Another video post at LAST. Long. Chock full o’ frustration.
Another video post at LAST. Long. Chock full o’ frustration.
Part of New Normal is developing new rituals and processes for stuff you never even thought about. You just do it, you don’t think about it, until you can’t do it, and then one day you’re sitting there and realize how strange it is, to have to do what you do now to do the thing you did without even thinking before. You can’t remember creating that ritual and routine, it just organically developed when you lost the ability to do it the ‘normal’ way. One day you realize you’re sort of dancing in place to remain upright because you’ve lost the ability to stand still without losing your balance. One day you realize you’re gripping the fork like a savage because your hands cramp if you hold it like a human.
One day I realized I use my head as a fifth limb.
…Like, all the time.
How? What? Well you know how when you’re done in the bathroom, you just kinda clean up, and move on? Pants up, flush, wash hands, leave? Well let me walk you through the steps, my friends, the Dance of the Public Restroom that I now realize I do.
Step 1) Do the thing like you do, clean up, like normal.
Step 2) Do they have bars? I hope there’s bars. There are. Grip those bad boys and haul yourself to your feet. Bonus point for restrooms NOT designed by imbeciles, like the one downstairs at work where they put the toilet paper dispenser RIGHT where your elbow hits if you use the bar to pull yourself up, hitting your funnybone if you’re lucky and hitting your funnybone AND scraping skin off your elbow with the sharp little cutty edge for ripping the paper off the roll if you’re unlucky. Bonus BONUS points if they did not put the ‘feminine product’ bin EXACTLY where your knee hits it when you try to stand.
Step 3) Don’t fall over.
Step 4) I’m serious, don’t fall over.
Step 5) Using the bar with one hand, swivel your body to face the wall, flush the toilet.
Step 6) Press your head against the wall so you can have that point of balance while both hands reach down to pull up your underwear.
Step 7) Don’t get your panties caught on the cuff of your braces.
Step 8) Grab the bar with your right hand, and lean to the left to extract your panties from being caught on the cuff of your braces.
Step 9) Resume head-to-wall balance and pull panties on properly.
Step 10) Sigh heavily, get your breath back, cause we’re going back in. Head to wall a little lower, scootch your feet back a little so you can reach down further without falling over, and grab the waist of your pants with both hands.
Step 11) Don’t get those caught on your braces either.
Step 12) Did you seriously step on the cuff of your pants when you stepped backwards in Step 10? Really?
Step 13) Hold on to the bar with one hand and try to babystep off of the cuff of your jeans without falling over. Good job.
Step 14) Pull pants up with both hands.
Step 15) With your head against the wall still, do a little turn, so that your back is now against the wall, and hope that leaning against the wall didn’t pop the door open. Try to forget how many times that’s happened to you.
Step 16) Button your pants.
Step 17) It’s okay, sometimes it takes more than one try, button your pants.
Step 18) Seriously relax, deep breath, try one more time. There.
Step 19) Zip up. Don’t fall over.
Step 20) Grab your cane, unlock the stall, and go wash your hands.
Step 21) (OPTIONAL) Lean against the bathroom sink for balance while washing your hands and get water all over yourself at around crotch level because some jerk got water all over the counter and didn’t wipe it up. Seriously this is a sink, not a birdbath, how did they even splash so much?
That’s it! You’re done! Now use hand sanitizer on your cane handle cause you touched that with your dirty bathroom hands. Gross.
That snazzy awesome dream car you always wanted?
The engagement ring for the girl of your dreams? (She said yes!)
Little Timmy’s life-saving surgery?
Not the bedding, obvs, I paid for that. THE BED. THIS IS MY NEW BED GUYS. You press buttons and it quietly goes “click” “vrrrr” and then it MOVES. I don’t have to make a nest out of pillows and blankets to sit up! It just DOES THIS THING. And then you lie in it and then it’s like the comfiest quicksand where you just kinda siiiiiiiiiiiink in and ahhhhhhhh.
And I can GET UP OUT OF THE THING.
FURTHERMORE, and most importantly, it is IANTO-APPROVED ™.
I suppose you want the deets (that is Street Talk for ‘details’ because I am hip and cool with the electric youths), wellllllll it is a Tempur-pedic Premier base (the part that goes clickvrr) and a Serta Prodigy Everfeel Plush Firm mattress (the part that goes siiiiiiiiink-ahhhhhhh). You guys saved a bundle on it from my Mad Hookups with Jen at Sleep Train (the kids still say Mad Hookups right? Or does that refer to the sexxings now? I get confused, slang changes so fast) and it is SURELY THE BEST THING YOU EVER BOUGHT.
For real yo.
Thank you. So very very very much.
It’s a little too high to sit on and get dressed, which was easily remedied by putting my old desk chair next to the bed which ALSO serves for allowing my geriatric cat to get up. Parked next to my milkcrate night stand, yeah it looks a little ghetto but I SWEAR I am getting some real furniture for there now that I know how tall the bed is. I spent all day in it yesterday, literally, except for going out to dinner with J while some kid outside the restaurant got arrested for public intoxication while his winner friends continued to drink and pretend not to know him. But other than that I was in that marvelous bed, working from home, cuddling with cats. The botox injections for the headaches are REALLY not working out, so I’ve had nasty headaches which are not allowing me to fully appreciate the massagey functions yet, but FULL REPORTS ON THAT WHEN THAT IS REMEDIED.
Thanks for the peaceful space to sleep, my ninjas. You’re awesome. Even more awesome than the bed IF THAT IS EVEN POSSIBLE.
It’s really hard to get out of bed.
To be sure, this has ALWAYS been true. I like sleep, more than I like anything else. I find it hard to convince myself to get out of bed even to do things I like to do, because bed is comfy and warm and there are cats there. Bed understands me.
But what I ACTUALLY mean is that it is now physically hard to get my ass out of bed. No leg strength to push out of bed with, nothing to grab on to and pull myself out, a 22 year old cat that absolutely INSISTS that he needs to be on me, on my chest specifically, pinning me down, and all this equals me flailing in the morning like a turned-over turtle to get myself upright. It’s not dignified, or pretty. Probably hilarious though, for the first couple of minutes until you realize why it’s hard and then you get sad and hate yourself a little for laughing at me, you unfeeling jerks. Erm. Sidetracked. I mean, getting out of bed is becoming a herculean physical challenge, when I already emotionally and mentally don’t wanna.
And this, my dear, wonderful people, is where you came in.
My main babe Danielle had set up a Crowdrise account for me. You might remember that; it’s over there on the right. It was set up to collect funds against helping me with affording things related to my disability and bucket list. And now the money, money that YOU have so amazingly, kindly donated, money that Danielle worked very hard to raise on my behalf, has gone to buy me the most amazing bed ever. One of those awesome Old People lifty-adjustey-even-has-a-massage-function beds. To top it all off, my friend Jenn happens to be a sales manager at Sleep Train and got me this amazing, jaw droppingly good deal on the whole thing. I don’t know how much this normally costs, but I know I’ve got this bed for a STEAL. It’s going to help me SO MUCH. And when getting out of bed on my own is no longer an option, it’s going to be a VERY nice place to hang out with my cats.
They deliver it Monday. I’m beyond excited.
And I am so, so, so grateful to all of you for making this possible for me. This is going to be such a great help. And every night, when I lower the head of the bed to sleep and turn on the massagey function, I will think of all of the people who loved me enough to make it happen, and I will dream the sweetest, most grateful dreams.
Clinic Day! Also, should you send me that article about ALS? (Spoiler alert: yes you should) Promising research! How my disease is progressing. And some VERY EXCITING NEWS. Like, I am nearly in tears for pretty much this entire video because I am going to lose my shit I swear to God you guys.
So, you can now totally play with Stephen Hawking’s voice software:
I really, really hope the world takes this and does amazing things. The best and brightest technology always finds its best use in the hands of public developers, so many amazing things created that were not even THOUGHT of by the device creators. If you couldn’t tell, I’m a huge fan of open source, and I’m an ardent worshipper of public projects. Someone out there has something brilliant to make, someone can take this software and make it do something so far advanced we never even CONSIDERED that it was possible. Someone is going to take this tool kit and make ALS so much easier to deal with we’re going to wonder how we did without it in the first place, and I’m waiting.
Let’s make something cool.
Sorry it’s been a bit of time; life has been…interesting. Last Monday I had a Clinic Day. My brother Gecko kept me company. It went like this!
Appointment 1 : Respiratory Therapy
I’m grateful that this was the first one. This one sucks the most. It involves inhaling as much as I can, and then blow out hard and fast into a plastic instrument, and then…keep exhaling. It’s like… I don’t even know what it’s like. It sucks. Try it. Inhale as much as you possibly can, plug your nose, and then blow out hard and fast and keep exhaling for like, a count to five. Feel light headed, don’t you? Now do that two more times. While someone is yelling at you to keep going. She gave me a little plastic clamp to go over my nose while I exhaled to make sure that no air escaped that way. “You are Master of the Nose Clip,” she pronounced. I’ll try very hard to live up to the title and not abuse my newly granted power. In the end, she pronounced my breathing was healthy and normal (yay!) and gently admonished me for not doing the breath-stacking every single night. She didn’t seem to care that I wasn’t using the CPAP after I’d moved, but I ought to.
My brother has video of me doing the breathing exercise. I have to be nice to him from now on or he’ll publish it.
Appointment 2 : Speech Therapy
This appointment was to make sure my swallowing and speech was still as normal as I felt it was. She watched me eat a shortbread cookie, and drink a swallow of soda. It’s weird to have someone watch you intently while you eat, and weirder to have them put their hand on your throat to feel you swallow. It’s like..you start to wonder how you normally do it. But I passed her tests and was pronounced normal. Hooray for me.
So the two things that will kill me have not started to happen yet. This is good.
Appointment 3 : Neurology
Dr. Goslin was out, so I saw her colleague instead. She was very nice and knowledgeable. We ran through the normal strength tests, which she pronounced good, but yes, there is weakness in my hands, but the PT person would know better about that. I’d started a conversation with Dr. Goslin to maybe FINALLY work out what’s been causing my daily headaches for the last oh, 25, 30 years and part of my time with Dr. Sax was spent continuing that talk. Dr. Goslin and I had concluded the next step was going to be to try amitryptaline, which is not only can prevent migraines (yay!), but might help with the daily headaches, and also was a mild antidepressant, and ALSO might help me sleep. (sidenote: holy crap has it ever, but that’s another post) We were taking me off of Wellbutrin last time, and we didn’t want to start a new one until I was off of that. So we put that scrip in. I was disappointed I didn’t get to see Dr. Goslin, but she’d been on call all weekend and I totally get the need for a freakin’ day off. She’s got a lot going on. I was also directed to get another blood check to make sure Rilutek isn’t eating my liver (it isn’t).
Appointment 4 : Social Work
Rachelle the Magnificent was my social worker for this appointment, and she had in tow the new director of Assistive Technologies. We had a talk about caretakers and resources, and a lot of other things that gave me much to think about. I fortunately have a lot of time for things, and can coordinate a lot of it myself, but I really do need to have things officially in place sooner than later. We talked about a follow up appointment so she can see my new apartment and see its accessibility. Gecko had some questions of his own answered. Yay!
Appointment 5 : Physical and Occupational Therapy
The two women I worked with in this session were familiar faces, one of them being the PT I was seeing while we were trying to figure out what Godzilla Disease really was. We measured my strength some more, which was predictable results: feet are nearly useless (I can only juuuuuuuuust wiggle my big toe now) and they tend to turn in at the ankles because my tendons are tightening up due to lack of stretching. There’s no muscle there to pull them to stretch. I have a manual stretching exercise that is supposed to help somewhat. Calf strength is going, thighs are still strong. 5s all around on the upper torso, except my left hand. She had me stretch my fingers out and resist while she tried to pinch them together, and they weren’t able to resist much. I still have full range of motion, but there is a measurable loss of strength there – 4 of 5. I am in an every day fight to not let this freak me out. She watched me walk down the hall with my braces on, and with the walker I was borrowing from the ALS loan closet. She agreed I am MUCH more stable with the walker which, on the one hand? No duh. But on the other hand, it’s nice to have it confirmed that I not only FEEL more stable, I AM more stable and less likely to fall.
The occupational therapist measured my grip strength (again, doing something hard while a woman yells at you HARDER! MORE! HARDER! is a surreal experience). She asked about my struggles with daily tasks I’d noticed popping up, and I was making a considered effort to be open and honest and accepting the help she offered. I admitted the toilet in my apartment is CRAZY low (seriously other people have told me so, too) so she offered a toilet frame with bars I can use to haul myself up. I said okay. She offered a shower chair. I said okay. The Zombie Tramp house had a seated shower, so I hadn’t needed such a thing before, but I accepted this for my new place. I don’t need it yet, I can still shower standing, but I lean against the wall when I do. A chair might be easier. She also gave me a couple of pieces of something called Dycem (registered trademark) which is a flexible grippy plastic sheeting that I can cut up and put where ever I need extra grip, like a piece across the back of my phone so I can hold it easier, use a piece to grip jars to twist them open, wrap a glass in it so I don’t drop it, etc. She said once I start using it, I’ll find a million uses for it. She’s probably right.
Appointment 6 : Nurse
The nurse on staff is a lovely woman, I like her a lot. She was basically just there to tell me that if I needed them, they were always around. She gave me the wrap-up paperwork, and said that after the next and last appointment, I was free to go.
Appointment 7 : Registered Dietician
You know how when the dentist asks how often you floss, and you lie, and you both know you’re lying? Yeah I was avoiding that with the dietician, so when she asked how much water I drink a day, I admitted that no, I don’t drink water. At all. I hate the way it tastes (water does TOO have a flavor). I also admitted that I eat like crap and don’t eat breakfast usually, unless you count an energy drink as breakfast, heh heh.
She does not.
There’s not a lot of dietary advice that comes with ALS, because you’re pretty much encouraged to eat whatever you feel like and don’t try to lose weight. She made me promise to swap out ONE soda a day with a glass of water instead. And for heavens’ sake, EAT SOMETHING FOR BREAKFAST. She gave me a cookbook of easy to chew, easy to swallow foods, which she said I do not need to take now, but it has really interesting information about what physically goes on when you swallow, and some other tips in general. So I went ahead and accepted it now, even though I absolutely do not need it yet because my swallowing is fine. It has a recipe for stroganoff in it though, and it made me really want a good beef stroganoff. mmmmm.
And then, after stopping in the lab for the blood test, I was free to go!
No surprises. I’m happy to have it medically documented that my breathing and swallowing are still fine. I’m discouraged about the hand strength loss of course. By ‘discouraged’ I mean ‘freaking out’ but I’m learning to cope. I have a lot of people around to help me out and so far my typing is still awesome. So as long as I can game, we’re good. I’ve since started the amitryptaline, and it is KICKING MY ASS. I have been sleeping SO HARD the last two days, and it’s near impossible to wake up. I hope that evens out. We’ll see. My blood test came back fine, my liver is not imploding. Yay. I have a followup with Dr. Goslin in August, and my next Clinic Day is in November.
So that’s the update!
I’m not sure it’s possible to put into words how it feels when your own body betrays you. It’s like Lemony Snicket said about the loss of a loved one: “‘If you have ever lost a loved one, then you know exactly how it feels. And if you have not, then you cannot possibly imagine it.” If you’ve had your body just stop working the way it ought, you know how it feels. And if you haven’t? You can’t possibly imagine it. I can’t properly convey the complicated feelings it invokes. But it’s not gonna stop me from trying.
I’m becoming good at it. By which I mean, I haven’t broken anything yet!
They come with no warning. There’s no preparing, there’s no prevention except possibly living in a bubble and/or strapping in to a wheelchair already/never doing anything ever. One leg or another just suddenly says NOPE and then I’m on the ground. It happened today while I was walking to the title office to sign over my house. I was walking slowly, I had my cane, I was watching for uneven sidewalks, but I was just …on the ground suddenly. There is a split second of OH SHIT I AM ABOUT TO FALL and then gravity. There’s nothing you can do about it. I scraped my knee a bit, wrenched my ankle a little because it’s a whiny bitch that can’t do its job right, and roughed up my palm, but it didn’t really hurt. I managed, in my wobbly goose ascent, to mostly land on my butt. There were no witnesses.
The WORST part was trying to get the hell back up. The cane was mostly useless, I need two hands to haul myself up anymore. I gave it a couple tries, like a newborn deer trying its legs out for the first time, but SCREW those little baby deer, man, they got FOUR legs and I only got two that don’t work. I sat/knelt on the sidewalk for a minute, surveying my surroundings, trying to figure out how I was gonna do this. To my left, shrubbery and then a little steel fence. The fence is perfect, but the shrubbery is an obstacle. To my right, freshly watered grass and a tree. I sacrificed my clean pants and opted for the slightly muddy track to the tree. Kneeling in the dirt, I planted my heels against the sidewalk and kinda pushed myself up against the tree. Once I got back to my feet, I was fine.
There wasn’t a lot of angst involved in the process. Just quick thinking and scheming and logistics. The thinking/feeling comes AFTER I’ve solved the immediate problem. And my thought process was almost entirely:
WHAT THE SHITTING FUCK, BODY?! I THOUGHT WE WERE A GODDAMNED TEAM. WHAT IS THIS RANDOMLY DROPPING MY ASS ON TO THE SIDEWALK BULLSHIT?! DO YOU WANT ICE CREAM? ARE YOU BLACKMAILING ME FOR ICE CREAM? WELL GUESS WHAT, SHITHEAD, WE GOTTA WALK TO THE STORE FOR THAT. AND THAT MEANS NOT DROPPING US ON THE SIDEWALK FOR NO FUCKING REASON.
I’m trying, I really am, my body says back. It’s just hard. Everything is so much harder than it used to be.
YEAH OKAY I GIVE YOU THAT I MEAN FUCK WE ARE SWEATING BUCKETS HERE FROM JUST WALKING TWO BLOCKS EVEN IF IT WASN’T ASININELY HOT OUT ALREADY. BUT FUCK, MAN, COULDN’T YOU HAVE DROPPED US SOMEWHERE I COULD GET UP WITHOUT GETTING OUR PANTS MUDDY?
You have as much warning as I do. I’m sorry. The last few weeks have been rough, maybe we could take it easier for a little bit?
WELL SURE I WOULD REALLY LIKE THAT, BUT WE HAVE TO DO THIS ONE THING TODAY. WE HAVE TO DO THIS AND THEN WE WILL BE DONE WITH THE HOUSE WITH THE STAIRS FOREVER.
…Ugh. Stairs. I’m so glad we’re done with those.
WORD. AND ANYWAY DIDN’T WE GET LIKE, ALLLLLL THE SLEEP ON MONDAY?
We did? But I don’t feel rested at all. You’ll have to take that up with Brain.
hey look dudes it’s been a rough coupla weeks a’ight i’m having a hard time dealing with all this at once so maybe just back off okay
WELL NO SHIT IT’S BEEN ROUGH, YOU WON’T SHUT UP. IF YOU’D JUST LET US GET THROUGH THIS STUFF MAYBE WE COULD NOT SUCK SO BAD AT LIFE AND FALL AND SHIT.
hey fuck you body you’re the problem in the first place you know if you weren’t killing us all by deciding to shut down then there would be no stress over house sales and we would not have fallen probably i’m just saying and we could stay in the zombie tramp house cause we like that place but no you can’t even get up the stairs without sweating like a little bitch
SHE HAS A POINT.
Fuck you both, alright? Can we just get to the signing so we can get on with the day?
WELL I DON’T KNOW, BODY. THAT IS KIND OF UP TO YOU.
hahah fuck you loser
OKAY LET’S DO THIS, OKAY. AND BODY, MAYBE YOU CAN STOP DUMPING US ON THE SIDEWALKS SO MUCH.
not to be a dick or anything but maybe we should get an actual walker so if this happens again we can get up off the ground easier and maybe it won’t happen so much cause we’ll be more stable and stuff
…YEAH. YOU’RE PROBABLY RIGHT. FUCK. WELL LET’S JUST GET THROUGH THIS SIGNING OKAY AND THEN WE CAN DEAL WITH THAT.
ok man whatever hey body you ready to do this shit
Yeah. Hey, sorry. I mean…I really am trying. But everything’s so much harder, you know? I’m sorry this sucks so bad. I’m trying.
YEAH. I KNOW. I’M SORRY FOR YELLING..I MEAN, I’m sorry for yelling. We’ve been dealt a shit hand and I need to be nicer to you. I’m sorry. We’ll get through this. I know you don’t mean to be unreliable. I mean, you’re what gets bruised and scraped up after all. I just get embarrassed.
and you know uh also reminded that we’re gonna die sooner than later in a pretty shitty way but maybe that’s just me cause i mean a fall is a pretty clear indicator of decline and stuff but hey
Okay yeah, that too, but that comes later. Usually. But of course now that you’ve brought it up. Fuck. Yeah. I guess I am falling more, lately. They’ve already asked if I want a chair but I ..I just don’t think I’m ready for it, I mean I thought I was getting around okay and so far nothing really bad has happened when we fell, besides freaking out bystanders.
…dick move, brain.
We hate that phrase, brain, and you know it. It makes us sound like a complete tool. You could replace ‘just saying’ with ‘I’m an asshole’ and still convey the exact same message.
Okay, you two. Fuck it. Let’s go sign away our dream house.
Ok. I’ll get us there. Just go slow.
hey though seriously you know we’re gonna be a’ight though, right cause i mean we’re doing good all things considered and we have peeps at our back and it’s gonna be okay
Yeah. I know. This sale happened quickly, for much more than we thought we’d get, we had so so many friends show up to help, and Justin did all the post work so we didn’t have to. Seriously we’re pretty goddamned lucky, all things considered. Let’s go sign some paperwork.
Can we get ice cream afterwards?
fuck yeah ice cream
Hell yes we can. Let’s do this shit.
We went to lunch today, my friend and I, and an elderly woman with a cane was leaving the restaurant as we were entering. She saw mine, and good-naturedly welcomed me to the Cane Club. Her companion, an elderly man also with a cane, came through the door as my friend held it for him. “He’s had his for 2 years, I’ve had mine for one.”
“I’m coming on I think nine months,” I told her, smiling.
“I see so many young people with them lately,” she lamented, kindly. “It’s a terrible shame. I really hope you’re done with yours soon.”
“I will be,” I nodded and assured her, “eventually.”
And I walked in to the restaurant, my friend was slightly flummoxed. “That’s uh…a different way to look at it.”
“Was I wrong?” I demanded, laughing. “I didn’t LIE.”
“….No. No you did not,” he conceded.
Sometimes it’s just in how you phrase things.
Things that should be gender-specific:
Things that should not be gender-specific:
….actually come to think of it, those first two things are probably an all-inclusive list. All else is unisex. Unigender. Pangender? Social awareness is hard.
PSA, MARKETING IDIOTS: WOMEN DO NOT NEED SPECIAL PINK TOOLBOXES FOR OUR DAINTY WOMEN HANDS. I have ALS but I can punch you in the jimmies just as well as a man can. For now. And when I can’t? I’ll have Danielle do it. And she can hit like a truck, man. You do not want this.
What does this have to do with ALS? Not much. I was looking at knee braces just now and they have ones “for women” that look exactly like the ones that are just “knee braces”. And they’re the same. Only pink. Sometimes? Yes, medical gear needs to be gender specific. But my knee is built like any dude’s knee. Well, originally, anyway, or I wouldn’t need a knee brace I suppose. And so this turned in to this post, which you have just wasted precious minutes of your life reading.
So I got the CPAP machine yesterday! It’s pretty. It’s The AirSense 10 Autoset by ResMed. Or maybe the Elite. I don’t remember. It’s a lot smaller than I expected it to be. The sleep study put this expectation in my brain that it was going to be this massive machine next to my head, when it turned out to be the size of an alarm clock. With a hose.
That heats up!
My respiratory therapist (I have a respiratory therapist! I forget how many that makes in my Medical Posse) showed me how everything works, how to run the morning report, how to clean everything, how often to clean it, when to reorder supplies. And then I signed a contract that said yes I promise I will use this at least 21 days over the next 30 to show I’m SRS BZNS about CPAPpage. No, really, I had to do that. Or pay for the whole thing out of pocket ($1900!) after 30 days or return it to Providence. Weird. And then we fitted me for a mask, and I got one called “Wisp” because it was less strappy-constraint around my noggin. I’m at a relatively low pressure setting, I guess, which is good for beginners. Yay for me. The whole thing fits into a small case, like, I had school binders bigger than this thing, probably. I could put a vandalized Pee-Chee in here and feel nostalgic. But for now it’s just a softcover case, totally would fit in my backpack like it ain’t no thang when I travel.
The first night was challenging as I expected. I took an ambien to make sure I was able to sleep at all. It took a long time to stop feeling like I was suffocating and forcing myself to breathe out. The cats flipped out. I knew they would. When I laid down to sleep, Molly crawled up my torso like she was stalking a beast, pupils wide as saucers, jumping away when I touched her. Ianto was having NONE of that thank you very much, and slept in the hallway, and Parmesan, well. He’s 22 years old. He settled in next to my face as usual. And the awesome thing about the CPAP is that he was flopped over on my face and I could still breathe for a change! It was like…kitty scuba diving. With the only fishes being the ones on his breath. That I couldn’t smell. Because CPAP! It’s MAGIC!
I slept pretty hard, but I don’t know if that was CPAPpage or Ambien-ce. I took the mask off at like, 5:30, I think. I don’t remember. I remember being glad it has auto shutoff. My morning report said I used it for 7 hours and had an average of .4 ‘incidents’ an hour. Which I guess meant I stopped breathing? All of this will be sent to my doctor. By the built-in cell modem. Which I will be honest? Freaks me out a little. It’s like, Big Brother is Watching You Sleep. Fantastic if it helps, but it still feels like I’ve got a little snitch on my bedside. With a heated coil tube and a humidifier. Snitches…have switches?
I don’t even know where I was going with that.
ANYWAY. So I have this thing now, and it’s probably going to be part of my life from here out. Until it’s swapped out with a different breathing machine, I expect. It will eventually become routine to me. I can teach myself to get used to this.
Not sure about the cats, though.
Here’s something I CAN post about! The sleep study!
It went…yeah wow. OK. So in the morning, the nurse came in at 6:30, I was already sitting up and waiting for her to come in and turn on the lights. “Good morning!” I said.
She looked at me like I was a little crazy. “I dunno….is it? You had kiiiiiind of a rough night there.”
By which she meant I did not sleep at all.
I got there at 7 like I was told, and waited for the nurse to get herself settled and everything checked in, just chilled and read my book. She came in and hooked me up, and I noticed she did it differently than the previous time – there was no drawing all over my head with a blue wax crayon this time. We fitted me with a CPAP machine, and I was given time alone to adjust to breathing through two different kinds of masks to see which one was easier. I was pretty dang tired so we called it around 10, and I crawled into bed. We did the same equipment checks that made me feel just as ridiculous as before. You are lying there in the dark and you’re told to look up and down ten times. Now left to right. Now blink fast ten times. Now close your eyes, three deeeeeep breaths. Wiggle your left foot. Wiggle your right. (I sucked at those). Etc.
And then she bade me goodnight.
And then sleep completely failed to happen. The mask was not uncomfortable or anything, I just could not get to sleep and stay there. I woke up at one point with flutters – something I’ve had happen for years and years, it feels like a low current of electricity just under my skin next to my left shoulder blade. It’s not painful at all, just uncomfortable and they get worse the more I get frustrated because I can’t sleep. Usually I get up and take kava kava or something, but I didn’t have that option during the sleep study. I recognize them now as a weird sort of panic attack, but there was nothing I could do but just lay there, frustrated, not sleeping, until they went away. Which was….awhile. And then I woke up again later, just…awake. No reason. I think I slept like an hour and a half at a time. Twice.
She said to not get discouraged, people often have a rough time their first try, and it will be easier once I get it home. She tried turning up the machine, which made things worse, she said, and she has lots of notes for my doctor.
I’ll see the pulmonologist on the 23rd.
As always, I’ll keep you posted.
I promise this isn’t really TMI, but I’m gonna talk about the politics of bathroom stalls. And a personality defect of mine, it turns out.
I’m getting weaker; even if DocGos says she doesn’t notice any difference. When we first met, I used to be able to walk up the stairs with two hands full. Now I can’t; I have to have one hand free for the rail, and on no-spoon days I need both. When we first met, I could stand up on my own from sitting in a chair. I really can’t anymore.
Which means I need the handicapped stall now – I need the bars. Well, it’s like the cane – I could probably manage without? For awhile longer? But it’s so much easier with, and why make my life harder just to prove to myself that I can, that I’m still an independent woman who don’t need no man. erm. Bars. Yes. Bars. That’s what I was talking about.
And because I need the bars, I am trying really really hard to not be bitchy about it when someone who clearly does NOT need that stall is in it.
Okay – confession. I have *always* gotten a bit internally bitchy about people using the stalls when they don’t need to. It’s a serious character flaw of mine – I get bent out of shape when people don’t follow The Rules. I get irritated when someone cuts someone else off in traffic. Even if the person cut-off doesn’t even notice. I get irritated when people cut in line, even if I’m not in that line. I get mad when people at work leave their dishes in the bathroom when the stinkin’ break room is LITERALLY ten feet away. I get SO MAD when people don’t break down their fucking cardboard boxes and just leave them in the hallway. It’s because I tend to get really mad on behalf of other people, whether they even realize they’ve been wronged or not. By cutting that guy off, by sneaking in line, by not taking your dishes in, by not breaking down your cardboard and putting it in the recycle area, you are making someone else’s life more difficult because you are a selfish ASSHOLE. Even if it’s just a minor inconvenience, there was still no need for that inconvenience to exist, you just created it because you are a LAZY SELFISH DICK. And so I get mad. Because you are not following The Rules.
ANYWAY. At work, we have a huge wheelchair stall, and the normal sized one next to it has bars, so it’s awesome and I use that one, because I don’t need the space, just the help up. But consistently – CONSISTENTLY – the wheelchair stall is taken up. By tiny, tiny women. Like, a regular stall would feel large to them, WHY do they need the extra extra space? It’s always been a phenomenon that made me scratch my head, but there’s actually been a couple of times that it’s made me wait. And I try not to get irritated, but seriously.
YOU ARE FIVE FEET TALL AND 80 POUNDS SOAKING WET WHY DO YOU NEED A TEN SQUARE FOOT BATHROOM STALL.
Answer: YOU DON’T.
So when I go in there, and both stalls are taken, I have a choice between using one of the other ones, and then using the freakin’ toilet paper dispenser to pull myself up and hope to GOD it doesn’t come off the wall, or wait. And if I don’t have my cane with me at the moment, then they look at me weird for waiting. But if I DO have my cane, sometimes they have the good grace to look abashed. Usually not – they’re oblivious, because people at my work are very self-involved. See: previous posts about trying to not get knocked the fuck over in the cafe and halls because they’re not paying attention.
I wonder if, when I’m in a chair, I’ll be any more irritated. Maybe I’ll do the passive aggressive thing and put a note on the door: “THERE IS SOMEONE IN THIS BUILDING WHO ACTUALLY NEEDS THIS STALL – DO YOU?!”
In Comic Sans, natch.
Realistically, I probably won’t. I’m really good at ignoring those breaking The Rules when it’s me getting shafted. Though, I did get really irritated this weekend about it – I went to Bingo at an American Legion lodge (looong story) and wound up waiting for ten minutes for the one handicapped stall. The other two were simply too wide, I wouldn’t have been able to brace myself on the walls to stand, they were just too far apart. There was a line, and I as time went by I started to say kinda loudly every time someone asked if I was in line, “Go ahead, I have to wait for the handicapped stall, I need the bars.”
Man, I dunno WHAT she was doing in there. She took her shoes off at one point. I thought she was changing her clothes, but she came out with nothing but herself. And flushed a HOJILLION times and used up most of the toilet paper. I just…man. Yeah. She was old, there’s all kinds of stuff happening there that I don’t even know. Probably best that I don’t know. I just know I had to wait ten minutes to pee and she totally could have used the other stalls.
This is all the beginning of the inconvenience, the social stage of decline, and it will be really interesting to see how I adapt to it when it gets worse. Maybe I really WILL become the Bathroom Stall Avenger. Maybe I’ll just pull an Elsa and let it go. It will be telling, either way. Just as I’m discovering the true character of those around me, I’m discovering what I’m made of, too. I have kindness and patience I didn’t know I possessed, and intolerances I didn’t know I had in me.
I’m building my character even as my body unbuilds itself.
Overwhelmed. In the BEST of ways.
I’ve gone on and on before about how grateful I am for the support I’ve gotten, how much I appreciate the support I’ve been given, how blown away at the love I’ve been shown. It’s probably become a little bit tiresome.
Well, suck it. There’s a lot more coming.
I admit I totally got press-ganged into doing the Walk in the first place. The Veterans Resource Group had a table in the cafe at work. I stopped by to chat, and met another person who ALSO had ALS for the first time. (I’ve met a fair few since then. We’re a small crew, but we run – or hobble or ride – in the same circles.) Part of the table’s purpose, besides awareness, was to recruit people for the Walk to Defeat ALS. “You should form a team,” I was told. “I bet you’d get a lot of support.”
I was of two opinions on that. On the one hand, it’s asking for something. I’m not good at that. On the other hand, a tiny irrational fear, ‘what if I form a team and no one shows up?’ While I was debating this in my head, a coworker walked up to the table to see what I was up to.
“Vashti’s making a walk team, do you want to join her?”
He looked at me, “You are?”
And that’s how it started. I put up a poster outside my cube, I wore the red wristband, I talked openly and honestly about the diagnosis when I was asked, but I felt really weird about asking my friends to come over in support of me. I caved and asked my friends to help me name the team at least. We had a lot of really good suggestions, but in the end, The Godzilla Squad won out. On the 16th, I posted my team link.
On the 17th of August – the next DAY, for those of you playing at home – I was at 17 members and over $1000 raised.
To say I was overwhelmed is a gross understatement. So, fun fact! I’d never cried for joy before. I always thought it would be kind of cool if something like that happened to me, but I am not sentimental in the right ways, I guess, so it never happened. Until then.
The Ice Bucket Challenge gained serious momentum, and so did my team. On the 26th, I was at $3k and 26 people. A dear friend of mine in Sacramento also started a team in my name, Team Dinsdale. We met online waaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy back in the day, before the Internet was a thing, when you had to dial directly in to someone’s computer and leave messages on a digital bulletin board. In the BBS days, my first handle was Dinsdale.
Life continued its usual frantic pace, there was a lot happening, and before I knew it, it was the final weekend. I had four people staying at my house to attend, and one flew in from Sacramento to be here for me. I was spoiled absolutely ROTTEN that weekend, with homemade Ethiopian food of amazingness, fancyface ice cream and donuts for dessert, and the best company a girl could ever ask for.
And then, Walk Day. This is my team:
Amazing people, every one.
We gathered in a spot that was strategic and awesome until the live band started playing. Right. Bloody. There. But we were VERY easily distinguishable in the crowd with the hoodies (OMG SO AMAZING LEENDAH I LOVE YOU) and Danielle, my main babe, had printed out the kitten-vs-Godzilla picture I’d been using for my Walk page, and attached them to an umbrella. And Matt. Oh my golly Matt. He had commissioned a mighty cape of DOOM and a head cover for his staff:
IS THAT NOT AWESOME.
Yes of course it is, don’t even bother answering.
There were a LOT of people there. Oh my god so many. I’m really glad I had my team around me so I was constantly distracted by OH MY GOD HI I HAVEN’T SEEN YOU IN FOREVER instead of ..holy crap I am in the biggest of big crowds and this sucks. We borrowed wheelchairs,Danielle and I, because I can walk a mile, but it sucks, and I think three is out of the question. Danielle had to borrow one because her foot is borked and it hurts her a lot to be on her feet at ALL and walking three miles is similarly out of the question.
It was a FANTASTIC walk. Well. Roll. I got pushed. The chair was surprisingly easy to wheel myself around in, but I had a lot of people willing to help me out. There’d been cold and rain suddenly, but it cleared up in time to be LOVELY for the walk day. Even a little too warm to wear the hoodies all day, for they were made of fleece and are SO COMFY AND WARM but maybe not the best when standing for a while in direct sunlight. Megan was the smart one, she held the umbrella. Some surprise faces showed up – I didn’t expect my older brother there, he told me he had to work but then didn’t have to! – and met a couple new friend-of-friend faces and did not at ALL have time to introduce everybody to everybody. We walked a really pleasant stroll along the waterfront, and groups connected and drifted as we walked.
We finished, exultant, and some of us stayed for a picnic, and some of us had to get back on the road.
I am so. so. so incredibly grateful. I am grateful to everyone who came. Everyone who couldn’t come but donated. Everyone who couldn’t come OR donate, but thought about me.
In the end, my team was 49 members strong, more than 35 of whom showed up to walk, and $5460 raised.
I’ve always strived to be the kind of person someone would care deeply about, and like having around. I …I guess I managed that, if the support and love I’ve been shown is ANY kind of indicator.
I love you all. You’re amazing and the world is lucky to have you in it.
When I was a kid, and my parents spoke of taking me to the clinic for one reason or another, my child brain heard “clink” instead. I had once heard of being in jail being called “thrown in the clink”, so my kidbrain thought my parents were taking me to jail, just because I didn’t feel good.
The concept of Clinic Day can sound a little bit like jail too. Five hours and a host of doctors and experts cycling through in a dizzying whirlwind. I attended my first one yesterday, which was primarily to get me introduced to the people who will be working with me to keep me alive and functioning as long as possible. I was warned it was long, it was overwhelming. My appointment was scheduled from 12 noon to 5PM. The long haul.
I showed up with Danielle and my older brother Gecko. They’ll be the primary caretakers of my health and my (so-called) estate, so it was important for them to know what to expect in the days to come. The practical upshot of this was that we were our own peanut gallery and amused ourselves through the day with HIGHLY inappropriate jokes. Which would have been even worse, only Lance from ALSA asked if I’d mind someone sitting in on my clinic – she’s just started her job with ALSA and wanted to know what the clinic experience was like. I said okay, since I knew there was nothing really major happening with me, and we tried our best to rein in the Your Mom jokes and gallows humor. Which is the best humor.
We didn’t always succeed, but she was a good sport.
The first appointment was with an occupational therapist and a physical therapist. Tag team! The OT was there to judge my hand strength and to see what kinds of things I can be doing differently to conserve my energy. She didn’t like that I carry my laundry up the stairs, and suggested a duffel bag that I can fill and kick downstairs, and then haul up by a rope or something once I’ve walked up the stairs. She also suggested a rolling cart for my kitchen, sitting down whenever I can, that sort of thing. She measured my grip strength with this weird metal handle device, and amused me greatly by shouting encouragement while I squeezed. “GO! GO! MORE! DO IT!” and I thought “People would probably pay a lot of money to have an Asian woman yelling at them.” And then I realized, I *am* paying her. My grip strength and arm strength were 5s all around, I’m good. My favorite suggestion of hers by FAR, though, was that I get someone else to come over and clean the litter box and hairballs so I don’t have to be on the floor. I am actually worried about my “I can do it” being overridden by my innately LAZYFACE nature – I mean, hell YEAH I’d rather not clean the litter box, but I don’t want to make someone I love have to make a special trip out to my place to scoop the freakin’ box for me. That’s dumb.
The PT was there for walking ability – I’d met her before, when I was doing physical therapy regularly before Godzilla Disease had its other name, my usual therapist had called in because it was snowing, so she filled in. She watched me walk down the hall after asking if I had any concerns. I told her I (and other people) have noticed that I lean on walls whenever I can while I walk. I’d kind of thought to myself lately that a cane would be kind of awesome to have around, something else to lean on. We tried me with a walker, which was really awkward. It’s instinctive to lean on it with some weight, but you’re just supposed to use it for balance. And while it’s awesome to have a seat that you carry around with you all the time, it just felt awkward and weird, so I won’t be using that yet. The cane, though, we had me walk with that (again – balance! not support!) and my gait was better. “You kind of..sashay without it, but you’re more stable with that.” I agreed. We tried me with two and THAT was ..comical. I mean, I don’t even get that whole two cane thing. Hikers do it. It looks dumb, and it turns out that it feels pretty goddamn ridiculous, too.
So I have officially graduated to a cane now. I am borrowing one from the ALSA loan closet (which if I have not said before? is a FUCKING AMAZING resource to be able to have, they’re awesome) but I’ll get my own. They said I can keep it as long as I want, spray paint it, whatever; I get the feeling they’ve got quite a few of them.
Speaking of ALSA, the next appointment was with Lance, with his Social Worker hat on. We talked about financial planning, and the major upshot of that was GET AN ELDER LAW ATTORNEY. It’s expensive now, but they can help me plan financially for the future care I’m going to need, and if I have tax-shelter like options, it’s better to take care of them NOW, since SSI looks back a little ways when you apply for benefits. We talked a bit about the Walk coming up, and then his time was up.
The next appointment was all about making sure I can still speak and swallow okay. This made me a little self conscious because it involves making a lot of goofy faces to make sure you can move your mouth fine – stick your tongue all the way out, now try to lick your nose, etc. With three other people looking at me. It was not helped at ALL when Gecko whipped out his iPhone like he was filming, even though he wasn’t because he loves me and I would genuinely be mortified if he posted any pictures like that. (*Author looks sternly at her brother* RIGHT??) Then she gave me a graham cracker and water, to watch how I eat and swallow. That, also, was weird to do with a total of four people watching me. She explained how the mouth moves when you eat, and how that starts to break down, when ALS progresses, and what to watch for. But I was doing excellent, she said, and everything is normal.
Then I met with a nutritionist. We talked about my weight, about my diet, about how evil prednisone is for that. She agreed that it’s not good for me to lose weight, because heavier people have better prognoses, and I’ll NEED that fat later, but I also don’t want to be super fat so I need bariatric equipment or anything, so take that in moderation. Losing weight is tricky, because the body burns through muscle before fat and…I really kind of need that. She gave me advice on what to eat, how to do portion control, and was justifiably disdainful of how much soda I consume (even though it’s diet) and was exasperated when I told her I hate water because it tastes gross. And it does. You can say all you LIKE that water has no taste but you’re a LIAR. She suggested infused water – which my work cafe has all the time, they just dump some melon or something in ice water and call it fancy. I guess I can do that. But…soda, man. Delicious soda.
Next up was Shana. <3 We were short on time for her appointment and ended up spending most of it talking about Doctor Who anyway, because Danielle is ALSO a Whovian and she hadn't met Shana yet so yeah, we totally devolved. But it was awesome. Then we met the respiratory specialist; I was gonna be cute and call her a breathologist, but that sounded familiar and it turns out it's a thing and it's a pretty dumb thing at that. So. ANYWAY. She had all KINDS of toys. There was a thing to measure my ...cough aptitude? (which is good) but I had to do it twice because Danielle is a bitch. hehe. It involved coughing really hard into a plastic kazooey thing and she said it was a good cough, but Danielle said, "you wanna do it again?" as a joke but then the specialist said, "That's a good idea". Damn her. And then we measured my lung capacity, which made me REALLY self conscious because it involves breathing out as hard as you can and keep going even after you can't. I sounded a bit like Muttley. And had to do it a couple of times. THAT one I'd rather not have an audience for again. But it wasn't as bad as the breath stacking. Oh my GoD. So! You get a thing (I walked away with fabu-less prizes!) that is a modified one of these: [caption width="800" align="aligncenter"] BREAAAAAAATHE[/caption]
Mine is a prettier purple and collapses. It’s a mouthpiece that you clamp your lips over, connected to a tube, which is connected to that bag. You breathe in as much as you possibly can, and then squeeze MORE air into your lungs with the bag, and again, and again, and then hold all that in for five seconds. And then rest a minute and do it again. And then one more. It feels a little like the opposite of drowning? But you’re in total control so it’s not panic inducing or anything, but you think your lungs just can’t hold any more and then you squeeze more in and then again and oh my god I think I’m gonna pop and what do you mean I have to do one more squeeze oh fffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu
I have to do that routine every day. For the rest of my life.
It’s to improve my lung capacity, and since ALS kills you by robbing you of your ability to breathe? I’m TOTES WILLING to put up with it. But it..dunno. I guess it was a big-ass reminder of HEY DUMBASS DID YOU FORGET YOUR DISEASE WAS TERMINAL OR SOMETHING? BECAUSE IT IS.
Next step was a quick check in with Dr. Goslin, we went over how I’ve been doing and the results of my clinic so far. We’re checking my liver again because Riluzole can cause damage and it’s no good extending my life by 6 months if I’m going to die earlier because of liver failure. We’ve got an appointment in 2 more months for an extended visit to just recheck everything and see where we’re at. It was good for Gecko to meet her, too. She did a quick strength check, we chatted just a little bit about anxiety and stress factors, and then that was done.
And it was only like…3PM with one more visit to go. During one of the waiting times, Danielle mentioned that she thought it would be more of a meeting room environment, instead of the standard doctor office with exam table that it was. “Yeah,” I told her, “I thought there’d at least be a table, so we could color.” The day was hot, and the room was a bit stuffy even before there were four bodies in it at all times.
The last visit was with a nurse. He was a very nice guy – well, EVERYONE I met yesterday was super nice and patient. His job was to talk to me about things like advance directives. He had a packet about all of that, we talked about what it would take to get the form all official – it doesn’t need to be notarized or anything, he said, just signed with witnesses who aren’t involved in the health care decisions. But just in case someone decides to fight it later, it’s a good idea to send a copy to your doctors, and everyone involved in the decision making. The only thing I ever expect would be a problem on that front is some of my very religious family might be opposed to yanking the plug when it’s time because sanctity of life BLAH BLAH BLAH just let me fucking die when it’s time.
I have faith in my posse, though, to see my wishes done.
We were done by 3:30, and I left with some lovely parting gifts – an appointment for next time, an appointment for a followup with Dr. Goslin in 2 months, an order for bloodwork to be done downstairs before I left, a loaner cane, a breathing excercisey thing (they’re called ambu bags when they’re not modified, but I don’t know if there’s a proper name for them when they’re in ALS patients’ hands after modification), and ALSO an application for a disabled parking permit.
Which, when we left, the DMV was still open so we did that so now I have a gimp parking pass! WOOO!~ Instant popularity when we go out for lunch! “Ride with me!” “NO! Ride with ME!” And I also discovered, because Danielle is ON TOP OF THINGS, that I get to skip to the front of the line when you get a disabled parking pass. I guess terminal diseases have SOME benefit, which is awesome because I was number 608 and they were serving 545.
Danielle was amazing through all of this. She kept very diligent notes, which she is transcribing and putting on our shared Google Docs drive where all of my care info is kept (like meds list, lab results, etc). I quite literally don’t know what I’d do without her. Gecko was also awesome in keeping me happydistracted and he had some really good questions. So I’m grateful that they came with me. And then we ate delicious gyros.
And that’s the story of how I did time.
Yesterday was a very ALS-centric day.
Some days I kinda forget I have it. Some days it’s in my face. And some nights it breaks my heart. It’s okay, it’s just going to be like that. This is my life now. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just …different.
Almost a month ago, the group leader for the American Veterans employee resource group at Intel reached out to me, asking if I would be interested in being involved in an event they were creating. For some reason, veterans are TWICE as likely to get ALS, and for this quarter, his group is working to promote awareness of the disease. I said I’d be happy to, and yesterday they had a table set up in our cafe. I went down to meet him in person and talk a bit, and there was another person manning the booth that actually had ALS.
Mannnnnnnnnn did that guy talk. And have opinions. When I told him how my symptoms were presenting, how for now I’ve just got trouble walking and use braces, he cut me off with, “That’s not ALS. That’s Primary Lateral Sclerosis. You need symptoms in both legs AND arms.”
“…which I HAVE,” I told him, and was ABOUT to tell him if he’d let me finish. “Stabs and shocks showed weakness in my arms, and I’ve got hyperreflexia in my jaw.”
“Oh. That’s ALS,” he conceded.
…Dude. Just because you HAVE a disease, you don’t automatically get more knowledge and authority than the neurologist that diagnosed me. Specially not Dr. Goslin. He also said it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll be suicidal sometime, but “don’t make any decisions at midnight. And don’t look at the computer after dark. Wait until the morning, things will look better.” I’m not sure about the “you will be suicidal” bit, but…yeah.
The two of them were promoting awareness about ALS, and recruiting people for the Portland Walk Against ALS. I got talked in to forming a team. I’m…not good at asking people for anything, much less money. This is important, though, so I’ll do it. And I am. Here!
After a lot of thinking, I went with The Godzilla Squad as a team name. My other favorite suggestions were “The Walking Not-Dead-Thanks-For-Asking”, “Wokka Wokka Wokka”, and “Bracing for A Cure!”
I was kind of overwhelmed by that guy manning the booth, specially as later that day I was going to attend the first support group. Good god, what if the whole meeting is like this? I mean…really nice guy! Knew a lot! But …overbearing and a little argumentative? I’m a pretty meek person (stop laughing) in real life and he just kind of bowled me over. So I had a little trepidation when I left work for the support group.
I arrived craaaaaaazy early. Danielle met me there, and we snaked out for bubble tea before the meeting started. She has the best ideas. There were not many people there at first, though eventually there were about 20 of us. There were two people in chairs, a couple with canes, and one with this awesome walker thing that I’m gonna try for when things get that bad. It had a built in seat and brakes and everything! The idea of walking around with a guaranteed place to sit down when I got tired is AWESOME. He was pretty funny, too. One of the men in chairs had his wife and caretaker with him – he had slurred speech and a great attitude. He presented everyone with a list he’d compiled himself of how often Medicare replaced components on CPAP/BIPAP machines, because it’s not something they ever TELL you. I’m sure the laws will be different by the time I need that information, but it was awesome that he had taken the time to dig that up and present it to the community at large.
We went around and did introductions, of course. I found out that out of the maybe 8 of us with ALS in the room, 3 of us had been diagnosed in April. What the hell. I introduced myself, and told them that Danielle was amazing and wonderful, and she got a little misty. heh. What I FORGOT to say, was “You bitches have NO IDEA how much of an asset you won through my diagnosis. Danielle and I are both power planners, but she is ALL about the marketing and the data gathering and the everything. She is amazing and you are lucky to have access to her.”
The meeting was an hour and a half, but the bulk of it was dedicated to a show-and-tell with assistive devices. They showed everyone what AFOs were, and talked a little bit about options. Several of us had them, and we talked a little bit about our experiences with them. We were showed a power chair, and they talked at length about all of the options available with the seat cushions and controls and front vs rear vs mid drive. I had NO idea you could recline those things until you’re practically prone. I mean, it makes sense that you COULD but it never occurred to me. The two gents with the chairs happily demonstrated their capabilities. It was really informative, but I wish we’d had more time to just chat. Maybe the next one. I may not be able to convince my boss to let me go monthly, but maybe every other.
We had to bug out a little early to go to my therapist so Danielle could meet him. And then we went to a French bakery and had a delightfully snooty waiter (“We’ll take the cheese plate.” “No. Take the brie.” “”..okay, we’ll have the baked brie.” And his suggestions were all on point, but we disappointed him by not liking chocolate so we didn’t go with his dessert suggestions.) and some fancy delicious food.
And it was a really good day. I wasn’t crushed under the weight of what my future holds, it was actually good to see people in more advanced stages who are still doing just fine, thank you. It was nice to talk to a therapist with my primary caregiver to make sure we understand expectations (which really amounted to, I need to get over it and let people who love me do nice things for me). It was nice to volunteer to participate in the walk (teasingly coerced though I was). I hope that all goes well.
But overall? I was reminded again and again and again that I have a terminal disease, and it’s going to cause a lot of complications, but I felt like…it’s okay. It’s going to be fine. I really felt like I have a handle on this for now. And when I don’t, I have people who will step up and help.
I’ll be in a wheelchair someday.
This is just fact. It isn’t sad or depressing, maybe frustrating because I’m powerless to do anything about my own impending powerlessness. For now, I’ve got braces on my legs. Then probably a cane, and then probably those crutches that have the arm bands. I’m sure there’s a medical name for them. Hang on. Lemme Google that. They’re called “forearm crutches”. Well, that’s disappointingly obvious. There are some pretty cool looking ones tho. ANYWAY. Tangent. Sorry. After the crutches will be a wheelchair. Maybe a manual one because my arms are still really good, and maybe not, but certainly, inevitably, an electric one. Vrooooooom.
Even before my diagnosis, when I was losing the ability to walk, everyone told me “you’ll have the coolest wheelchair EVER” and “You’ll have the pimpenest cane EVER”. And I really, really plan to. I joke about cards in the spokes and streamers, but dammit, if I’m gonna sit in the fucking thing forever, I’m going to make it a comfortable and classy ride. And if I’m going to carry something around with me everywhere I go, it IS going to be an awesome cane.
A dear friend of mine was having his own sudden health crisis, and he showed up to work with a cane. He commented that it’s a lot harder to walk with than you’d think. I don’t doubt it. With every step of this progression, I am having to relearn how to walk. I had to learn to be more conscious of my foot drop so I didn’t trip over things. With the braces, I’m having to learn to trust them not to break and not feel like I have to stoop over when I walk so I don’t lean on them. They’re so lightweight and springy I feel like they’ll snap, but carbon fiber’s pretty hardcore and as long as I don’t go all Portal with them, I’ll be fine.
In said friend’s post, a friend of his commented that he hopes my friend got a really cool cane. And since my friend is a musician, he linked this one:
….WHICH IS FUCKING AWESOME.
And of course, because etsy is already one of my favorite wastes of time (as evidenced by the number of things from etsy on my Amazon wishlist (thank you very much Amazon for making that feature because it is awesome (okay I think that’s enough parentheses (no, we need to go deeper (ok seriously I’m done (let’s see if I correctly close them all out))))), I poked around on that sire awhile to see what kind of cane I’d buy for myself, if I needed one right now. And I have a lot of options, just from etsy alone. I’ve learned a couple of things.
But there are really good ones out there. A lot of solid, dependable, suited-to-the-purpose-without-being-medical-looking ones. If I had to get one today, it’d probably be either http://etsy.me/1xErFHy or http://etsy.me/1qoL3Ds . Or both. One for dailies, one for Sunday best. 😀
Outfitting yourself with a cool accessory is a powerful coping mechanism, I’m finding. I feel SO much better about my pills and pills and pills since I made the apothecary shelves with them. OH!! I haven’t showed you that lately! I have Apothecabinet Mark II now. Separate post. Yep. It’s like consoling yourself to go through chemo by thinking about all the awesome wigs you can get and have a different hairstyle whenever you feel like it. I have to take a lot of damned medicines, but I feel better about it dispensing them all from little awesome jars. Yeah, I’ll have to walk with a cane eventually, but it’s gonna be an awesome accessory, besides being functional.
My chair will totally have metallic glitter paint and stickers.
I never got to meet the other woman involved with the voice banking story; she’s much further along in her progression than I am, and it’s really hard for her to get around, so they did her segment at her house. She sent me an email yesterday, expressing regret that we didn’t meet. She asked if I had been to a support group yet, and told me “It can be a bit scary at first but you soon forget all that and come to enjoy the great people.”
Scary, maybe. Intimidating as all FUCK, certainly. I’m an introvert, I have social anxiety, I…don’t do well in crowds. Outwardly, I’m just fine. Inwardly, my mind is racing “oh shit oh shit she’s going to come talk to us oh shit shit shit what do I even SAY oh shit here she comes she’s asking our name WHAT DO WE TELL HER oh right our name that’s easy. Ask hers. ASK HERS. CASUAL. FUCK. WE ARE NEVER GOING TO REMEMBER THAT. I hope we never meet her again even though she seems nice because we won’t remember her name and it will be HUMILIATING and OH SHIT SHIT SHIT SHE IS ASKING ABOUT SOMETHING. WHAT IS IT. DO I HAVE KIDS. OH SHIT. WHAT’S THE POLITE WAY TO SAY FUCK NO NEVER NOT IN A MILLION YEARS YOU MUST BE JOKING? “I have cats and that’s close enough for me”? Really brain? That’s the best you could co..oh she’s laughing. GOOD JOB BRAIN HIGH FIVE. Oh but what if she’s laughing AT US. OH GOD WHAT TIME CAN WE LEAVE HOW LONG HAVE WE BEEN HERE oh five minutes, that’s all? Shit. Shit shit shit.”
All social interactions are scary to me. With strangers, exponentially so.
Though, I admit I do have some fears about going to support group. I know it’s going to be a harsh reality check to see people in advanced stages of my disease. I’m not sure I’m ready to be confronted with that. I already have a little bit of the “huh, that’s what the future looks like” when I see people in wheelchairs. Mostly that’s fascination, though. But my real fear is that the support group is going to be like the ALS forums.
Because CHEEEZUS MARY CHRISTMAS.
The fucking NEGATIVITY and SELF PITY and ENTITLEMENT. “ALS IS THE WORST THING EVER AND MY LIFE IS SHIT AND NO ONE UNDERSTANDS AND EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE AND HOW DARE YOU HAVE FUN AT ALL WHEN I AM DYING SLOWLY YOU SELFISH FUCKERS.” And then there’s the constant “We lost a member today! RIP Twitchy Twitchertons, who lost his battle with ALS today.” Negativity and Mortality! Two great tastes that taste great together! YOU GOT YOUR OBITUARY IN MY COMPLAINT! YOU GOT YOUR SELF PITY IN MY FUNERAL ANNOUNCEMENT! *slow camera pan as they both realize that they can be miserable..TOGETHER! Fade out as they live happily ever afte….oh who am I kidding. They die alone after alienating everyone they ever knew* And scene. Print it.
I’m terrified that support groups are going to be live action reenactments of all that. Because my social anxiety would never let me stand up and say “SHUT THE FUCK UP, SALLY, LIFE IS REALLY NOT THAT BAD.” “Yes, Don, you’re DYING. So is EVERYONE ELSE EVERYWHERE. You are not a unique snowflake and your terminal disease is NOT licence to be a FUCKING DICK.”
…I’m so gonna print that on a bumper sticker.
Well, at least I won’t have to deal with the “Sometimes? I get tired. And my leg fell asleep yesterday. Does this mean I have ALS?” people. “NO SRSFACE GUISE I AM NOT AS STRONG AS I USED TO BE I THINK I GOT LOU GEHRIGSES.” You’re seventy. Yes. You’re probably weaker than you used to be. IT IS CALLED AGING. It, too, is terminal, but it doesn’t have its own nonprofit. But I’m pretty sure there are support groups. They CALL it bingo night, but let’s be honest, that’s not what it’s for.
I’ll probably go and check one out, though. I’ll be brave. And hopefully I won’t have to deal with my OTHER fear, which is me sauntering in there with my leg braces and the others being all “PFFT, BRACES-GIRL, COME BACK WHEN YOU’RE DEALING WITH THE REAL SHIT.” even though I KNOW that’s completely irrational. There’s no DME exchange rate on entrance into the ALS Club. You must be THIS bogged down in medical equipment to go on this ride.
Support is important, though. As is advice, from people who have fought on the front lines, so to speak. The woman who wrote me that email suggested that I get a signature stamp made sooner than later – and I don’t know that it occurred to me yet, that I’m going to need such a thing. I bet there’s all kinds of amazing tricks to this shit, resources I don’t know about yet, that other people can give me. And maybe, when my bouncy happy freaklet self waltzes in there, maybe I can give them a breath of fresh air by NOT being one of the Forum People.
Because my second circle has strict orders to put me down, if that happens. Occasional lapses into self pity are fine, but if I become all about “WHY ME” all the time and “I HAVE IT WORST OUT OF EVERYONE ALIVE” then ….Old Yeller style, out back behind the barn. Ka-blam. I will NOT become that person. There’s enough of those assholes already, and they’re all on the forums.
I’m very, very glad I took the whole day off. Social anxiety is exhausting!
The reporter was scheduled to come at 9. Shana, the Assistive Technology Services Coordinator for my local chapter of ALSA, showed up early so we could devise our battle plan. I really like Shana – she’s good people. We met for lunch Tuesday, and I liked her instantly. The reporter ended up being late, due to “breaking news” (there was an officer involved shooting that morning), so we just hung out for awhile while my nephew’s cat Brobee whored himself alllllllllllllllll over her. Seriously, that cat is ridiculous. Luckily, Shana is also cat owned, so she was nice about it.
The reporter and Camera Guy Pete arrived around 9:30, and they…were both really nice people, actually. I was kind of expecting someone plasticky and false, but she was very nice, and won me over when she not only said hi to Brobee, but pulled up a picture of HER cat on her phone. Cats. They bring people together. Hehe. They set up the camera at my dining table, and then the interview was…very quick and informal and I hope to GOD I was half articulate. She asked how old I was, when I was diagnosed, and was surprised when I said just this last April. She asked several questions about voice banking, and I hope I came across as passionate and not stupidnerdy about the whole thing. And then she asked how ALS has affected me so far, because she’s not seeing it.
“Well there’s these,” I said, swinging my legs around. I wore a knee length skirt that morning, with purple houndstooth knee socks, so the braces were not in your face, but not hidden either.
“Oh, I didn’t even realize that’s what they were. I thought maybe they were..a goth thing?” hahahhaha what.
“Well I’m going to replace the velcro with leather, so it will seem even more intentional then, ” I told her.
They interviewed Shana on my couch, next, and she was very passionate and bubbly and full of hope and information. Awesome. They filmed me walking up the stairs, and then we set up in my office. Shana sat next to me while I did the thing, and I showed them around the very simple ModelTalker software. I recorded a couple of simple phrases, demonstrating how I could play it back. Marilyn (by the way, the reporter’s name is Marilyn. Probably shoulda said. It’s the same name as my mom, so that was weird.) asked me about banking custom phrases, and Shana explained that’s not really ModelTalker, that’s just something separate that you can do; make a recording of your own phrases and then put them along with the Artificial You on your soundboard so you can just hit a button to say “WORD UP HOME SKILLETS” or whatever. She asked if I could do some of that, so I pulled up Adobe Audition and recorded “Seriously? …SERIOUSLY.” for her, and played it back, and showed how I could crop the file to just include the phrase. She asked me to record “I love you” so I did that, and then, with Shana’s giggling prompting, I recorded, “You are getting on what might actually be my last nerve.”
It was glorious.
And then I looked over at my doorway and the reporter was stifling a laugh so I felt a lot better about the whole thing.
Pete filmed me walking down the stairs, and then filmed me in my kitchen pretending to bake something. Well I was actually baking, but mostly it was waiting for eggs to become meringue for macarons. (Which didn’t even turn out in the end because I was super distracted and not doing it properly, but they still tasted okay.) They packed up, then, and all said their goodbyes and headed off to talk to the other woman involved in this story, who is much further along her progression and uses ModelTalker. She’s apparently on a vent, so the idea of us all meeting at my house was laughable.
It was around 11 then, so I played around with Sims3 for about an hour and then took a nap for four.
Overall, I think it went okay. Hopefully I was semi-articulate, and was able to convey some of the awesome energy I feel about the ModelTalker option. BECAUSE VOICE BANKING IS AMAZING. They assured me I did alright. Marilyn said that the story isn’t likely to run next week, but the week after; but she’d email us to tell us when.
And when I know, I’ll let YOU know.