fantastic sets, a very interesting plot. I will have hopefully been a source of light for someone, a sliver of kindness, maybe a laugh or two. I have cool tattoos and cute cats and enough stickers to have my own boutique. I am eating delicious things with the best people.

When people ask how I’m doing, I tell them “so far, so good”.

And I really, truly mean it. My life, she don’t suck, you know?

Here’s to another five years. Let’s see where this road leads.

Dear Ableds,

If I am approaching you from behind in my wheelchair, and I gently say “excuse me?”, or tap you on the shoulder if you can’t hear me, what I need you to do is:

1) Take one or two steps forward so that I can get behind you,
and
2) Watch your toes

That’s literally it. What I do not mean for you to do is:

1) Wheel around dramatically, see me in my wheelchair, apologize loudly and profusely, and make a big show of getting out of my way
or
2) Injure yourself in an effort to remove yourself from my path
or
3) Manhandle your friends/family and shove them out of my way

I promise you – wheelchairs are not contagious. I just need a couple extra inches of floor space, and your situational awareness so that you don’t accidentally back into me, that’s all.

Please go about your business.

*This post brought to you by the girl at Salt & Straw who literally fell into her friend’s laps trying to get out of my way last Sunday.

Body, Mind, Self

So as usual, it’s 3 AM and instead of sleep I am staring at the ceiling. It’s been kind of a rough day. I took a shower, which anymore is a Herculean task and wears me out pretty well. J came over and shaved my head for me, and the shower afterwards was both marvelous relief from all the little itchy bits and frustration at my newfound inability to scrub my skin properly. I am out of breath, tired, and not completely clean when I get out. I feel a little defeated, if I’m being honest. I’m still doing infusions, and so there is two weeks out of the month when I cannot take a shower. I scrub the best as I can with washcloth and baby wipes, and after the last infusion of the cycle is done I take a very long warm soak in the shower. It feels like a second skin sloughs off and it feels wonderful. Anymore though, my attempts to scrub are coming up short.

After J goes home, I’m sitting in bed and screwing around on the Internet as always and someone posts a meme on Facebook gets under my skin. It wasn’t directed at me personally, but it was something I am six shades of defensive about and it bothers me a lot. I left a sarcastic comment reply, closed my laptop, and declare that’s enough Internet for one day. As usual it takes me a very long time to fall asleep. As usual it’s because of unwanted conversation.

I feel a little queasy.

hey uh sorry about that i think it’s the new meds

Oh, hey, Body. How’s it going.

not so great today. i couldn’t get hands to work proper, so now i’m not actually as clean as i want to be, but i really don’t think there’s anything i can do about that? i mean i’m trying really hard?

Yeah, that sucks. It’s almost time to admit defeat,huh?

HEY LOSERS WHAT’S HAPPENING

What’s up, Brain. Kind of expected you earlier to be honest. Body and I were just talking and it’s probably time to start thinking about getting some help for real.

YEAH THAT SUCKS AND I DON’T WANT TO THINK ABOUT THAT.

Well, we’re going to have to. Eventually. And you know this.

WELL LIZ IS COMING OVER TUESDAY TO START TALKING ABOUT SHARE THE CARE NONSENSE. LET’S DEAL WITH THAT THEN.

We kind of need to think about that beforehand, though. And Liz can’t really help us come to terms with needing bathing assistance. She didn’t sign on for that. That’s something we have to do.

HEY REMEMBER THE SONGS WE USED TO SING IN SUNDAY SCHOOL?

… are you serious right now

For real though, Brain. I need you to focus for a second.

FAAAAAAAAAAAAATHEEEEEERRRRRRRR ABRAHAM! HAD MANY SONS!

Are you fucking kidding me right now. Brain.

MANY SONS HAD FAAAAAAAAAAAATHER ABRAHAM!

Dude. Get your shit together. This is serious. Body is not really able to help us as well as she used to. I’m not asking you to pick up the slack or anything, we all know that you can’t. You know Body is going to fail us completely, and you and I need a plan for when that happens.

i don’t want to let you down

I AM ONE OF THEM

I know that. It’s not your fault.

whose fault is it then

I really wish I knew. I’d kick their teeth in.

well we couldn’t really. not anymore

AND SO ARE YOU

Yeah I know that too . But we have an entire posse full of people willing to do it for us.

we are really lucky aren’t we. all things considered

HEY HEY HEY

YES, Brain, what.

REMEMBER IN SUNDAY SCHOOL? THE SONG WITH THE STOP AND GO SIGNS? AND HOW IT WOULD COMPLETELY MAKE OUR WEEK IF WE WERE THE ONES PICKED ON TO HOLD UP THE SIGNS DURING THE SONGS? WITH THE LYRICS ON THE BACK? “STOP!! AND LET ME TELL YOU”? REMEMBER HOW PROUD WE WERE WHEN SISTER MENG CALLED ON US TO LEAD THE SONGS?

….Yeah. What about it?

I MISS THAT. LIFE WAS SO MUCH SIMPLER.

i could do anything

Yeah. I miss that too.

DEEP! AND WIDE! DEEP! AND WIDE!

Yep. So much simpler. Go to sleep, asshole.

Freedom

Excuse me while I slip into my patented Rants Pants ™.

I’m going to make a very simple, polite request of you, and then I’m going to share a maddening picture, and then I’m going to rant for a bit. Ready? Here we go!

A simple request: please do not use the phrase “wheelchair-bound” or “confined to a wheelchair”.

Here is the picture:

DISCLAIMER: I actually love the sculpture here. It’s a very sweet tribute, and a very impressive bit of engineering. The picture’s awesome except that caption.

Okay. Here’s the rant:

I get what the original picture was going for, and it’s a very sweet sentiment, and the person who posted that picture meant well. How-the-fuck-ever, it is not accurate, honest, or just. It is exactly backwards. The wheelchair is not the confinement, it is the freedom. The wheelchair is not the problem, it is the goddamn solution. Until there is a cure for ALS, the closest thing we have is motherfucking technology. This modern miracle of metal and plastic and circuitry is the only reason I have anything close to a semblance of a normal life anymore.

I ain’t confined to SHIT.

The only thing I am bound to is this defective body. I am beholden to this shit-tastic disease. I am not confined to my wheelchair. I am not bound to it. It is not some magical item that I need to spend willpower on to activate. (That was an nerd reference for nerds.) The only binding my wheelchair provides is in the very literal sense when I am seatbelted into it for safety.

My wheelchair, the $47,000 marvel of technology that is the SS Opportunity, is my freedom.

Without my wheelchair, I would’ve had to quit my job more than six months before I actually did. Because I had the wheelchair, I was able to stick it out at work and have the energy to show up every day and do my work and still have some bit of energy left at the end of the day. Without it, I often went without lunch because I simply did not have the energy to go downstairs – literally immediately downstairs – to get some lunch. Without it, I had to constantly bother my fellow employees to do basic tasks that were actually part of my job such as fetching packages and mail because I did not have free hands to carry those things because I had a death grip on my walker. Without my wheelchair, I had to agonizingly plan every aspect of my work day to best budget the limited energy I had with my walker to get around. Without my wheelchair, I would have missed every work meeting I was not able to dial into. I would have missed every break room celebration of birthdays. Without it, I spent every day dehydrated because I couldn’t bring myself to ask a coworker to bring me something to drink as often as I needed it. Without it, I literally peed my pants at work because I was not able to get to the bathroom fast enough.

Even after my disability deprived me of my job, my wheelchair continues to afford me amazing freedom. Without my wheelchair, there would be no quick trips on my own to check the mail. Without my wheelchair, I would have to ask other people to lay out my clothes for me literally every fucking day because without it I cannot get into my closet. Without it, there would be no getting out of this apartment when I go stir crazy to catch a few Pokémon or whatever. Without my wheelchair, I would be confined to bed. All the time. There would be no grocery trips, no game nights, no dinners out with friends. My wheelchair allows me to do these things. My wheelchair is literally the only thing that allows me to leave the house. At all. Ever.

I fucking love my wheelchair.

So please, please stop saying ‘bound to a wheelchair’ or ‘confined’ or any other limiting word that is the exact opposite of what a wheelchair truly is. Until medical insurance covers palanquins, it is the key to my independence and literally the most liberating thing that I own.

deep breath

Okay, thank you for coming to my TED Talk. I’m going to take my Rants Pants ™ off now.

I love you. Please go about your business. And enjoy your freedom, as I enjoy mine.

Not My Husband

We pulled up to the parking lot, slid into the disabled spot, and J activated the ramp. (Common. Rote. Standard.) He unfastened all of the tiedowns connecting my chair to the vehicle, and stepped back so that I could navigate my exit. (As usual. Like always.)

This time however, we had a witness. I mean, we often have a witness – the van makes a lot of noise when it deploys the ramp and the sounds tends to attract gazes. This witness was just vocal. (Uncommon. Nonstandard. Weird.) Our witness that night was parked beside us and made herself known by exclaiming how wonderful the van was and how lucky I was to have it. It was so cool, she said, the way I could just drive my chair right up inside and park up front. I agreed with her, of course; commenting on the marvelous freedom it affords me, and we spoke for a little while about how it was important to me that I was able to ride alongside the driver seat and not have a rear entrance van – making me effectively cargo. We spoke also about the minor problems I have had with said van (this was before the brakes melted), about the lengths I went to in order to purchase it in the first place, but mainly we had a pleasant chat about the marvel of modern engineering that this man was and how much freedom it afforded me. She then turned to J, beaming, “and you’re so lucky to have a good husband to help you.”

…We get that a lot.

I didn’t correct her. We never do.

To be fair, he used to be my husband. Now he’s my best friend. Because of that, there is a very easy intimacy between us, a lack of distance that typically exists even with the closest friendships. He hugs me a lot, we have excellent non-verbal communication between us, and it’s easy for an outsider to mistake our relationship for that of a married couple. We live in a touch-starved society, and here is this guy who can so casually rub my shoulders or hold my hand when I am in an emotional crisis, who is cutting my food for me and escorting me everywhere, so OBVIOUSLY he must be my husband, right?

But yes, I agreed – I am so incredibly lucky to have him.

I am jealous of people who get diagnosed with ALS who have a spouse, if I’m being fair and honest with myself. Although intellectually I understand that no relationship is guaranteed, and sometimes marriages don’t last through a terminal disease, most of them do. Till death did they part. Having someone that intimate with you, that connected with you, and consistently present for you – I am so incredibly jealous of that. You have a built-in partner through all of this bullshit. Not a guaranteed slave at your beck and call or anything, but the security of having someone who will of course be there to fetch you a glass of water when you need it, to help you to the toilet when you’re at that point of helplessness.

((I absolutely know to the core of me that if I had been married when I was diagnosed, I would totally have given my partner the option to walk away forever and pursue a different life without dealing with me dying – even though I know there’s no way they ever would. Probably. I gave all of my friends the same option. Some of them took it, but most of them didn’t. Dealing with a terminal disease sucks for everyone.))

Even though your primary medical caregiver should never be your spouse, there is a lot of automatic care that is assumed with being married to someone with a complicated disease. I don’t have that built-in automatic assurance. I don’t have someone sleeping in the bed beside me who can help me turn over at 3 AM. I don’t have someone sharing the same space as me to whom I can turn for petty little things and I do not mind asking, because they are already around and the thing I need is so minor. Instead, I live with my blind mother who can’t tend to a lot of those stupid little things I’d like done, such as to open the window blinds for me or light a candle or move these five books to a different bookshelf. It’s kind of a major undertaking for her, and impossible for me. I can call her into the room to take a dish away, but I’m lacking someone who would be sitting beside me anyway and would automatically be taking my dish with his or hers. A built-in partner to help me navigate all the fuckery.

What I do have however, is this amazing human being who has stepped up to provide a lot of the day-to-day shit that needs doing, without needing to be asked. When my planned caregiver left me, J stepped in with no complaint and an easy grace. And I am very very lucky in that, since we used to be married, I am very comfortable with him and have a built-in intimacy that I simply don’t have with any of the rest of my friends. I’m not embarrassed at the end of the day when he drops me off at my apartment to ask him to unhook my bra for me before he leaves because it’s very simple for him to do, very very difficult for me to do, and the dude has seen me naked a lot so who even cares. Eventually I won’t have a choice but to develop the same intimacy with us a lot of people, be they friends or paid caregivers. But for now, he is the one I turned to when I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get out of bed to pee fast enough and suddenly needed someone to change my sheets. After I spent the rest of the night sleeping on a towel because it was 4am for fuck’s sake. I was embarrassed to ask, of course; it’s not an easy thing to tell another human being that you, a grown-ass woman, wet the bed last night so thank God for mattress protectors but could you please change my bed for me? But since he is my ex-husband, that intimacy already exists to a certain level (I mean, the man held a bloody barf bag for me after I had post-tonsillectomy nausea soooooooo everything else is easy-peasy after that, surely), and it was very organic for us to slide into this new development together. It is much easier to admit weakness to someone who has lived with you for 10 years and seeing you already go through some serious shit. We survived divorce; dealing with this terminal disease together is practically a piece of cake compared to that.

I am so lucky to have him.

I love him more than… Probably every other human being on this planet if I’m being honest. He is the best one.

As of this last Valentine’s Day, it was 10 years ago we were married. I’ve known him nearly 20. He is my best friend, my primary caregiver, my confidant, my buddy, my chauffeur, my personal assistant, my first and true love. I am a very, very lucky woman to have him in my life, to have been able to maintain this level of friendship even after our romantic relationship fell apart. I personally don’t understand being able to have an intimate relationship with someone for 10 years of your life, and then just walk away from it when that relationship goes wrong and never speak to that person again. It’s unfathomable to me. Literally no one on this planet knows me as well as he does. Not everyone can do that though, let go of the sense of failure and hurt and maintain a positive relationship afterwards. For me though, there was literally no other option. Even though the romance part of it didn’t work out, I love him to the ends of the earth and with every fiber of my being. That love is just different now.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that J is pretty neat. I like him a lot.

I just felt like I should state that for the record.

Faith Versus Proof

Hey. So…

…First and foremost I apologize in advance, because this is going to get very exclamation point heavy and rambling. I can already tell. I know the gist of what I want to say, but not quite how I’m going to get there. I’ve spent a lot of the past four days completely speechless. In the best way. In a way I never thought possible.

So I guess I will start with reiterating that I am – and have always been, and almost to the level of naivety – an optimist. Even on my way to the appointment in which I was diagnosed with a terminal disease, I felt to my core that things are going to be okay. On my way home from that appointment, I still felt that way; although my definition of okay had changed. For all of my life, and especially for all of this shitty journey with this sucky disease, I knew – KNEW! – my tribe would rally when I needed them. My anxiety lies to me every day, and it lied so much harder and longer when I was younger about the tribe I had; or specifically, that I didn’t have the tribe I thought I did. I knew I was loved, of course, but my anxiety loves to tell me that I don’t have the level of love and support that I would like to think. Once I was diagnosed, that particular anxiety has fucked off forever because my faith in my tribe was swapped for concrete proof. People I didn’t even know very well showed up out of the woodwork to help. People it never even would have occurred to me would show up, did. In full force and with open hearts. When I had to leave my house and cram my life into a much smaller apartment, the core optimist in me knew I would have some help when I asked for it. Concrete proof arrived in the form of 14 friends showing up that day.

I am loved and I knew this. I am loved and you proved this.

I’ve kind of always been a mom friend. Caretaker. I considered it my job to make sure that my friends were okay, basing so much of my pride on my own self-reliance. I am the helper, not the helped. I knew I had people I could rely on for help, but I focused so much of my life and energy on proving to myself and to the world at large that I didn’t need them to. That has been the singular hardest part of this whole stupid disease so far. Admitting that I do in fact need them to. Will in fact increasingly rely upon them to. Will be completely unable to do anything by myself, at all, at some point. My life will become nothing but relying on other people. That’s been the worst part. Not losing my ability to walk, not being unable to control something so basic as my bladder, not losing my job, but knowing that I am going to be completely, utterly helpless. My strongest personality trait, my core sense of identity and pride, taken from me. It’s suuuuuuuuuper shitty.

In the early days of my diagnosis, I had Danielle. Thanks to her, in the early days I didn’t have to ask for anything because she asked on my behalf. We both knew that everything about this disease was going to be expensive, and she set up a CrowdRise fundraiser on my behalf. She organized my garage sale amazingly. Seriously, we had complete strangers complementing how well organized that sale was. It was really pretty amazing and made me a fair bit of money. Money used for moving expenses, and then lawyers fees, and then we stashed the rest away for the next inevitable crisis. Eventually CrowdRise kind of went defunct and became nonprofit only, and that account got closed. Over the last year or so, a few people have asked what happened to it because they had wanted to donate and were unable to. I could never quite bring myself to reopen that account because it was… You know, asking for help. It was something I always meant to do, and knew I probably would someday, I just needed to ask for help with it.

HAHAHAHA ASK FOR HELP. HOO-BOY.

Six days ago on Facebook, I made a post about these amazing mourning bracelets I found online. In the post I said that I was budgeting to hand these out at my funeral. And I am! Because they are amazing and important and you should totally check out that link. But in the comments for that post, along with many of my friends agreeing that the idea was amazing and awesome and worthy, a friend I’ve known forever mentioned again that I really ought to have some kind of fundraiser going. I’m budgeting for my own funeral, and they would like to help. Several friends chimed in to agree. My amazing friend Megan, who had taken over the account from Danielle when that relationship broke apart, hit me up to ask what I would like to do about it. She was happy to set a new one up for me, but she’s in Seattle and I’m in Portland and she would feel much better if the account were handled by someone locally. Which makes a lot of sense; I agreed with her that if some disaster were to befall me (like, as I explained to J later, my van breaking down and suddenly needing hundreds of dollars in repairs, for instance) I would need money right away and couldn’t necessarily wait for a bank transfer.

(In retrospect, I jinxed the fuck out of myself with that one, huh?)

We looked at local laws, and disability regulations, and Medi-Cal requirements and came to the conclusion there was really no reason for anyone to handle any aspect of the account but me. So, Sunday I went about resurrecting an old bank account that had sat idle since my mortgage payments. That took a lot of doing, as they’d put a hold on the account for lack of use, and apparently I had not changed my address with that bank and they have been happily charging me five dollars a month since April 2016 because my mailing address was wrong. Even though my account is paperless? And literally has always been? And they made no effort to call or email me to tell me they were charging me for having the wrong address for all the shit they’re not mailing me anyway? I’m in the middle of arguing with them about that one. Banks suck. Regardless, the account was now open and free to use, all I had to do was set up the actual Gofundme and post a link somewhere.

Yep. All I had to do.

So easy, right?

Just… Create the account. Post a link.

Ask for help.

And you know, that’s probably where it would still be sitting if my van hadn’t blown the fuck up. On my way home Monday night in the back of a medical transport unit, unaware if my van was going to require $200 or $2000 worth of repairs, or if it was repairable at all, I knew I had to set up the fund. That night. So I did. I created the fund, updated the link here on my blog, and then posted a link to it on my Facebook page with the words “Okay. It’s set up. Do whatever you like with this information. <3 I love you.”

Within one hour, I had three donations and 18 shares.

Within 24 hours, I was halfway to the arbitrary goal of $5000 I had set. I bumped it up to $7000. 24 hours later, I was halfway to that, too. Within an hour, I had my first donation containing triple digits. In three days, I was getting donations from complete strangers because my friends had shared the link. Yesterday, a very good friend I’ve made through a perfume decanting group of all things shared the link in that group, generating at least five donations just from that. Several friends with birthdays this month shared the link with their friends and family asking for donations on my behalf instead of birthday presents. (seriously you guys should have held out for a pony or something) Relatives of my friends who have heard my friends speak highly of me have donated. As it is right now, the generosity of my friends has netted me over $4000 and 450 shares.

In only five days.

This. This is where the exclamation points are about to happen. This is where the proof versus faith happened. I knew I would probably get some help once I was bold enough to ask for it. But this.

THIS.

THIS HAS BEEN SO OVERWHELMINGLY AMAZING!

HOW THE FUCK DID I GET SO LUCKY?!

WHAT! EVEN! IS! MY! LIFE!

OH MY GOD, EVERYONE.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m not the sort of person who happy cries much. In fact, every single time I have done, has been directly because of some show of grace and generosity and love related to this disease. The kindness and love of my friends has brought me such emotional satisfaction and security, the likes of which I never would have known had it not been for this stupid disease. My faith said that if my life should turn to shit, my friends would have my back. Circumstances have proven that faith accurate and just – time and time again. But this.

This!

This is been so much more than I ever could have anticipated in my most optimistic of dreams.

I could fill the rest of this blog for all time with just the phrase “THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!” over and over and over, and it would hardly be sufficient to express my gratitude. My love. My faith, absolutely justified. My awe at having so many amazing people in my life. My feeble attempts to somehow live up to all of the amazing and kind things people have said about me in their shared posts.

This is my blog, but tonight I lack proper words to put in it.

My life is so fucking magical.

Thank you.

Thank you all so much for your love, your generosity, your jokes, your grace, your friendship, your very existence in my orbit.

That’s it. I don’t have any clever way to wrap this up. I will now resist the temptation to copy paste “THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!” a million times.

I love you all so much.

Needing the Dark

Today started early. I had a 9:45 AM appointment in Portland, and if you don’t think that’s early clearly you are not familiar with my 3 AM standard bedtime these days. I tried going to sleep at a sane hour, but my overly active brain had other ideas. In fact, my 4 AM conversation with body and brain almost resulted in its own blog post; I just knew that if I got up to write it I wouldn’t get any sleep at all. And I need sleep. I like sleep. Even before all this nonsense, it was my favorite hobby. ALS just gave my lazy ass an air of legitimacy.

I have recently made a crucial step and actually have started asking my friends for help. I know, I know! I was just as impressed as you are with myself. It was not at all an easy thing, as you can well imagine – especially if you know me. But I have doctors appointments to get to, and J is amazing but cannot be my sole source of transportation – particularly when I own the van and it doesn’t actually need to be him driving it. So I had put out an all call on my friends list for someone to come drive, and my friend Matt stepped up for today. Matt is also the storyteller for my Wednesday games, and as mentioned before is an all around good guy and excellent person to have in your corner. As we were driving to my appointment this morning, talking about video games and commercials and marketing and the abyssmal real estate market, the van’s brake warning light came on. It had done before, and usually came on and went off seemingly randomly, and we had previously resolved the problem by simply topping up the brake fluid. It it started doing this again recently, and despite repeated mental notes to ourselves, we had just failed to get more fluid in it yet. I wasn’t terribly worried. It didn’t seem like that big a deal.

…You can probably see where this post entry is going, yes?

By the time we were done with my appointments, and filled the gas tank, and got home, I’d forgotten all about it. That afternoon was my biweekly therapy appointment, which J was available to drive me for. As we were driving the 20 some odd miles to my therapist, the warning light came on and stayed on. And then, halfway there as we stopped on the freeway for a traffic snarl, there was a God awful smell of burning rubber and when we looked behind us, a bit of smoke. We weren’t entirely sure it was my van? But the presence of the smell and the light made us resolved to put more fluid in the van as soon as humanly possible. For some stupid reason we had taken the brake fluid out of my van and brought it into my apartment, so simply pulling over and adding more fluid wasn’t an option at the moment. Traffic started moving again, then came to a crawl again, and as J put the brakes on, more smoke. Something was obviously not right in a big way.

Fun fact! I have a debilitating phobia of breaking down on the freeway. When I was really little, our car broke down at night on the freeway and I remember vividly my father moving around outside the car trying to figure out what was wrong, while traffic screamed by us in the dark and I just knew in my little kid brain that any second now some car was going to hit him and splatter him up all across our vcar. I shook in terror waiting for my father to die. He did not, of course, but ever since then, any time there is a slight possibility of something going wrong with the vehicle I am in, it creates an instant panic attack. That’s the problem with phobias. There’sno reasoning with them.

Jay was talking, making plans of dropping me off for my appointment and then going to some auto parts place to get more brake fluid and I would make an appointment the next day to take the van in for proper repairs. I didn’t really hear him over the blood pounding in my ears, and my brain was already busy trying to figure out what to do when I vomited any second now. And then we got off the freeway, and I felt safer for a split second until Jay told me that the brakes weren’t responding properly. I just needed to get the van safely somewhere, and then…

… And then, what exactly?

My van is not exactly easily interchangeable with another vehicle. It is a proper medical device. Ever since I got the fucking thing I have been paranoid about getting into an accident because it is not going to be simple and easy to replace it. And if something should happen while I am away from home, I am completely screwed. Stranded. If I were in a manual wheelchair I can get into normal car, but the SS Opportunity weighs 400 pounds without me in it and is a God damn behemoth in her own right. I can’t just get another vehicle. I can’t just call a taxi for a ride home, anymore.

That uneasy feeling turned into outright fear when we parked in the lot of my therapist and the smoke just kept coming. I couldn’t see anything on fire outright, but something was smoking in the rear passenger wheel well and I literally did not know what to do about it. I texted my little brother – because let’s face it – that’s what I always do when I have a car problem because what the fuck even are cars they are magical beasts whose language I do not speak. Not only does my little brother speak cars, he is a professional tow truck driver so even in the worst situation he can bail me out. And has, in fact – when Jay got sideswiped by a probable drunk driver on Christmas in 2017 and the driver took off, it was Justin who went out to get him and help him figure out the next steps. When my brake error light initially came on, it was Justin who told me what to do about it. So when he didn’t immediately respond, and some minutes passed and smoke was still rising from somewhere in my van’s guts, and I wasn’t sure what we would do if we started seeing flames, I called him. He had been taking a nap and listened very patiently while his sister panicked at him over the phone about cars and smoke and I don’t know what to do. He told me to hang tight and he was on his way because he is my hero.

He was some minutes away, and so I went ahead and went inside and had my session with my therapist which was now all about my current crisis. J stayed outside to wait for Justin, and would come interrupt the session when my little brother got there. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I wasn’t sure what I even could do. Even if he could tow it somewhere, what the fuck was I going to do in my wheelchair and 20 miles from home? Again. You can’t exactly call a taxi.

After my 45 minute session, we went outside to find my little brother arrived in his giant tow truck, lights flashing, working on my van. Because again, hero. J came over and explained what had gone down so far, which is that Justin had pried the tire off the side of my van and had a look inside and formulated some theories. Apparently the brake line was leaking somewhere, as the inside of the tire was coated with fluid, and the passenger side rear brake had had to do all the work by itself and so had heated up red-hot and started smoking and had finally in the 34° weather cooled down to an oxidized white. He was going to tow the van to Les Schwab, and drop off the keys for them to take a look at in the morning, as they were closed by now. He offered to load me up in the van and transport me in it as he transported the van, but that was of course in his own words “illegal as fuck”. And you know, dangerous.

So we had a plan for the van, but I was still effectively stranded in Lake Oswego. My local public transportation service Tri-Met has a wheelchair transport service, but it’s the sort of thing where you have to get a special ID to qualify for it, and you schedule your pickups in advance and allow for a two hour window. The Lyft app on my phone has a wheelchair accessibility feature I had discovered some time ago, but I had literally no idea how that even worked. It was apparently time to find out. I requested a wheelchair lift, and the app cheerfully told me my ride would arrive in 45 minutes. After a moment it updated to 15 minutes. My ride was going to be courtesy of a local ambulance company, please look out for a white medical transport vehicle, license plate blah blahb blah. And just over 15 minutes later, fuck me if a wheelchair transport van didn’t pull up. It had totally worked.

We finalize things with my little brother to drop off my van, and for me to expect a call from the mechanic in the morning with an estimate before any work would be done. The wheelchair transport vehicle was a fucking sweet ride, the driver was completely awesome, and I found out that wheelchair accessible Lyft requests get priority even over his company’s scheduled patients because they are fully aware anyone desperate enough to need a wheelchair ride without a plan beforehand is obviously going through hella circumstances. And so I got a ride quickly, and my ride ended up costing me 10. Fucking. Dollars.

TEN.

Not only that, but my driver was an hourly medical transport driver and so I didn’t even have to tip him. I asked if I could, and he refused.

SOOOOOOOOO in review, my peesashit van broke down today, after standard business hours, in a very dramatic way. And yet, I have an amazing brother who was able to rescue the van and provide me with the next steps, and then I was able to get safely home for a very little amount of money. And I learned that Lyft access is absolutely a viable transport option now. I am home safe and warm with useful information and a solid plan. I have another appointment tomorrow which I’m going to have to cancel, and when I contacted my friend who had offered to drive me for that appointment and told her I needed to cancel and why, she told me her brother is an actual mechanic and as is actually not very far for me. So even after I get the brakes repaired, I have a plan to contact him and get my van checked over thoroughly to make sure I am not going to have any more nasty surprises coming up. Tonight things completely went to shit, and then the universe conspired perfectly to make things as best and as smoothly as possible. Everything could have been so much worse. I could have been completely stranded in Lake Oswego waiting hours and hours in near freezing temperature for a wheelchair transport taxi service to find time to come get me. I have a AAA account so I would have gotten the car towed regardless, but I literally would not have known where to take it. And we could have been waiting for hours for them to have the time to show up also. Instead my brother was there in minutes. With a plan. And a free tow.

Repeating in my head tonight is my favorite quote from painter Bob Ross, who explained light and shadow theory in painting with a profound slice of life advice.

You need the dark, in order to show the light.

My life is as bright as the fucking sun, and it is only these moments of absolute panic and misery that prove it to me. I am fortunate beyond compare. Even when things are chaos around me, the universe conspires to take care of me in a perfect way because of the people I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by. In my most dire circumstances, I am never alone and never without hope.

I see the light, because of the dark.

Clinic Day 1-14-19

Hello my lovelies!

Monday the 14th was Clinic Day. I had originally wanted to do a video update for this, but I just haven’t felt up to it? And if I wait until I feel up to it this update is going to take for freaking ever and then you all will start to worry because you think it’s all bad news. Spoiler: it is not. I am just lazy.

When we first checked in, I was given a sheet to fill out. I am pretty sure I did this last time as well, but I do not remember. It was a self assessment sheet for the ALS functional rating scale (ALSFRS-R). This is a standard way to track the progression of the disease. Usually though, the care team fills this out for me. During the nursing portion of the appointment, it was explained that they are heading towards having patients fill this out for themselves, as a sort of experiment to see how the self assessments differs from the professional assessment. I actually assumed that the self assessments would be worse, since I tend to understate my difficulties when talking to someone, but am more honest with myself filling out a form. Apparently not everyone is like that, since the nurse would tell me that for the most part the scores are consistent. Huh. There are 12 categories, and each category is rated from 0 to 4, with four being completely normal and zero being nonfunctional. For instance the walking category is rated as 4 being normal, three being early ambulation difficulties, to his walks with assistance, one is nonambulatory functional movement, and zero is no purposeful leg movement at all. I am currently at a two. So then you take all of the numbers and add them up, which gives you a number from 0 to 48 and 48 is a normal human being with no difficulties at all. It’s a nice numeric way of tracking progression, and encompasses a lot. It isn’t perfect of course, but it’s a nice shorthanded overview of everything at a glance. You can check it out for yourself here, if you wish.

Last Clinic Day, I was at a 34.

My first appointment of the day, after getting to our assigned room and being handed a schedule, was nursing. In addition to explaining a couple of substitutions in scheduling (I’ll get to those) she went over what I just talked about with the self assessments. Nursing checks are always an overview of the big picture in my life, if I need any special appointments made, if there are any concerns I have outside of the specialists I’ll be talking to that day. We talk about any changes since last visit, and in general she is my master coordinator of all things. Nurse Nancy is amazing and I am lucky to have her on my team. She also explained she would be playing the part of my dietitian for the day, as Kelly was sick. Poor thing. I always look forward to talking to Kelly, even though I never have anything to report. My eating is fine, we usually wind up just chatting for most of the appointment anyway. Today, however, it was noted that I had lost a whole 11 pounds since last clinic. Normally, this would be a good thing for someone, but not so good when you have ALS. I weigh 211 pounds currently, up from 160 when I was diagnosed, all of that on purpose. I am under strict orders to not diet to lose weight, as extra weight statistically helps with prognosis, and when I am no longer able to eat I will need that extra wiggle room. So to speak. So we talked a little bit about my dietary habits and I mostly attribute the weight loss to no longer being at work and on any kind of schedule, so I kind of eat whenever I feel like it, which is usually only once a day. Anymore I also need help with food prep, so if I want to eat something besides the frankly embarrassing amount of snacks I have stashed in my room, I have to bother my mom. Not that she minds, at all, but I am terrible at inconveniencing others for my own sake. Nurse Nancy made me promise to stop that. I am making an effort to stock more snacks and not just drinks in my fridge that I can get to whenever I want.

My second appointment was with Dr. Goslin. It had actually been a few appointments since I’d seen her specifically, since the previous appointment was my introduction to the new doctor, Dr. Olney, so it’d been half a year. We spoke mostly about the medications for this appointment, my increasing depression specifically and overwhelming anxiety. Unfortunately no longer reporting to work means I no longer have a distraction to keep me from spiraling into bad moods when I think too much. It’s been a rough couple of months because of that. I still don’t have a permanent place to live and I am continuing to freak out about that. We doubled my dose of Ativan in the meantime, and she gave me a couple of options to think about for ongoing anxiety and depression. Otherwise, as usual, she is very pleased with the rate of my progression.

My third appointment was with the power duo team for occupational and physical therapy. Physical therapy pointed out that my calves are getting tight and I need to be better with my stretches, and since I can’t really stand on my feet and touch my toes anymore to stretch them out, I was given bands to put around my toes and use my forearms to pull up on them while I’m laying in bed. The whole point of that is to keep my muscles limber so that I can continue to use the walker to visit the bathroom while I am at home for as long as possible. Occupational therapy was entirely centered around keeping my hands functional as long as possible, and preventing my fingers from curling up and cramping while I sleep at night. We also measured my hand strength as usual, and of course they are still garbage meat noodles of uselessness, no big surprises there. Deb the Amazing OT had previously suggested a new kind of brace for me to buy, and I had, but they need adjusting and some modifications to make them actually usable on my own as they are primarily built for bicyclists and didn’t have crippled people like me in mind so they’re not exactly easy to get on and off. We made plans to have another appointment outside of clinic to go over all of those things. I’ve since had that appointment, and like a total genius I forgot the braces in question at home, so she wasn’t able to adjust them for me and now I have a second appointment this coming Monday to take care of that. I was told if I forget them next time I’ll be sent right back home. Hehe.

The fourth appointment was speech. This appointment also includes swallowing, and all of those muscles in general. Luckily, this is the one area that I have yet to experience any problems, so these appointments always go very fast. She just verifies that I am not choking on my own spit anymore than a normal human being does, watches me swallow liquid, and eat a dry graham cracker, and make some funny faces including blowing my cheeks out and trying to touch my nose with my tongue etc. to prove that all of those muscles are still in tune in good shape. So far so good.

The ALS Association was fifth, for social work. I remain eternally grateful for their help. Unfortunately the problem I most need help with is housing, which is not their specialty by any stretch. They do however have resources and connections to other services that are useful, and most importantly they have always been willing to do research on my behalf to do what they can to help. During this appointment, we talked a lot about senior services to get my mom some assistance in whatever way we can. It’s all very useful information, and I truly appreciate the help. They have connections I would never even dream of and that alone is extremely helpful.

My sixth appointment was respiratory. This is the one I hate the most. It’s exhausting, and for the last few Clinic Days, it’s also been somewhat disheartening. We spoke a little bit about new policy changes, specifically about the clinic no longer being able to keep equipment for their patients and so I have to take my respirometer home with me every time now. No big deal, it’s not that big and it fits in my purse just fine. The breathing test came and went as usual and I was surprised to find that my breathing has actually remained perfectly stable since last time. I don’t even need to tell you how happy I was to hear that. I think sleeping with the new AVAPS machine has been helping, and I still need to recommit to breath stacking of course, even though I hate it. A lot. I still owe you guys a demonstration video of exactly why that’s so miserable. But still. No change. Great news. I will take it.

Usually, that would be the end of it. I typically have six appointments. However, since I have graduated to the new sleepy time breath machine, we have added a pulmonologist to the mix. I met with him last. My standard doctor was apparently on vacation in Ireland or something, so I met with a substitute from his practice. It’s a shame he was a substitute, because I really like him actually. He had some suggestions about the mask I’m using at night, some accessory suggestions for the machine, and sheepish apologies that a lot of these commonsense accessories aren’t covered by insurance at all. I came out of that appointment with another doctor appointments to make for a new mask fitting. That will happen on Tuesday.

After that, I headed downstairs to the lab for some overdue bloodwork – I was supposed to have done so last time apparently, but we missed it. Most of my levels came back normal, but I am once again experiencing a vitamin D deficiency. Probably because now that I’m not going to work I don’t really get out into the sun at all. Ever. I take a 1000 IU supplement, but after seeing my levels Dr. Goslin told me to bump it to 4000. Apparently my deficiency is not screwing around.

After all of this, and my summary letter came in the mail, I discovered that my ALS FRS rating has gone down to 26. Down eight points out of 48 total in three months worries me a bit, I admit, but I don’t know if that’s me shifting from doctor to self evaluation or what. I certainly don’t feel like I’ve declined that far in so short a time. But my breathing is the same, and that’s what I care the most about right now. So I’m happy.

And that, my loves, is how Clinic Day went.

The Best Present

I received a happy box in the mail yesterday! Something very cool was inside of it and I wanted to tell you about it.

Occasionally, I get random happy packages from certain friends. My friend Jim particularly, he sends me random boxes of completely bizarre things that he finds and thinks of me. Anything from Pez dispensers that have no head, to creepy little trinkets he finds in thrift stores, to snippets he cut out of a magazine. Lots of chicken related things. I adore getting random packages in the mail. I think everyone does, really. Something like 10 years ago, I did a happy box exchange in which I invited my friends to participate, and I sent out a box full of things that made me happy to each of them. I burned CDs of music that I like, made little packets of cake sprinkles and stickers, made happy little finger puppets from IKEA into refrigerator magnets. I included a note on everything to explain what it was and why it made me happy. Why it was important to me to include in that particular box. The idea was for it to be in exchange, and once they had received my package, they would send me a box of what made them happy back. Not everyone sent me a box back, but many did (with a couple notable people going way, way overboard above and beyond), and I adored every single one of them. Satou-chan was one of those who reciprocated (in spades).

I’ve known her for many, many years. She’s one of the very first people I ever met online and forged a real-life friendship with. We bonded over a common love of Japanese culture, writing, and a particular manga called Fushigi Yuugi. I flew all the way from Oregon to Atlanta, Georgia to attend my very first anime con with her and Holly, our other anime obsessed writer friend. It remains one of my happiest memories. I’m grateful every day that we kept in touch. She wound up moving to Arizona, and I was lucky enough to be sent there for work sometimes, and on one happy occasion we were able to sync our schedules and meet up in person again. That, also, is one of my happiest memories.

Satou-chan just sent me happy box.

She had texted me to let me know it was coming, and to confirm my address, and to apologize for the length of time it’d been since we last spoken. I truly wasn’t worried about that last thing, because communication works both ways and I’m just as guilty about not keeping in touch. I honestly don’t get offended when people go long periods of time without contacting me, because I am absolutely awful at it myself. My most cherished friendships are the ones in which I usually don’t speak to them for months, sometimes even years at a time, and when we do pick up it’s right back where we left off like no time at passed at all. My friendship with her is one of them.

Inside the box were many truly happy things. Including one of the most amazing cards I have ever seen in my entire life – it was a paper craft tray of sushi. Inside, she’d written all sorts of almost embarrassingly praising words, letting me know how much she cherished me and my friendship. The sushi card was because one of her favorite memories was of our Ariona hangouts and going to sushi together. I won’t lie; I totally cried. She also sent me stickers, because duh, and some happy fairy sparkly things, a glorious pair of socks, and probably the sweetest children’s book I have seen in forever. She said it was her favorite, and it reminded her of our friendship. (Yeah, I cried reading that, too.) Everything in the box was wrapped in tissue paper, separate little packages for me to unwrap and reveal surprises within. Every little packet had a note on it, explaining why she was giving me that particular thing, or what was on her mind when she bought it, or simply “This box contains tiny dinosaurs. I am sending them with love. <3 “

I loved every single gift, every single note, every single thought.

But the one that stood out the most, and the one that is probably my favorite thing in this whole entire box, was the note attached to a little bundle of things like lip balm, a keychain, and a little (freaking ADORABLE) notepad: “So… I realized early on that a lot of the stuff I bought for your happy box might be hard for you to use. (One reason I didn’t send.) Then I realized I had no business deciding that for you, and decided to send them anyway.”

And THAT, my friends, is how you be a fucking ALLY.

Tainted

J likes rabbits. A very specific rabbit aesthetic, mind you. Get those Hallmark Easter bunnies out of here. Victorian rabbit dolls, like The Velveteen Rabbit, Albrecht Dürer’s Hare wood cut. When I see these kinds of rabbits, I think of him. If it’s something online, I share it with him through Facebook or text message. When I see these kinds of rabbits, I think of him and smile.

My brother Gecko likes birds. When I see something funny related to birds, I think of him. I forward bird jokes, and bird memes. When I see something funny about birds, I think of Gecko. Birds make me happy, because they make him happy.

Danielle liked manatees. I mean – I imagine she still does. She likes them because they were chubby and round and adorable. When I see something about manatees, I think about Danielle. I can’t share those things with her though; she’s no longer in my life. When I see things I know she would enjoy, I am reminded of her absence, and it hurts a little even though I like that thing. I enjoy manatees a little more than I might have otherwise, because they made her happy and I loved seeing her happy. But now they also make me a little sad because they remind me of her, and she’s no longer around and seeing manatees makes me miss her.

Sometimes I wonder what associations people have with me, and what sort of currently happy things will become bittersweet once I’m dead. Marshmallow Peeps, I’m pretty sure. Stickers and things with googly eyes maybe. Mister Rogers. Probably all of the things that people currently forward to me on Facebook and email, silly little jokes and references that make them think of me and smile; and knowing I would enjoy them also, send them along.

Sometimes I think about the time that will come, when there will be that thing that reminds someone of me, and I won’t be here to forward that thing to. Some cool fact, or happy little thing that someone will want to share with me, but they can’t. Because I will be dead. When some currently goofy thing becomes bittersweet.

What happy things I am going to taint with my absence?

It’s a pretty fucked up legacy, ruining something quintessentially silly. To be able to fuck up stickers for somebody. Stickers, for fuck’s sake. Happy little adhesive pictures. Someday, someone is going to be at a craft store minding their own business, and their eyes will wander to a happy display of delightful little sticky images, and they’re going to get really sad. Because they know how much I love them. Loved. It’s a completely ridiculous thought. An adhesive cartoon octopus is going to have the power to make someone cry.

We don’t truly possess the power to control how we are remembered. We can only try to steer the shape that our selves create in someone’s memory. A vague outline, to be filled in with the colors of experiences and emotions and perceptions beyond our control. I hope to be remembered first and foremost as kind. Death positive. My almost unhealthy obsession for cats, Mr. Rogers, stickers, googly eyes, nature documentaries, Halloween, spiders, cartoons, marshmallow Peeps, swearing, Bob Ross, Skyrim, Pokemon Go, etc etc etc etc notwithstanding, I really hope kindness and death positivity are the first things people think of when they think of me. I’m okay with those two things being a little bittersweet. I’m comfortable with someone coming across an article about green burials and thinking how much I would’ve approved and appreciated it and getting a little bit sad that they can’t hit that forward button.

Those other things, though, are all really happy things and I hope my death doesn’t ruin them too much. At least, not for very long. Marshmallow peeps have no business being maudlin. Sometimes I almost regret liking shit that is so silly, so fervently, because the thought of an adorable cartoon bat making someone tear up a little is really fucking depressing. It instead would make me very happy to think that someday one of my friends is going to slap a sticker on their laptop and think fondly of me without sadness coming in and fucking it up. Because stickers are awesome.

Bonus points for googly eyes.

Retrospectacle

Obligatory 2018 retrospective post coming right up!

This last year seemed particularly unkind. I honestly can’t recall another year in my life in which I was so tightly wound, all the time. My stupid disease actually seemed like the least of my worries. I distinctly recall thinking on many occasions, “please can this bullshit be over so that I can just focus on actually dying?” Our current political climate was a massive source of stress, every day, all the time. I had set up filters for my Facebook and other social media to automatically purge all mention of that asshole currently terrorizing us via the White House just to maintain some shred of sanity. Even still, it intruded too much of my reality, too often. I lost entirely too much sleep just panicking on behalf of those I love, and myself, and total strangers. Too many nights spent in abject fear as I watched my country descend into absolute fascism. In our last session together, my therapist actually told me that his wish for me in the coming year is to stop giving a shit. I can do literally nothing about any of this, and I would be so much happier if I could just let it go.

But then, he conceded, if I did somehow managed to pull it off he wouldn’t even know who the hell I was.

January I got my new wheels. She is named the SS Opportunity, because even before I get in that chair it weighs almost 400 pounds, and so if you do not get out of my way when I am in it you will have an opportunity to experience being in a wheelchair for yourself. I didn’t start using the chair right away, primarily because I had no real way to transport myself and the chair to places I needed to be. I needed a wheelchair van first. I also got a new boss at work, my sixth in 10 months. He came with a bold set of new ideas and new plans and promptly set about firing all of my techs and replacing them with new guys. It’s a given at that company that every time there is a new leader, they have to put their fingerprint on everything. It was a lot of shakeup and stress I really didn’t need.

February was particularly ugly. There was a very abrupt end to a very young life that fucked with me more than I can tell you. It’s not my business to tell you. I questioned a lot of things. My mom had a heart attack. Fuck February. The end.

March. I had my first clinic day of the year, my hands were officially decreed garbage as they registered nothing at all on the grip test. My estranged father, whom I had not spoken to or heard anything about in 20 years, died. I paid for his cremation. That’s all I have to say about that. Stephen Hawking died, and so ALS lost its one celebrity.

April was my fourth Sadiversary. I also had my 43rd birthday. We road tripped to Arizona to buy a wheelchair van, because they averaged five to $10,000 cheaper there. The road trip was entertaining, we learned a lot about how ADA regulations are apparently just a suggestion in Arizona, and no one who writes the rules actually has any fucking idea what it’s like to be in a wheelchair. Spoiler alert: a grip bar behind the toilet is absolutely useless and in it self does not make for an accessible bathroom. The van was at the mechanics within the month for a door closing issue. However, thanks to having the van I was able to start taking the SS Opportunity to work. She makes everything not only easier, but sometimes possible at all. I had gotten used to doing without a drink at work, or waiting until I was nearly peeing my pants to use the bathroom and planning what else I could do while I was up, because of the effort required to do those things with the walker. With the chair, I could just… Get up and go whenever I wanted. Wherever I wanted. It’s kind of nice to be able to put in a full day’s work and still have a little bit left of energy at the end of the day. I had forgotten what that was like.

May was blissfully uneventful.

In June, I put in notice at work. I lost a lot of sleep over that decision, and popped more Ativan than I’m probably comfortable admitting. My manager was kind of the opposite of devastated, which cemented in my brain it was absolutely the right decision to make. I gave him almost 3 months notice, and set to work making sure I did everything I could to keep the wheels at my job turning after I left. I was asked many many times why I bothered, and towards the end I started asking myself the same question. I freely admit though, to enjoying heaping spoonfuls of schadenfreude (I am fucking amazed that this program knows schadenfreude) when the CEO of that company was ousted for unethical behavior. I watched an amazing, very positive and life-affirming concert, and a burlesque show. June was pretty all right.

July saw me making official announcements to coworkers about leaving, and many many things happening at work that cemented it was a great idea to be leaving now. Which is not to say that I didn’t obsess and stress and freak out about it anyway. So much of your identity is tied into what you do for living, and I had – am having – a really hard time letting that go. The world at large collectively lost its shit over plastic straws. It had been quite a long time since I had seen so much ableist garbage on my newsfeed, so I guess we were overdue. I spent a good chunk of time educating idiots on exactly why plastic straws are a literal lifesaving device. I also got the bill for my wheelchair this month, and was eternally grateful yet again for the health insurance my job provides. I could have bought a very, very nice car for what this thing cost. I got angry again that the insurance company does not consider the lift feature to be necessary when they refused to pay for it. Still, I’m very glad I opted in for that anyway. I use it probably every time I sit in that chair, and it makes everything so much easier. It’s rather nice to be able to look people in the face when you’re talking to them; you really do become invisible when you sit in a chair. If you’re not eye-level, people forget about you.

August was when I stopped actually reporting to work. August 31 was my last official day, with three weeks of vacation to follow. So much angst. August was also when Jillian happened at me with her rotten cabbage juice bullshit. It takes a lot for me to get that angry. It was nothing however, compared to the anger of all y’all. That was a delicious thing to behold. I am grateful for you every day. I will never, ever doubt that you all have got my back.

September was the end of my working career for reels. It still doesn’t seem like a thing that genuinely happened. I had my last clinic day of the year, and my breathing was officially rated problematic. So that was fun. I had a team walk with me in the ALS Association’s walk to defeat ALS, and that was a very uplifting experience. As usual. And again, if I ever had any doubt that I have a tribe that supports me, that doubt is gone. I am loved and supported, and I will never forget that.

In October, I gave a death positive talk at an art show. It is probably one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. I’m genuinely proud of what I wrote for that show, and hopefully I convinced some people to fill out their advanced directive. Death positivity continues to become a mission in what’s left of my life. Halloween is my favorite season of the year, and we did a whole lot of celebrating and shopping and buying delightfully useless decor and stuffed animals. October is also Jay’s birthday, and I simply don’t have words to convey how important that man is in my life, and how grateful I am that he remains my best friend and my strongest ally and my chief supporter. I literally do not know what I would do without him.

November. Elections. Just… So much. I don’t think I really slept at all in November. It was the start of a pretty serious slide into depression that I am still fully immersed in. Hence my silence. Having nothing to do is waiting very heavily on me, but I also don’t really have the energy to do anything specifically. I’m not ready yet to look for volunteer work or anything. I bought a new laptop. That was pretty cool.

December has been spent desperately attempting to make something of what my brain has fixated on as my last proper Christmas. Also be around for the next one, but my hands won’t be able to open presents, or wrap gifts, or bake a fruit cake. Leaving my bed much less my apartment has become an ordeal. I fully realize a lot of that is the depression talking. But most days, things seemed pretty dark. Because they are. I have a terminal disease, and sometimes I just can’t find that sense of humor about it. Most days I can. Some days, it’s even actively hilarious.

Today marks the new year. Even if I die in the next five minutes, there is one number higher on how long I’ve lived. I have no fucking idea what the coming year brings. All I know for sure is there are a couple of concerts I have tickets to. In September, my short-term disability runs out. I really, really, really hope I have a permanent place to live by then. At some point during the new year there will be a post all about that I’m sure. Meantime, I have some eggnog and some snacks and a warm bed and very cute cats and no plans to do anything tomorrow but sleep and play video games. Can’t complain. I will take 2019 as it comes, and simply pray that it is kinder to me than last year was. I hope that for all of us.

Happy new year, my darlings.

Not dead yet!

I have a new laptop and I totally lost my Dragon installation disc and I have not convinced myself to spend $150 to get a new copy.

And my hands are garbage meat noodles so typing everything I wanna say isn’t an option either.

I’m figuring things out.

Stand by.

I love you.










Accommodations

If I’d been told five years ago what ALS was, and been allowed to do as much research as I like, and then been asked to write down everything I thought might be a problem for someone with the disease, I’d still have gotten most of it wrong.

That’s part of why I made this blog, I guess. To track those things. Even things I probably would have mentioned, I would not have gotten completely right. I am very, very lucky that I am not the first person with this disease, and so every little one of these little problems that have come up almost always has a solution. And usually? Even a marketed product to fix it. A law to address it. Something.

For example! I have no strength in my feet. That’s a duh observation. But one of the unexpected consequences of that fact is that at night, the weight of the blankets simply resting on top of them becomes painful. The weight of the blankets push my feet down so my toes curl and my heels dig into the mattress. When you have strength in your toes you don’t even register the weight. When your feet are useless, you can actually get bedsores on your ankles and heels just from that little bit of weight. So now you know!

Luckily, folks have had this problem addressed before. One answer is a kind of cushiony boot that you wear to bed, to give your ankles extra cushion. But the BETTER solution is something called a bed cradle – a C shaped frame that slips under your mattress and keeps the covers up off your feet. It’s also awesome for cats to lean against, apparently.

(there will be a cute pic of my cats leaning against the bed cradle here as soon as my site stops being a shit head and lets me upload)

I love this thing.

One thing that ABSOLUTELY occurred to me as a need, however, was the need for a bathroom with bars and enough space to get a wheelchair in. It’s a no-brainer. And yet. AND YET. So many places get it wrong. I …hold on, before I get into this rant, I’ma look up what the legal requirements are. If i were a benevolent dictator, everyone who owns a public place would have to do a day in a wheelchair to get a feel for it and see what the hell people have to deal with, so they could visualize how best to build a proper fucking bathroom. And I know there are absolutely the kind of assholes who comply with the absolute letter of the ADA law but to the point of practical uselessness. I suspect that is the case for the Lake Oswego Stanford’s restaurant, which I’m about to rant about in a second. I am calling them out specifically here because we went there for Thanksgiving, and my experience with their toilet was so goddamned frustrating it verrrrrrrrrrrrry nearly ruined my day because I almost had to call J to come rescue me.

…hoooboy yah that stall was NOT compliant. OK so here is the photo I took of myself sitting on the toilet, in preparation for sending it to J by way of explanation why I needed him to come get me.

(there will be a pic of the bathroom stall here as soon as my site stops being a shit head and lets me upload)

My wheelchair is backed all the fuck back against the door. The foot rests on my wheelchair had to be folded up to get my chair in all the way so I could close the door. My knees are apart because there is literally three inches between the edge of my chair and the toilet bowl. On the one side of the stall is a very flimsy wooden partition and no grab bar. On the other wall? A grab bar AND THE FUCKING DIAPER CHANGE STATION MOUNTED ONE INCH ABOVE IT. The bar was rendered completely fucking useless because of that goddamned thing. There was another bar along the back wall, mounted one inch above the toilet tank.

RESTAURANTS AND OTHERS, Y U DO DIS

I should have not bothered, but I really had to go, so I managed to maneuver the chair in at an angle. I was able to get out of the chair thanks to its seat tilt function, but A GRAB BAR ON THAT WALL WOULD HAVE BEEN FUCKING NICE. Using the bar against the back wall I was able to pull myself forward to lean against the back wall to undress. Then carefully lower myself down, because I couldn’t even lean on that non-bar wall for support (see: flimsy-ass wooden partition). The toilet was lower than my chair, and the instant I sat down I knew I was not going to be able to get back up with any sort of ease.

I finished up and took a long time to figure out how the fuck I was going to get back up. Long enough that J was sending me a text to ask if I was okay, but I was already planning on what I was going to say to him to explain I was going to need his help to get out. Meanwhile the bathroom was suddenly full of women, there was a line for the two stalls, including one woman saying she couldn’t use the other stall because she needed the bars. I almost called out to her that the handicap stall wasn’t going to be of any use to her.

After some consideration, I wound up having to lift my leg to it sidesaddle on the toilet, swivel my bare ass on to my wheelchair from the toilet, then lift myself up from there to pull my underwear back up and my skirt down. When I sat back down, I was out of breath. Humiliated. And then had to open the stall door and do a six point turn in a crowded goddamned bathroom to get to the sink while being stared at by a line of ladies. The woman who needed the stall had to wait for me to wait for both sinks to be clear, because the handicap stall door opened almost against the sink and I had to be completely out of its way to let the door close. Which meant once she was in there and the door closed, I effectively trapped her in there with my chair while I went back up to the sink to wash my hands. I’d wanted to take a picture of the stall with the fucking diaper station obstructing the bar, but there was a very long line waiting for that toilet.

I’m simply saying that Stanford’s was really lucky their pumpkin cheesecake was delicious because I might have burned the fucking place down after that.

As it is, now that I’ve seen the legal requirements and know goddamned well they are not in compliance, I’m proooooooooolly gonna lodge a formal goddamned complaint. We like to go there for family gatherings, but I’d never had to use the bathroom before. I’ve sometimes thought about starting a sideblog for really terrible public toilets and why they are not useful for actual ADA people, but I think it would just be supremely rage inducing for me and no one would give a shit who had any power to change it.

So instead I rant here in slightly TMI tones for y’all folks to read about. You’re welcome.

My bed cradle is still fucking awesome though.










Surreal

Man, what even IS my life anymore.

I got a voice mail the day after that last post from my awesome nurse. “Hi, I read your blog, and I have some ideas about the AVAPS.”

Uhhhhh..hi there. I forget that people read this, sometimes. I have the best freaking care team ever, you guys. I got contacted from three different folks to ABSOLUTELY ASSURE ME that the machine would get paid for, the rules are more bendy for folks with ALS so please don’t stress about it. And then thanks to Nurse Awesome, I was contacted yesterday by Providence Respiratory to adjust my settings remotely to ramp that sucker down.

OMG SO MUCH BETTER GUYS.

It had previously been forcing air down my throat so hard my ears were popping. Seriously. I can handle it now. I might even get compliance on my own without my awesome peeps having to argue for leeway. It’s still not exactly comfortable, but it’s so much more manageable.

Thursday was noooooooot a good day, there were a million things going wrong, including hurting myself by trying to lean over in the chair to pull something out from under my wheels. I felt and heard something go POP, and owowowowowow. Not a crack, though, and breathing was still ok, so I just rode it out and after a few days’ soreness I’m alright. Then Thursday night someone said something a bit unkind and I kinda completely lost my shit for awhile. Occasionally there’s a trigger and I mourn the person I don’t get to become. Five years ago, I had my very own house, I had just lost a lot of weight and was fitting in all my cute clothes again, I was going to school to further my career, I had all my shit sorted out and my life was pretty fucking great, actually. Thursday night I let myself grieve for her, because that future is dead, and I let myself be angry at people who say really stupid shit.

Friday I had the distinct displeasure of taking the sodding van in for repair. It cost me $919. I’m extremely grateful to Intel for their short term disability benefit easing me out of the workforce, because fortunately I HAVE that money. For now. Although now the brake light’s coming on. So that’ll be fun.

Saturday I did nothing but sleep and fuck around on the internet.

Sunday I did something SUPER COOL but is not my story to tell, so just believe me when I say it was amazing.

This morning my cat woke me up because I could hear him chewing on plastic. When I located him, he had a huge long piece of cellophane coming out of his mouth, and was choking on it a little. I could not get him to come to me for ANYTHING, and when I stood up and tried to get to him, of course he backed away. I took another step towards him and fell right on my ass. It didn’t hurt, even though I’ve kinda got no muscle in my ass to cushion the fall anymore, but it knocked a bit of breath away.

And then since I was on the floor, my fucking cat decided to come check me out and I was able to get the plastic out of his mouth.

Motherfucker.

The fall didn’t hurt, but getting off the floor did. I wound up sitting on my foot rests and using that wheelchair lift feature to get myself up off the ground, but even with the grab bar on my bed, the chair to push off of, and my walker on standby, I wasn’t able to get over up on the bed. I had to lower myself back to the floor and let myself catch my breath before I tried again, and was very, very grateful to the Depends company for their fine product and my forethought to start wearing them to bed otherwise I’d have exacerbated my situation by having to catch my breath sitting in a puddle.

Welcome to the TMI Show.

Now, I have my awesome watch, so I was never stranded. I always had options. I’m just stubborn as fuck. I texted J but he was not immediately responding, so I tried the wheelchair lift again, and used it to ALSO steer myself right up against the bed this time, and was able to get in bed. And then after catching my breath, getting up to go to the bathroom to change my disposable shorts. I cried for like half a second, but realistically I know this is definitely going to happen again. Probably not the cat part, but there will definitely be another fall, and next time I very probably will not be able to get myself up. It’s twelve hours later and even though I’ve been in bed all day I’m still exhausted from the ordeal. So that sucks. If I hadn’t had such a huge meltdown Thursday, it would have happened today.

So that’s my life, this last week. Kinda a shit show, but there were definitely some good bits in there.

Also I wanna restate that my care team is amazing, especially my nurse. <3










Catching My Breath

Jeez, peeps, it’s been a month since I’ve posted. Good thing this blog isn’t monetized or anything. A kind commenter left me a little prod about being so quiet, and I realized I should get off my ass and say something. Or…get ON my ass, since writing involves that position. It’s been awhile that I’ve been in a place to be able to pace and dictate or whatever.

I digress.

The first couple weeks of October, I don’t even have an excuse for not posting anything except perhaps laziness. Well, obviously laziness. No ‘perhaps’ about it. The last two weeks were kind of rough if I’m being honest. Politics caused me a lot of sleepless nights, and I wish I had it in me not to care about any of it, but I don’t. I often say the one silver lining to this disease is that I get to check out early, whereas the rest of you people have to stay and deal with this. I won’t be alive to see California slide into the ocean, or Handmaid’s Tale cease being fiction, or Auschwitz’s rebirth in my own goddamned country. There is a small grace in that. It still doesn’t prevent me having sleepless nights just absolutely freaking out over everything I cannot change and crying a lot. I wish the only thing I had to worry about was my actual disease.

The main thing going on in the last couple of weeks has been transportation problems, and breathing problems. I had an appointment to get my new AVAPS sleep machine, which I was very nervous about because it’s a whole new goddamned concession to this bitch of a disease, and I’d asked J to go along with me. Unfortunately, when we got there I was not able to get out of the fucking van because the automated door mechanism decided not to work. At all. We were used to it being a flaky bitch and sometimes not latching closed properly, but this was new. The door would not open all the way even with J pulling it open manually, so the ramp could not extend. And so I sat in the parking lot missing my fucking appointment while Jay feverishly tried to figure out how to free me. The door mechanism has been kind of flaky pretty much since I got it, and she’s been in for repairs twice already. J managed to get the door to open all the way, but he missed work the whole day instead of just a couple of hours while we took her in for an emergency appointment. The mechanics there were able to temporarily Band-Aid the problem.

By pretty much breaking my door.

Their fix to my door not automatically opening was to simply cut the cable that opened it and turn it into a manual door. Which is not, of course, a fucking fix. It was a preventative measure to keep the cable from snapping of its own accord and shearing apart the motor. We got a proper appointment later that afternoon to see what could actually be done, and after having my van for over an hour they explained that the entire mechanism would need to be replaced. Oh and now also the cable. Which, after the last time the van was in for service, we already knew replacing the assembly was going to be the next step which is why I had previously asked them to replace the entire assembly in the first place, and they never called me back. A month ago. So yes please can we actually REPAIR THE FUCKING VEHICLE.

This was all after getting pissed off that the mechanic would only talk to J and ignore me – because I’m just stupid dumb woman who doesn’t know anything about vans LOL. J very politely asserted that it was only MY name on the paperwork and registration and I would be the one paying for the repairs, so really he should be addressing me, not him (J is a champ). Thankfully, the mechanic did speak directly to me after that. But seriously. Dude wasn’t even old, he really ought to know better. They always do that; they will look at the paperwork read my name, and then turned to Jason and address him as Mr. Ross (THAT IS NOT HIS NAME EVEN) and explain what needs doing.

BITCH I AM SITTING RIGHT HERE AND WILL BE PAYING FOR THIS HI HELLO HOW ARE YOU. FUCKER.

Moral of the story is that we agreed the door assembly and cable need replacing. I kind of had to insist that we do that – the mechanic was seemingly trying to talk me out of it like, the door is working? (HI NO IT IS NOT BECAUSE IT IS A MECHANICAL DOOR THAT IS NOT FUNCTIONAL AT THIS TIME) The repairs will be expensive? (I HAVE A FUCKING WARRANTY) We got our van back, with the door still needing to be manually opened and closed before the rant will work, and the mechanic sets to ordering the parts that were needed and getting warranty authorization for repairs.

…A week later he calls to inform me that the warranty is declined for the repairs, because my contract does not cover those parts. He thought it sounded fishy and asked to see my actual contract. I have agreed the hell it doesn’t cover the freaking door, I paid $2000 for that fucking warranty it had better, and agreed to send him a copy. Turns out my fucking contract does not cover anything but the ramp itself, and the drive train. Literally nothing else. I paid $2k for them to not fix anything but a catastrophic failure THANK YOU ARIZONA MOBILITY FOR YOUR USELESS GODDAMNED SERVICE CONTRACT. So I am on the hook for $1000 repair. I have an appointment to go ahead with the repair on Friday, and then yesterday the ramp itself decided it doesn’t want to work either and refused to work for a moment. And then did work. Much like the door itself would sometimes decide to close and sometimes not. So I probably get to look forward to getting that repaired soon as well. Theoretically at least that will be covered. IN THEORY.

After missing the breathing appointment, I came to find out that the respiratory folks would actually have been able to come to my apartment in the first place to set up the machine. THIS IS USEFUL INFORMATION I WOULD HAVE LIKED TO HAVE. YOU KNOW, BEFORE. So we set up an appointment for them to come to me, and last Tuesday they delivered my new machine. It is, as promised, the most powerful noninvasive ventilator you can get. It costs $6400. If I can prove compliance – by which I have to use this machine at least four hours a day for 21 days out of 30 – then my insurance will pay for it outright. Otherwise I’m going to have to rent this thing for $700 a fucking months Covered by insurance, sure, but my co-pay is about to reset in January and I will be goddamned if I am paying for this fucking machine on top of everything else. I’ll save my precious out of pocket money for the $17,000 a month infusion meds that aren’t helping. I guess. So I just need to prove to Providence I am going to use it when I sleep. Pinky promise.

That’s turning out to be much easier said than done.

This machine is indeed much more powerful than my old CPAP was. Too powerful. It’s kind of like breathing from a turbine engine. It has a ramp function, where it will slowly turn the air up, but even that is not exactly comfortable. By which I mean it is genuinely hard to breathe with that machine on. I can’t take a little bit of air, it’s like drinking from a fire hose. If I try to breathe shallow to prevent the machine inflating my lungs like balloons, it freaks out and tries even harder. Eventually I have to pull in a huge lungful of air, which the machine helpfully cuts off the airflow after a second and I have to breathe through my mouth to catch my breath entirely. I have fallen into a routine of putting the mask over my face and then just checking out the Internet or watching TV or something for an hour or so before bed to try to get used to it before I am actually attempting to sleep. Like, distract myself and trick my body into being cool with my new overlord breathing on my behalf. It’s not really working. The only way I’ve really been able to sleep with it is if I medicate myself either with Ativan or Ambien first. Even then, I wake up fairly often. I find myself constantly checking the machine to see if I’ve hit four hours of use yet so I can pull the mask off and sleep comfortably.

This machine has taught me what my actual limit for life is.

As I lie in bed struggling to breathe, I know that when this becomes my existence, and not just an artificial effect produced by a machine, I am going to be done. I cannot live that way. It is abjectly miserable, and it is impossible to do anything else when you are struggling so hard just to get air into your body. That is not going to be a life worth living. When the machine is doing my breathing for me, and there is nothing in my brain except an animalistic fight for control over the oxygen coming in and out of my lungs, that will be the time to say goodbye. Because that is not a life.

For now though, I have the ability to pull the mask off. I counts down the time until four hours has passed, when I can pull the mask off and sleep properly. For now life is still great. I have ideas and plans. Including a very important plan to call the respiratory specialists and see if there is some adjustment that can be made to make me a little less abjectly miserable when I’m trying to sleep. To make sleep possible at all without taking potentially addictive medications. Friday I will take the van in and try to get it limping along for a little while. I literally just needed to last a couple of years. Sunday, I get to do something really really awesome I am super excited about. I have things to do. People to see. Life to live.

One breath at a time.










Hilarious

While in the company of a good friend, we talked about serious and silly things as I usually do, and found myself devolving into a rant against billionaires. Hoarding that much money should be illegal. No one should ever have a billion dollars in today’s economy, it’s unconscionable. How the hell do you have enough money to literally end world hunger and then just…not?

After awhile, my friend sighed angrily. “It just…makes me sick,” she fumed.

“It’s pretty bad when you’re talking to a terminally ill person and my disease isn’t the most depressing thing,” I agreed.

And then we both laughed and felt better, and THAT is why gallows humor rocks.










Repose

My friend and insanely talented artist and compassionate person Tamara owns a cute shop/art gallery called Redux here in Portland. She occasionally has art shows at Redux, and occasionally those gallery shows are to benefit a good cause, like for the Cat Adoption Team. She asked if I would be interested in in a show she was planning about Death Positivity. I said OH HELL YES PLEASE. She asked if I would mind it being a benefit for the ALS Association. I was all kinds of verklempt and said I thought that would be amazing. She asked if I would like to read something at the show. I said I would be honored, and I would try. This is what I wrote, and what I read tonight.

There’s a lot they don’t tell you about dying. I mean, it’s not as if terminal diagnoses come with any kind of handbook to begin with, but there are a few things one usually expects, typically to do with your specific disease. Spoiler alert: with ALS you stop being able to walk really well, or at all. You may also expect to lose the ability to speak and swallow. They tell you what kind of trajectory your disease is probably going to take, and they can usually give you some form of a timeline.

No one tells you though, how profoundly, emotionally tiring it is. I had to learn that on my own. There is a physical exhaustion that typically comes with whatever ails you, of course; hell, it’s usually one of the symptoms that told you something was wrong to begin with. But no one can properly prepare you for how soul crushingly exhausting the whole business of dying is. How the psychological process of navigating your own death saps what little energy you have to fight the physical troubles before you. How…lonely, this whole business is.

Here’s something else I had to learn for myself: it absolutely doesn’t have to be.

This is a hell of our own devising.

It’s a hell born of ignorance, paranoia, and good intention. It’s a hell that comes in slices, tiny slices of death denial force fed to us from a young age. When adults use phrases like “gone to sleep” or “gone to Heaven” to explain why Grandma isn’t going to be coming over for Christmas this year. When our beloved old pet goes to some imaginary farm to live out their twilight years. When we get older, and we learn what death is, hell is fed to us in new rules: you’re not allowed to say DEAD. Ever. They have gone to the Lord, or passed away. It’s not a dead body laid out in a coffin, their earthly remains lie…in repose. In an obscenely expensive burial chamber. Undertakers become funeral directors, graves become memorial sites, corpses become our dearly departed. A whole lexicon of mortality is denied to us, with harsh social consequence if we ever dare say BURIED instead of “laid to rest”. We cheerfully eat this poison, we send ourselves into fits of delusional paranoia as though merely mentioning someone is dead is some sort of invitation for disaster, to brush death under the carpet and never talk about it in polite company. As a society we have decided that this is healthy behavior.

But it isn’t.

Because let me tell you, this culture of death denial makes it REALLY, REALLY HARD to *be* dying. It is impossible to deal with the practicalities of the matter when no one will say it out loud. Any time you mention the D Word, you get uncomfortable silence and furtive glances and abrupt subject changes, or you get laughter and even more obvious subject changes. People are so worried about offending my delicate feelings that I am not allowed to express those feelings at all. Some have swallowed the belief that if you don’t talk about it, it magically can’t happen, or the other inane idea that thinking positive will fix everything! OH SHUSH DON’T TALK LIKE THAT THEY ARE GOING TO CURE THIS YOU WILL SEE – THE ICE BUCKETS WERE MAGIC. THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE PANACEA. SHUT UP WITH YOUR DEPRESSING DEATH TALK. It is profoundly frustrating. It makes it difficult to plan what’s to become of my cats, or ask what earthly possessions would someone like to have, if they just hand wave and assure you that you have plenty of time to think about it. Later. Much later. Or never. That works too. Let’s deny that any of this is happening and just spend time together ok? Without talking about ..you know. It’s just so…morbid.

Instead, you’re expected to shut up about it, and bottle it up, and in the end you’ve spent your last days spiritually exhausted from having to pretend you’re not dying all while secretly dealing with all the emotional, physical, and bureaucratic nightmare of actually dying. And then of course it’s too late for those conversations, you’re capital D-Dead and all of your favorite things go to some charity or yard sale instead of the people who might cherish them for their history and their sentiment. Your stuff in the garbage, instead of a friend’s home, your social media accounts deleted instead of put in memorium, memories gone forever and your favorite dishes gone to your greedy aunt who will be selling them off for profit instead of your collector friend who’d actually appreciate and use them for what they are, and love them for whose they were. The letters you carefully wrote as goodbyes tossed into the recycling instead of delivered because you couldn’t tell anyone where they were. Who you are, your legacy, written over without your control or input simply because no one could look you in the eye and say “You are dying and that sucks, and since neither of us can do jack about that, I would really enjoy your cook books when you are gone.”

Death positivity is the cure for that hell. We’re going to die. That is okay. It is normal, and proper, and natural. Death positivity means understanding that, and even though it ABSOLUTELY SUCKS, not letting that get in the way of your daily business. Hell, it can do nothing but improve your daily business. Ever have a brush with death? Then you know this already in your bones. Mornings seem so much brighter when you almost didn’t have another one. Flowers smell so much sweeter when you know someday you will have smelled your last. Time becomes so much more precious when you understand there is a finite quantity. Marketers understand this and bank on it, or else “limited edition” would mean nothing.

Death positivity means understanding that YOU are limited edition.

“Repose” has another meaning. A lack of activity, a calm and composed manner. At rest, but alive. At peace with what’s to come, without need for euphemisms and coverup language. Call Death what it is, and fear it less. Talk about it openly, and remove some of its bite. Let me tell you what I need in order to die at peace without dancing around the reasons why. Ask me the questions you need answered, without fear of awkward silences or recrimination. Death is weird, be curious about it. Enjoy the time we have, because it’s limited. Make plans and understand why those plans are necessary. WRITE YOUR ADVANCE DIRECTIVE. Make sure your loved ones know where it is and what’s in it. Make peace with the idea of your own death, because it is going to happen and it doesn’t have to be a nasty shock when it does. We’re all going to die. It doesn’t have to kill you before you get a chance to stop breathing.

Build a better relationship with your own pending demise. Use the words DEATH and DYING, normalize it, and maybe, just maybe, we can all have some repose before we are In Repose.










My First Death Positivity Experience

When I was very young, barely old enough to even know what death was, I saw a show on PBS about the (still very new to the public at the time) AIDS epidemic. I don’t remember anything else about the show, but there was one segment that stuck with me for the rest of my life.

A man, in a hospital gown, sitting in a wheelchair. He was emaciated, very clearly capital-D-Dying. And he made eye contact with the camera, and then sang a very jaunty song about his own, very eminent demise from the disease. I remembered clearly three things: that it was basically about why you should be kind to him as he was going to die soon (particularly a phrase “forgive me when I’m mean”), a quirky little instrumental break during which he tap danced while sitting in his wheelchair, and the chorus phrase “cause I’ve got less time than you”.

And it stayed with me. I was…let’s see when this was released….ooh. I was 13. I remember clearly thinking that the song was funny, and not being sad for him at all, even though I knew he was going to die, and I knew that he knew it, too. The emergent Spooky Kid in me delighted in how morbid the whole thing was, and i loved the twisted sense of humor, but what resonated with me 30 years later was not the morbidity. I actually admired him for knowing that he was going to die, and having made peace with that, he was able to be so forthright with his needs. Since he knew there was literally nothing he could do about it, he decided to have such a wicked sense of humor about the whole thing. It was a quiet, desperate, dare you not to look away from it strength. LOOK AT ME, I AM DYING AND THERE IS NOTHING ANYONE CAN DO. NOW LAUGH WITH ME. He saw his own pending demise, and owned it. I wanted to be like that, too, if I could. Strong, unafraid, and funny.

The image of the tap-dancing dying man never left me, and indeed after my diagnosis, any time I prioritized my own needs over those of someone with a muddier, less terminal future, the chorus would pop into my head. I justified inconveniencing people (whether they actually felt inconvenienced or not was irrelevant to my broken brain) with a jaunty internal chorus of “cause I’ve got less time than you”.

I finally remembered to look for it online, not really expecting to find it. It was (exactly!) 30 years ago, pre-internet, and all I had to go on was “man in wheelchair AIDS song less time than you”. But I did find it. It took some doing to find an actual video (especially one that wasn’t an impossible-to-understand audience recorded live version), but my Google-fu is strong. His name was Rodney Price, and he died two weeks after filming this. He is my role model to aspire to while dying today, and he was my very first Death Positive Hero.

I give you Rodney Price, “Song From An Angel”.










Clinical Anxiety

Clinic was Monday! Let’s break down how it went, shall we?

PT/OT: My hands now no longer register ANYTHING on the strength test. Fuck. My arms are still plenty strong, though. My biceps are a force to be reckoned with from essentially doing push-ups on my walker every day. I have an appointment to follow-up with Deb the Awesome to reimagine my spider hand braces, since my wrists droop badly enough now they’re not helping much. It doesn’t do a lot of good to keep my fingers propped up if my hands as a whole are curling under. My finger joints are doing great though, still a lot of flexibility in them so I’m not going to be clawhands any time soon. Yay!

Dietician: (Hi, Kelly!) My weight remains stable, so I’m to keep doing what I am doing. I need to keep mindful of feeding myself while I’m at home, now, since I don’t have the routine of work to set that schedule for me. My mom doesn’t know to bring me food unless I ask her because she’s old as hell and eats like, a tic-tac a day and calls it a meal. (Hi, Mom, love you!)

Nurse: I forgot to ask her what my chair weighs. Dangit. It’s written down somewhere in my chart and I’m curious what that thing weighs without me in it. Combined, we are 627 pounds of geddafuggoutmaway. She arranged my appointment with Deb, and I didn’t otherwise have much for her. I rarely do. That’s a good thing.

Social Worker: Have I waxed poetic lately about how amazing the ALS Association is? Because damn. Single-handedly saving my sanity more than once, and saving my ass multiple times. We arranged for them to pick up equipment that I’ve borrowed (FOR FREE) that I no longer need because my disease has progressed beyond their use. We then spoke about some other situations that are stressing me out, like the lack of social services for my elderly disabled mother, and she promised to dig up what resources she could for my mom in our area. She sent me an email not even a day later with a bunch of places to check out. THAT is how amazing ALSA is. My mom’s not even on their roster, but because helping her would help ME, they were totally on it. I LOVE THE ALS ASSOCIATION.

Neurologist: Usually I’d be seeing Dr. Goslin, but today I met with her new partner. I’d seen him talk at the ALS Research Symposium, and I’d been given his bio before when I was asked to write something up for him explaining why the ALS Multidisciplinary Clinic was such an awesome thing. It was nice to meet him, and the dude has one of those old-school doctor bags that J wanted to steal. Plus for geek. It was a general get-to-know-you kinda appointment.

Speech: These appointments always go fast because I’ve got no symptoms at all yet. Puff up cheeks, move your tongue, eat this dry-ass graham cracker so I can watch you swallow. NBD, nothing to report.

Respiratory: Yeeeeeah this is always my absolute least favorite, not least of all is because it’s actually HARD. I’ve actually been noticing decline here, and since this is the part of ALS that actually IS going to kill me, I don’t like having a concrete measurement of how shitty my disease is. And yet. I want that measurement, so that I know, so that I can plan, and manage expectations. I came to this appointment knowing my breathing has gotten a bit worse lately; it’s taking a bit longer to recover when I exert myself, and there’s been a few times I wake up in the night because my breath is a little short. I also had to report that my CPAP machine (which I am now supposed to use every night) is busted, doesn’t power on at ALL. We are going to get me a new machine, called an AVAPS and I have no idea what the difference is because I keep forgetting to look it up.

Hang on.

“Noninvasive mechanical ventilation with average volume assured pressure support”

That tells me nothing. 2 secs.

…Oh. It’s…basically a non-invasive respirator. So it’s hardcore. OK then. That’s…intimidating. But I had the choice between getting my CPAP replaced or getting this new hotness, and since I still have Cadillac Intel Insurance for another year, I really want to get the expensive stuff now.

With that out of the way, we did all the usual tests. First they stick a rigid plastic thing in my mouth and I exhale as hard as I can to make these little indicators move; it measures cough strength. Cough strength is still normal; it was down ten points from last visit but she wasn’t worried about that at all. The next test involves a soft plastic mask over my nose and mouth and inhaling sharply; I always ace that one by going beyond what it measures; I guess I’m really good at..sucking…? Monday was no exception. The last test is the worst. Both in what it portends, and the work it takes to perform. My dudes, it is HARD. It blew goats even when my lungs were as strong as ten oxen. It involves inhaling deeply, plugging your nose, and then blowing out as hard as you can, for as long as you can, while getting encouragement shouted at you to GO GO GO MORE MORE MORE MORE and then when you can’t possibly exhale anything else and you feel like you’re going to pass out, another sharp, fast inhale.

Do that three times.

It actually makes J a little uncomfortable to watch, because it’s so obviously hard. It’s intense, it feels like hell, and at the end you have a number that represents your average lung capacity. When I started going to clinic, my scores were over a hundred percent – a very strong set of lungs. Over the last year, I’ve watched that number go down. She wasn’t concerned, really, even 80% was still really good! and she had no recommendations for me except to continue with the breath stacking exercises, which is where you inhale as much as you can and then use a balloon and tube to squuuuueeeeeeeeeeeeeze more air in. and hold. and release. And when you’re no longer light-headed, do it again. And again. I often describe it as reverse drowning, because that’s what it feels like. I do that, but not as often as I should. Six months ago at Clinic I hit 70% and she was a little less cavalier about me not doing them every day. 3 months ago on Clinic day, the machine was busted so I was spared. She wasn’t worried about it though, as my other tests were about the same as last time and she expected the same for this test, too.

I knew it wasn’t going to be the same. I feel a difference. When I eat too much food, I can feel that it’s harder to breathe – not that I’m short of breath, exactly, but I feel that when my lungs don’t have proper room to expand, there’s less strength in my diaphragm to bully the rest of my guts out of the way, maybe. It’s not harder to breathe, exactly, but I notice that I am breathing. And I was keenly aware that the breathing test this time was the hardest it’s ever been. I could feel veins on my forehead. She told me the result.

60%.

I’ve gone down 10% in six months.

I am now to do breath stacking twice a day, and sleep with the AVAPS every night, once it arrives. Next Clinic maybe we’ll do the respiratory early; having it be the very last thing in the day might have fudged my numbers a bit since I’d be tired. But somehow, I didn’t think that will matter. I didn’t take it well at all, and was in a shitty mood the rest of the night, and spent pretty much all day Tuesday crying or sleeping. I feel better now, hence why I have it in me to post tonight, but it kiiiiinda cemented something I’ve been thinking the last few months, something that I haven’t said out loud or posted or anything because I don’t want panic, either from myself or from any of you.

I am pretty goddamned sure I don’t have another 4 years.

I mean, it would be nice? But I’m not going to live to 50. I know that. I’ve been really fucking lucky to make it 4 years, and still be able to be on my feet awhile and wipe my own ass and everything. Some people with ALS don’t make it through ONE, and I’ve already had four, officially diagnosed, and probably closer to six since symptoms first appeared. I’m so, so fucking lucky. I get to see my death coming and plan for it. It was just rude as fuck to see that imaginary timeline become somewhat ..truncated, from what I was telling myself. But now, the part of ALS that will kill me has officially begun to kill me and I don’t have as much time as I thought.

You know what though?

That’s okay.

It really is. This is how ALS goes. This is normal. It’s okay. I’m alright.

Tonight, I am sanguine. There will be more freaking out; count on it. (See you at 3am, stupid brain) At this exact moment though? I have a clarity most people will never, ever experience. I see a world in 5 years without me in it, and it’s a good world and those I love are doing fine, in that long-term place. There’s a delicious release that comes with knowing so far in the future is officially Not My Fucking Problem. Today though, I am making many short-term plans. Hangouts with friends. An art show opening. The Walk to Defeat ALS on Sunday. A zoo trip with family. Neil DeGrasse Tyson – TWICE – in November. I still have a future to plan. It may be abbreviated, but goddammit I have SOME time. I get to make plans. It’s a fucking privilege to tell someone I’ll come to an event in April and know I can. After that. Who knows. My timeline is finite, truncated, and not guaranteed, but I have one. I can see what’s coming and make peace with it before it happens. I get the rare and amazing privilege to become friends with my own death.

And that is fucking awesome.