First, a quick check in about the research study in San Francisco. That’s still going on, still going well, and now that it has shifted to once a month rather than every two weeks, things are calming down and much easier. My brother Gecko is the kind of advocate a girl dreams of. He’s been amazing throughout all of this.
So, clinic. Well.
It wasn’t an easy one. My breathing is only a little weaker than it was before, so that’s good. My overall limb strength is about the same. My diet is great, my weight is stable, although I am the heaviest I have been in my entire life and I hate it, I’m doing what I should. Overall, each of my many appointments went as per usual except for two.
For my one-on-one with Dr. Goslin, I had to finally admit that over the past few months I have been losing bowel control. Admit to someone besides J who I tell every-fucking-thing to and my mother, who’s had to help me with the um. Fallout. There have been a few major accidents, and many minor ones. It’s exactly as my bladder incontinence happened, I don’t have an urge to go at all until I suddenly do, and that when I stand up to go I’m just… going. It was a fucking humiliating thing to talk about, never mind in such clinical detail and with two other people in the room with us. But those two other people were J and Gecko, people who need to know exactly what’s going on with me. She listened carefully, asked a lot of questions, and then told me that she’s never had another ALS patient completely lose bowel control. Accidents, sure. But you have two sphincters and one of them is involuntary, so there’s no reason I should lose complete control.
So that means I’m either a medical anomaly and an ALS first, at least for her, or I have another severe, separate medical issue happening.
I did not take this news very well. I’d already worked out before Clinic that the next step was going to be to speak to a gastroenterologist, and I did as much research as I dare and realize that it’s there is…really not a lot to be done about losing bowel control. I dared not delve into the humiliating tests that were likely to be performed; this has already given me too many panic attacks these last months. There are artificial sphincters that can be installed, but they only work some of the time and are not considered worth the surgery risk. Or there’s the colostomy route. Punch yet another hole in my abdomen, another medical accessory to be maintained. A very large piece of my dignity destroyed, at any rate.
…ALS sucks, don’t ever get it.
So I came away from that with a referral to a gastroenterologist, and a referral for an MRI of my lumbar spine and pelvis, just in case there is something obvious going on. Maybe the lumbar punctures I’m getting for the medical study screwed something up, though I’m pretty sure it started well before I was in the study. Maybe it exacerbated it, I don’t know. In the meantime, I was told to stop my magnesium supplement, and I’ve started taking Imodium every day. We have a plan of attack.
The last appointment for the day was with my pulmonologist. He looked over my chart notes so far for the day, and then asked me if I had thought about survival measures when the time comes and I’ve progressed too far. Do I want to be on a ventilator, that sort of thing. I told him I thought very long and very hard about these things, and so I have a POLST form (Physician’s Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment – basically an Advance Directive, but with a lot more legal weight).
“Well, if you’re considering a feeding tube,” he told me, “you had better consider that sooner than later.”
I… was not prepared to hear that. I blinked at him.
“It’s your breathing,” he explained. “Ideally we want to do the feeding tube when your breathing is somewhere between 40% and 20%. After that it becomes much too dangerous to put you under anesthesia. Right now you’re at 48%, so we’re looking at somewhere between the next six months and the next two years.”
Which, I knew this surgery was coming. Even back in the early days of diagnosis, when I looked at the roadmap ALS typically leads you down, I knew I would be getting a feeding tube before actually needed it. And I knew it was because my breathing would make the anesthesia too dangerous to wait until there was actual need. I just…
… I just wasn’t expecting it so soon.
I FULLY realize that soon is relative. I’ve had ALS for five and half years now, way longer than I have any right to expect. My progression is very slow, and I am very very very lucky. And I am very very grateful. And I expected this talk, eventually. It was just a really harsh reality check. A metaphorical punch in the gut. This is really happening, it’s really progressing, and the end stages are a lot closer than I’d like to think.
So depending on how the gastroenterologist appointments go, I may have three holes LITERALLY punched in my guts. I joked with my therapist that I’m going to need a little sidecar for my wheelchair for all of the medical gear coming out of me. I’m not really fooling anyone with the catheter bag at this point, I think. If anyone gives me more than a casual glance they can totally tell that’s what’s going on. Add to that a colostomy bag and a feeding tube, and it’s going to be nothing but baggy sweaters for me ever again.
A little bit of my old life chipped away. A new normal to adjust to. New change, new life, less a bit more dignity and control.
For now? On with the thing. This hurts, but it’s hardly the end of me. I spent last week feeling very sorry for myself, and now I will do what comes next. I will follow up with the GI and hopefully learn and control my obnoxious new symptom. I will continue with the study until it is completed or until I can’t. I will adjust to my new life of being completely on government financial support. I will embrace my new normal because it is my life and it is still possible. I’m still here dammit. And whether or not my dignity is intact, I will keep breathing until I can’t. And that’s not for some time yet.
I still have so much to do.