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.

The ALS Clinic

My ALS Clinic team is getting a new doctor. Dr. Goslin called me and said they were putting together a newsletter to welcome him, and asked if I would write something about my experiences with the clinic. “Hopefully positive,” she said, and she needn’t have worried. I told her I’d be delighted. This is what I wrote.

It is not hyperbolic to state that ALS is one of the worst things that can happen to someone. Second perhaps only to Alzheimer’s disease in the completely undignified and terrifying way it kills, a diagnosis of ALS is absolutely devastating. It is also not hyperbolic to state that one of the best weapons against the ravages of this disease is the multidisciplinary ALS clinic. I personally cannot imagine going through this disease without my care team. A dedicated team of experts coming together to get the big picture and provide not only treatment, but expectations and support, is a luxury very few people are ever gifted with.

The ALS clinic makes the journey not only better, but perhaps even possible at all. Scheduling so many appointments with so many separate providers would become a job in itself; a Herculean task when one is already exhausted from just continuing to be alive. One day every three months for a four hour whirlwind tour of health is a tremendous relief of burden, even without considering the travel times. In addition to the vast benefit of freed time and effort, the end-of-day consultation when the whole team comes together to talk about me as a whole and complete person, instead of a series of interesting little snippets, provides for a much better plan of attack. A completely holistic and complete picture of me as a person with ALS, instead of a case file of how ALS is affecting Patient X with regards to diet/respiratory/insert-your-favorite-discipline-here. It is so much better for the patient when doctors talk to each other – who knew?

ALS affects each person differently, and we collectively know so little about it that research on one’s own is almost pointless. It’s only through the collective care and knowledge of the team at Providence that I’ve been able to get a grasp on my disease at all. Every question I ask is answered, every minor complaint met with compassion and understanding, and above it all, the concern I’m given is genuine. I’ve never had such a beautiful working relationship with medical professionals before. The care and compassion of this clinic’s providers are one of the greatest tools a person with ALS could ever hope to have; a wonderful consolation prize.

If ALS is a Pandora’s box of symptoms and troubles, then the ALS clinic is the remaining hope. I’m wholly grateful for this resource. I literally could not do this without it.

Rad

The latest word on the street in ALS Land is Radicava.

It’s a new, FDA approved treatment, and we’re all pretty dang excited about it because there’s been nothing new AT ALL in 30 years. All we have is riluzole (brand name Rilutek) which you take twice a day and maaaaaaaaaybe gives you another six months or so? Or maybe destroys your liver? Other than that, the only treatment is really an attempt to mitigate some of the symptoms, like the muscle twitches (‘fasciculations’) and cramps, your muscles locking in place (spasticity), the complete fatigue because everything is a lot harder when half the muscles in your legs are gone, depression and anxiety – because it’s not really the five stages of grief so much as the five constantly cycling whirlwind moods of grief. Sometimes I hit them all on the same day.

Radicava (generic name edaravone) isn’t a miracle drug, by any means. It’s completely ineffective for a lot of people, and at best gives just a 33% reduction in the rate of decline. It has a lot of issues, of course, it can cause problems in people with asthma, and well..it’s expensive as all hell. I’ll get to that in a moment. For now, here’s the basics, if you want to read some more, and here are some of the naysayings about it.

Me, though, I wanted to try it from the get-go. I’ve been abundantly clear (or so I thought) that I am willing to try any new treatment, just to be doing something, to provide a little more data for future research, if nothing else. Every Clinic Day, we asked about the latest updates, the most recent news, when is it available. And so I was frankly…crushed, and a bit angry when I found out at last Clinic that people have already been trying it and I wasn’t contacted. That anger increased when they seemed surprised that I was interested in trying it. Like..how could I have been more clear?

Anger turned to rage when I was told that insurance would not pay for it. Because..once again..I have had ALS for too long. Because statistically, I should be dying any minute now. The average life expectancy is three to five years, and I hit three years in April. Never mind in actuality I’m still VERY MUCH alive and not going anywhere soon, thenkyouverymuch. And it wasn’t the pharmaceutical company denying me, it was the insurance company. I wasn’t worth the cost. If I’m statistically almost dead already, it’s not cost effective for them to pay for this. You’ll recall I said it was expensive – let me show you how expensive. Radicava is administered by infusion. Each infusion lasts for about one hour and administers a 60mg dose. The cost for each infusion is as follows:

The medication itself: $1238.80
The medication to flush the IV/PICC/port line into your vein: $180
If you do in-home infusion, the nurse’s time costs $251.20 for the first 2 hrs, $86.10 each hour after if needed
If you go to an infusion clinic, the cost for nursing is $107.10 for the first 2 hours, $50 after.

Now, since it’s not easy to get anywhere and do anything with ALS, we’ll go with in-home infusions, so that is $1,670. Per dose. How many doses do you need? Well, you start treatment with 14 consecutive days of infusions. That’s $23,380. Then you take 14 days off. Then you do 10 consecutive doses over the next 14 days. Then 2 weeks off. Then 10 over 14. For the rest of your life. It’s over twice what I make a year, to use this drug. As much as I hate it, I get why insurance would consider this a dumb investment. I hate that that is even a consideration in whether or not I have access to this.

Knowing that I was going to get denied, I asked to try anyway. I filled out a form giving the infusion clinic access to my medical records, on the off chance they could use this to leverage my insurance company to pony up some dollars to help a dying girl out. Monday I got a call from Searchlight, the company coordinating the treatment, and they said that typically my insurance covered this treatment after a 5% copay. Luckily, she said, once I hit my out of pocket max, it’s all covered. Did I have any questions?

“Yes,” I said. “…Does this mean that I actually am going to be covered for this?”

“Well, we’ll be sending your information along to your doctor provider, but it looks like we’re good to go.”

I dared to let myself hope. Just for a moment. I went out with J and had celebratory sushi, but said nothing to anyone else (except my mom, who was here when I got the call) just in case it was a misunderstanding.

It wasn’t.

Wednesday I got a call from the nurse to discuss the actual cost, how much I was responsible for, and to start making appointments. She gave me the above price list, and we discussed would I like a PICC line or a port? Since this was pretty much going to be a regular thing, infusions by regular IV aren’t an option – imagine having to get your vein stabbed every day for an hour long IV drip. Folks on dialysis, infusions, or chemotherapy usually opt for either a PICC line or an implantable port. A PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line goes in your upper arm, and then into a central vein in your chest. An implantable port, or port-a-cath, gets implanted under the skin in your chest and also snakes into a central vein. PICC lines are technically good for a month, though if you treat it carefully, it can last much longer. A port-a-cath is considered a permanent implant. PICC lines are much simpler to install, it’s just a complicated IV insert with a chest x-ray to make sure it’s done right, but a port requires at least conscious sedation. A PICC line needs upkeep once installed; it’s basically two little ‘pigtails’ as she called it, sticking out of your skin and held in place by tape. You can’t get it wet, and have to wear some kind of sleeve to keep it from getting caught on things. A port is just a little bump under your skin, no maintenance required. PICCs are easy to remove if you change your mind. You’re kind of stuck with a port for the rest of your days.

So yesterday I had a PICC line installed.

If I tolerate the meds, we’ll install a port.

This is happening. Even if it does me no good at all, even if it actually makes things worse, we have tried. I am a data point. I did something. I did everything I could. I should start infusions next week.

I can’t wait to keep you guys posted.

And then I waited too long…

..and the backlog of words waiting to be written backed up and I EXPLODED!

Okay, not really, but I’ve worked myself into that awful spot where updates are long overdue, but I can’t tell you about THAT because first I have to tell you about THIS, but it’s dependent on this OTHER thing for context, and I wanna talk about THIS but it needs to be a video but I really need to vlog about the cruise first, and then the wake…

And so for weeks I’ve posted nothing at all. Which is DUMB. So let me sum up some things, and then when I feel like I wanna say something, I can do that, and then fill in the back story as I can. The Cliff Notes version:

Clinic Days: Progressing as normal. Last time my breathing capacity was down a little, but it was still a strong normal. My hands continue to degrade. I made an appointment with Deb the Wicked Awesome PT who made me a Wolverine glove to hold my fingers up. I now have a wheelchair at home to get pushed around in.

Home search: Nothing. Despair.

Support Network: Lizzie is amazing and helps clean my place and I am VERY much enjoying the strengthened friendship that’s resulted out of the hangouts. She’s keen. Puce has become a freakin’ CHAMP-EE-UNNN in my life, to the point where he pushes me in my walker from the car to my desk every day. He’s amazing. Every dang day I am grateful for the people in my life who just kinda stepped into the roles I need, and I’m not at all sure what I did to deserve any of it.

Cruise: So much fun. You should do a cruise if you can.

Awake Wake: I literally don’t have the words. So many people, and so much love, and so much good food, and creativity, and hardly ANY crying, and SO MANY PEEPS OH MY GOD. My favorite part was sitting in the corner, watching all of my friends greet other mutual friends they haven’t seen in too long. It was the most uplifting thing I’ve ever experienced, and I’m so freaking grateful to everyone who came.

Vitamin shots: Don’t seem to be doing anything except make me pee pink, but I’m continuing them until next clinic day anyway.

Radicava: cautiously optimistic, but holy HELL is that expensive and complicated and..yeah. Every time I hear about it I think of Rikki-tikki-tavi.

Politics: Don’t even get me started. He wants to completely defund the ALS registry, which is the single most important tool we have to finding a cause and therefore a cure. I get angrier and more depressed with all of it every day, so I spend my days actively avoiding all of the news. It seeps in through my friends feed anyway, and I try to not be hateful and bitter. The world seems like a very ugly place right now, and I actively work to remain ignorant so that I can remain sane and functional. Bleh.

ALS Sucks: Someone else I knew with ALS died recently. I know his wife better than I knew him, and she’s an amazing person (seriously, caregivers are the unsung, underappreciated heroes of all time), but it brings the total number of people I know with ALS to….one. This is why I avoid the hell out of ALS forums. They’re seemingly all “EVERYTHING SUCKS” or “RIP So-andSo, who lost the fight with ALS today…” Meh. There’s only one cure for this disease, and it sucks.

Settling Affairs: Yeah, speaking of which I still need to finish that all up. It’s hard. I’m glad I don’t actually own anything of value.

Voice banking: Done! I have my digital voice and it is some serious Uncanny Valley stuff and I can’t wait to show it to you.

Work: I still have a job, I’m working from home two days a week now because it’s hard to do much of anything, and even getting out of bed and putting civilian clothes on and wrestling with myself to get in to work is a freakin’ challenge. But I still have to keep doing this because see: Home search.

So, that’s the quick (!) update. A lot. Realllllly need to post more. Soz. Soon. <3 I hope you're doing excellent things today.

Stabbity Stab Stab

One thing I love about being one of Dr. Goslin’s goslings is that she is super, wicked smart and stays on top of the latest research. Any time someone sends me an article about some new breakthrough or other, I am completely confident that she has already seen it and researched it to pieces. The upshot of this is that, when she suggests I try something, I know it’s a very well-considered proposal.

In our last Clinic Day, she told me about this article. Massive megadoses of B12 have been tentatively shown to maybe possibly potentially help with some of ALS’ stupid symptoms. She gave me the article, asked me to mull it over, and let her know if I’d like to try it.

Roadblock number one? Insurance won’t cover it. She told me it ran between $250 – $300. I could either get it in a vial with needles, or pre-filled needles, for more dollars. Now, I can manage to afford that now, while I’m unemployed, but when I’m not? Sucks to be me, if it works. I had me a nice angry meltdown on facebook about how stupid that is, sulked, and researched some more. My friends assured me that if it worked, they’d help me fundraise to get it, so don’t let that stop me.

Roadblock number two? Self. Administered. Intra. Muscular. Injections. Now, I’m tattooed, have multiple piercings, I am in NO fear of needles. But I didn’t know that I’d have the nerve to stab myself every day in the thigh. In the morning! And then there was the problems of mechanics, having enough hand control to push the plunger in. So, a mental AND physical challenge.

I decided to try; they recommend one month at least. I decided to go for it all three months until next Clinic, and I’ll likely still be employed all that time to afford it. I sent Dr. Goslin an email, she gave me the prescription, and thus began the Wacky Comedy of Errors. Holy crap.

First of all, only several pharmacies compound the stuff. For some perspective, the average over-the-counter supplement is 2.4 micrograms. This injection is 25 MILLIGRAMS. That is more than TEN THOUSAND TIMES the dose. Understandably, there’s a limited number of folks who make it that strong. So I had to *gulp* CALL A PHARMACY. IN PERSON. They got the prescription from Dr. Goslin. Then they called me to get my personal information. Then they called me back with pricing. A vial of it would run me $215, plus $30 shipping because it has to be kept refigerated and mailed cold. Oh. But they can’t ship it to Oregon; they’re not licensed to ship there, did I know someone in California or somewhere I could have them ship to, who could forward it to me? For another whatever-it-costs for overnight shipping to keep it cold? LUCKILY I have my dear friend Amanda in Vancouver, which is not so far away, and she was happy to recieve the package on my behalf AND dose it out into the syringes for me. Two days later, she got my vitamins.

With no syringes.

No big deal, she went to a pharmacy. …Who would not sell her any without a prescription. They gave her 4, though, so I could get started while I waited over the weekend for my doctor to send in a prescription. Doc Goslin was in a conference, turns out, so she turned the task over to her nurse, who mistook the instructions and sent in a scrip as though the injections were WEEKLY, so they only gave me 11. And to the wrong pharmacy, but that wasn’t her fault, DocGos didn’t tell her that part of my request. So I sent in an email to get it corrected and to the right pharmacy, only insurance now wouldn’t cover it because I was trying to fill the scrip too soon. You’d think the fucking things already have heroin in them, with how hard it’s been to get hold of some. FINALLY we’ve got it sorted and I can go pick up the rest of them tomorrow.

Theoretically.

I started the shots a week ago. You have to keep it refrigerated, take the shot out of the fridge 20 minutes prior to administration, and keep it in a dark place while it waits, because B12 is light-sensitive. And THEN you may stab yourself. It took a couple of tries, mind you. 1mL is a LOT of liquid to get in there. The initial stab isn’t bad, unless I hit a nerve, but sometimes it takes some doing to get the plunger all the way in. And sometimes some of the liquid comes back out when I withdraw the needle, which sucks because it’s a blood red liquid that stains. I was warned that it gets metabolized quickly, and I’ll pass whatever doesn’t get readily absorbed, so my urine miiiiiight turn reddish or pink.

It totally does. So, thanks for the warning.

I haven’t noticed a difference in anything yet. I’m still experimenting with where to do the injection, as there’s not a LOT of muscle left in my thighs, and it’s blanketed with fat. Shooting my bicep though, feels like an immunization shot and leaves my arm sore all day. I’m sure it will get easier. It’s still taking one or two false starts before I manage to work up the nerve to stab myself though.

I’m not sure what I’m hoping for, with this. If it does something, then I’m tethered to $245 payments a month out of pocket. And eventually finding someone to stab me with a needle every day. If it doesn’t, then I’ll be out a lot of money with nothing but soiled cupcake band-aids and self inflicted puncture marks to show for it. I mean, of COURSE I’d like it to do something, even if it does mean weighing the pros and cons of perceived improvement vs. cost and hassle.

I guess I’m just saying, this disease complicates everything. At all times. For everyone. It really SHOULD come with a secretary and a kitten.

And someone to do the shots for me.

I’m still alive.

I have a lot to say, but not a lot of it is good, so I tend to not want to talk about it. Some days just suck. I’ve been in a state of..depression is not quite right, more like barely contained terrified panic, since the election. It just keeps getting worse. Thank you, everyone who voted Republican, for voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, so I’m not entirely certain I’m going to have medical coverage when I’m forced to leave my job, because I have one hell of a pre-existing condition.

I had clinic recently, not much to report. Same decline, my hands are getting worse, swallowing and breathing are still normal.

My 23 year old cat is dying, and I feel like I want to, too, when I think about it. I’ve known him for more than half my life.

Christmas was…good and bad. I’ve had more falls lately.

That’s the baby update. There will be more; I have a lot to say and I promise to say it soon.

Let’s Get Clinical! Clinical!

Clinic.

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"]hurrhhhh...hurrrhhhh... 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.