Taking Up Space

crowd

I am five feet ten inches tall with a frame that, while it can’t be termed slender, certainly isn’t large or rotund. Average would probably the best way to describe it, given my age and weight. So for a guy of my stature, why do I feel like Fat Albert?

In fact, I often feel like I take up the space of a person three to four times larger, but never when I am sitting down or sleeping. I only feel this way when I am mobile, particularly when I am unleashed on the public, or if I am in close quarters. And it does not matter if I am home, at work, or outside.

You see, even with a cane, I wobble from side to side when I walk, courtesy of the bad leg and lousy balance. Walking in a straight line is almost impossible, so much so that I have wondered what would happen if I ever got pulled over at a sobriety checkpoint. If a breathalyzer wasn’t administered,  the cops would probably slap on the cuffs in a heartbeat watching me stagger around.

Not only do I wobble, but will careen to my right or left whenever my foot doesn’t clear the walking surface and I stub my toe, which is a daily occurrence. Whenever possible, I use a handrail. If those aren’t available, I try to have part of my hand on a wall, or make sure a wall is within arm’s reach.

Anyone who sees me coming will often veer off to the opposite side of the road/hall/sidewalk/room. Perhaps they are being polite and don’t want to obstruct my path, but I think it’s because they see someone unsteady on their feet approaching whom they don’t want to get entangled with. These are the smart ones.

I can no longer stop on a dime either, having lost that talent years ago. So if someone is turning a corner and I’m right in front of them, I have to place my hand on their shoulder to keep them from running me over. If they, or anyone for that matter who is coming at me and hasn’t been paying attention until the last moment, tries to get out of my way the same time I am trying to avoid them, I can tumble to the ground even if we don’t collide. I can zig, you see, but not zig-zag. That sudden shift causes a loss of balance, triggering the laws of gravity.  This is a fate I try to avoid at all costs, and have managed to circumvent so far.

Narrow office hallways, which seem like the norm from my perspective, are always fun. It can be snug for able bodied people to pass one another in these conditions. Me? If the oncoming person doesn’t see me coming and step aside, which happens about half of the time,  I stop, place my back to the wall, and let them pass.

At home, and particularly in the kitchen and laundry areas, I feel enormous. That’s because as K is darting about in her typical multi-taking mode, I try to lend a hand, but often wind up getting in her way, which can be annoying for the both of us. Annoying to her since she can’t operate at the speed she wants to because I seem to be in the way at every turn, and annoying for me because I’m trying to help, to feel like a productive member of the household, and feel like I am anything but, which only magnifies my physical shortcomings.

To feel perfectly secure, I need a safety zone around me that is about three feet in circumference. With those three feet, I am not a danger to anyone else or myself. I have enough space to ensure I won’t be bumping into anyone, or be in danger of being bumped into and falling. I won’t be a nuisance to anyone either because I won’t be in their way.

That is what I want and need, but it isn’t something that can be demanded or communicated. Folks who have known me for a while know to give me a wide berth and do so willingly and without judgement. Sometimes they go a little overboard by offering to do stuff I am capable of doing, which can be annoying, but their heart is in the right place.

In public places though, like an airport, like Fenway Park, the mall, or the grocery store, not so much. It certainly isn’t as easy to negotiate these kind of environments as it used to be, but I have learned to become hyper-vigilant in these situations in terms of who is entering and leaving my orbit. My one blind spot is, obviously, what is behind me. If I suddenly stop, and somone walking behind me is looking at their phone instead of what is in front of them, the resulting collision could be nasty. This has happened only once, in an airport, but I was fortunate enough to have my cane planted in front of me, which allowed me to push back and remain upright as my knee crumpled and I was on the verge of going down in a heap

Here is the irony: on one hand I can become agitated about how oblivious and rude people can be in these situations, and bemoan the fact they are so self-absorbed they can’t or won’t pay attention when someone like me is around. On the other hand, I get agitated at myself when I become aware of these feelings. Why? Because I have never wanted nor expected special privileges or accommodations, other than parking, for my condition because that would be conceding that I am damaged, or somehow less of a person. It is therefore my responsibility to be acutely aware of my surroundings, not their’s.

So yeah, I need room to operate, but understand it isn’t something I should feel bad or  self-conscious about. This inconvenient truth isn’t something that is going to prevent me from going where I want to go either, as seven trips to Fenway this season prove.

Besides, it could be worse. I could be in a wheelchair, which would not only consume more space than I currently require, but restrict what I can do and where I can go. So I’ll happily keep the status quo, as frustrating as it can sometimes be.

The Final Straw?

IMG_0179-2

Blizzard Brody visited our state back in December, but in hindsight it was a Blizzard in name only.  Yes it snowed, but the snowfall was not intense. Yes it was windy, but no power was lost and no trees were damaged. We’ve had some cold snaps since that storm, and a few snow events, but nothing cringe-worthy. Other than the fact that we’re into March and everyone is sick of winter, it’s been a pretty tame one.

Two days ago the talking heads started hyping winter storm Edna, and people overreacted as usual. Gas stations had lines going into them, and grocery stores were being wiped clean. You see, this storm was allegedly going to dump a bunch of wet, heavy snow on the region and pack winds that could cause damage. Heart attack snow, as the guy who does most of my driveway calls it.

Accumulation predictions had grown, which got my attention, but that was mostly for the Northwest Hills. Nonetheless, I decided to work from home yesterday. After all, even though we could get 6 to 12 inches when it was over, who wants to commute in that shit? According to the forecast, the snow would start around seven in the morning, intensify by ten, and conclude by ten in the evening.  When seven in the morning rolled around, it was cloudy and dry. By ten, there was a light rain falling.

The southeastern part of the state was supposed to get most of the rain and not a lot of snow. Maybe 3-4 inches. So when it started raining, I figured the storm’s track had moved. When I finished my work later in the afternoon, it was still drizzling. A few fat flakes would occasionally mix in, but nothing was coating the roads or ground.

I breathed a sigh of relief because my son, who I will refer to as Shodan, had a heavy cold and K was battling a nasty sinus infection. I was two days removed from a stomach virus myself, so I was more than happy that the weathermen screwed up yet another forecast and I wouldn’t have to worry about snow removal that night.

IMG_0180

Less than an hour later there were white-out conditions, and it remained that way for another seven hours. Knowing this stuff was going to be saturated with water and heavy as hell, I decided to remove the snow in stages because the last thing I wanted was to remove maybe a foot of wet heavy snow all at once. My not so big blower wouldn’t be able to handle that, which meant a lot of shovel work would be required, which was simply not going to happen.

Little did I know, Edna, which was not a blizzard, would put Brody to shame. Eighteen inches of snow fell over a six or seven hour period, so you do the math regarding how heavy it was coming down. The pictures you see here don’t do the storm justice because about a third of the snow had melted by the time I took them.

The first time I went out with the blower (Shodan had already taken a shower and was down for the count) four inches had already accumulated, and it took two hours to remove it from the section of the driveway the plow guy can’t reach, in addition to the front and back sidewalks.

After I came in and collapsed on the recliner for rest in front of the telly, I reluctantly ventured out back for the next go around and there was an additional eight inches on the ground. It was at that point I knew this storm was trouble. The wind was howling, the snow was coming down sideways, and at one point, a clap of thunder erupted and a flash of lightning whited everything out, scaring the hell out of me in the process.

When I was out there, my ankle was constantly bending, and it almost got to the point where I was walking on the side of the ankle instead of the bottom of my foot. The entire leg was so weak I could barely move it, and my good leg was screaming because it had to compensate for the compromised one. The back and hamstrings weren’t pleased either.

At one point, the bolt assembly that holds blower handle was loose, which I didn’t know, and became dislodged. Half the handle was in my hand, and I could not control the blower, which was slowly rolling down a small decline, and I had to hurry to keep pace with it before it came to rest in a snow bank. How I remained upright is beyond me. I was not happy, said every bad word I know, and made up a few in the process, for a solid minute.

The immediate issue was to find the bolt and screw because if I didn’t, they would get buried in the snow and perhaps lost forever, rendering the blower useless. So I got on my hands and knees, which was a chore, strained my eyes and blindly ran my gloved hands across the driveway surface in a raging snowstorm, hoping to see or find something that looked or felt like a long bolt and large hand screw. Fortunately, this happened quickly. Now that the “easy” part was over, I had to get back on my feet.

The first two attempts failed, so I literally crawled on my hands and knees to a car that was parked nearby, pull myself up, reassembled the handle, and get back to work. Round two took almost three hours and I didn’t even attempt the sidewalks.

When I was done, it was still snowing, and my leg wouldn’t move at all. I literally dragged it behind me until I got inside, laboriously removed the boots, knee brace, the AFO brace, which actually turned out to be a detriment, then peeled off a saturated coat, hat, gloves, scarf, snow pants, sweats and undergarments in a heap onto towel laid on the floor. I trudged up those long stairs, took a shower, gingerly headed back downstairs to the kitchen and poured myself a whiskey (no ice). It was close to 11pm, and sipped my drink in the quiet stillness.

Thoughts were swirling in my head: I can’t do this anymore, I don’t want to do this anymore, I can’t physically do this anymore, and I am so tired of dealing with this.

As stubborn as I am, and as much as I try not to give into this disability, I’m not stupid, and some things can’t be ignored. Storm Edna was a cold slap in the face in that regard. Twenty minutes later I fell into bed, my body ached from head to toe, and quickly fell asleep.

To add insult to injury, we lost power early this morning. My birthday morning. Not that I was surprised. The snow had coated all the tree limbs like a coating of white wax. It was a pretty spectacular sight actually, but all the limbs were bending terribly and you knew some would eventually snap. And snap they did. Over 40% of our town lost power, but ours fortunately came back on about a half hour ago. At least I’ll be warm tonight, be able to enjoy a hot meal and take a comfortable shower.

Still, the sidewalks and the snow that fell after I came in for the night had to be removed. It was a piece of cake by comparison, but I ache all over,

So now this whole moving thing becomes serious, not that is wasn’t before, because I don’t want to go through this again next winter. The need is more urgent with no solution in sight.  Maybe we’ll have to reassess out priorities. The easiest and most practical thing to do is move into one of those over 55 communities where all the outside stuff is taken care of, but I hate that idea. Plus they aren’t cheap and I would still have to make the interior ADA compliant.

There isn’t any land available in the section of town we want that has city water, so does that mean we need to look at neighboring towns? Don’t really like that option either. But something might have to give because that clicking clock has suddenly become very loud.

Meanwhile, I will enjoy the rest of my birthday and pray like hell that the next coastal storm/nor’easter that is forecast for Monday is a total rain event. I can’t take another yesterday.

 

 

 

 

 

My First Time

shock

There are very few events in my life that I vividly remember: my wedding day, the day my son was born, and where I was when I first saw the images of the 9/11 attack that brilliant late summer morning in Connecticut, come to mind. They are all etched in my memory so clearly, that not only can I recall images of the occasion, but emotions, smells and things of that nature. Perhaps this is because they were so profoundly momentous and meaningful.

The day MS entered my life is also on that list. My first time, as I like to refer to it, occurred out of nowhere like an unexpected and unwanted bolt of lightning. Of course, I didn’t have a clue  what was going on at the time, or that it represented the beginning of a life-altering journey.  Be that as it may, the experience was so shocking, and the consequences so profound, how could I not remember it?

Ten years ago, I dragged my lazy ass downstairs into the cellar early one Tuesday evening, and stepped onto my treadmill for a long-overdue workout.  I had been in good shape for most of my life and, while not a fitness fanatic, worked out more often than not. For some reason, I had fallen into a rut and had not touched any exercise equipment for over a year, and was getting soft in a lot of places I didn’t like. For months I had vowed  to resume working out because, as a creature of habit, I knew all I had to do was get started and it would become part of a regular routine.

So I seized upon the thought to take that first step, ventured downstairs, strode onto the treadmill, and turned it on. Back in those days, my typical workout consisted of a ten minute warm up, followed by forty-five minutes of gradually increasing speed before concluding with five minutes of winding down at much slower speeds.

On that fateful evening, I didn’t make it past the first ten minutes. Shortly before the warm-up concluded, I felt a strange sensation in my right leg. At first, the leg felt heavy, as if a large weight was strapped to it. My reaction was to increase the treadmill speed, thinking it might work the kinks out. Bad move. In less than thirty seconds, the leg went from feeling heavy to being completely unresponsive.

The only way I can describe what I thought was going on in that moment, is that my leg simply stopped working. The knee wouldn’t bend, my foot wouldn’t lift, and I literally couldn’t control it. The limb felt as if someone had sucked the bone from it, and what remained was a limp, lifeless, piece of emptiness. Keep in mind this all occurred within a matter of seconds, and my mind didn’t have time to understand what was going on. All I knew is something was terribly wrong.

I also sensed that I needed to get off the treadmill immediately. I therefore grabbed onto the bar in front of the machine’s control panel, hopped to get my good leg planted on the side rail, swung my bad leg over by swiveling my hips as hard as I could in the direction of my good leg, and let go of the handrail, all one motion. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my balance was shot. I unintentionally lurched forward, tumbled off the machine, and onto a sofa that fortunately was within falling distance. Once my upper torso hit the sofa, I was able to brace the impact with my arms and roll onto my side. Whether I consciously knew what I was doing at the time is debatable. In hindsight, I think instinct took over and allowed me to assess my surroundings, and find a safe landing without really hurting myself.

As I sat upright on the sofa, the lifeless limb was bent at an odd angle, and I had to grab it at the knee and calf to place it in a normal position. My heart was meanwhile thumping in my chest and temples. I tried to curl my toes and move the foot in a circular motion at the ankle, but it would not budge. All I could think of was what the hell is happening to me?

I remember wondering if this was real or a bad dream, but not much else. After about fifteen minutes of sitting there doing nothing but ponder my fate, and I know this because I glanced at the wall clock, it occurred to me that the leg was working again. I could curl my toes, bend my knee, and stand up. All the strength and sensation had come back like magic. I strode back and forth across the room without any issues and sprinted in place, lifting my knees as high as they could go, like a sprinter warming up for a race.

Everything was normal, and I was confused as hell.

I turned off the treadmill, sat back on the sofa and one thought came to mind. “What the fuck was that?!” This was followed by, “what am I going to do?”, and “Who am I going to tell?”

The answer to those last two questions was nothing and nobody. Everything was back to normal, so I decided to ignore the event and pretend it didn’t happen. After all, what transpired was probably a complete fluke, and would never happen again.

Obviously that wasn’t the case. I tried the treadmill again two weeks later and the same thing occurred, only this time I was prepared for it, and stopped the machine once that strange sensation started coming back. Another difference was my foot started drooping and never fully recovered.  An attempt to mow my lawn a few weeks later forced me to accept the fact I could nor longer ignore whatever this was. Thus started the quest to find out what was wrong, which I will share in next week’s post.

Looking back at the event now, it seems so……innocent. I was so naive back then and felt bulletproof. Little did I know that my life would never be the same.

Dreams and the Freedom From MS

dreams2

My wife, who I will refer to as K from now on, and I were discussing the blog during a drive home from the mall last weekend. I reminded her that she had offered to author a post or two this year, and provide the perspective of a spouse living with a person who has MS. You see, the hardest thing about this blog is discovering a topic each week that is new or different. I was having trouble coming up with a subject I could write about, and thought she might offer to rescue me and pen this post herself. Instead, she asked the following:

“Do you have MS when you dream?”

The light bulb went off immediately, and I knew I had my subject for the week. I pondered the subject for a few minutes, and it got me thinking.

After all, I am MS free in my dreams. I don’t limp, I don’t fall, and I am not hindered in any way. Not one iota.

But why hadn’t I thought about or acknowledged this before? Shouldn’t I have? After all, in my dreams I have I’ve run freely, climbed mountains, danced, golfed, and have been a  sexual dynamo. There is virtually nothing I can’t do in my dreams. I am completely free from the chains of my earthly limitations. I can’t recall one time where my conscious reality has punctured the fantasy of my dream world.

This epiphany was both liberating and perplexing. Liberating from the perspective that I know there is one time each and every day where I am a normal human being (at least physically), but perplexed about why I have never considered this before.

Maybe I haven’t thought of this because doing so would only emphasize what I have lost. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism that prevents me from missing or dwelling on what I no longer have. Maybe it’s because I’ve long come to terms with my reality and don’t mourn about what I no longer have. Or maybe I’m not that deep a thinker.

It has almost been a week since K asked that question, and I still don’t wake up in the morning and think about or embrace the physical freedom I just experienced. It simply does not cross my mind. Is that a weird?

Shouldn’t I relish, enjoy, and try to remember what it felt like to be free of this disease.  I believe all of us at various times have realized that we are in a dream, and that what is happening isn’t real. Can we actually make that happen? Is it possible to become more present in our dreams, and acknowledge what we are experiencing?

I’ve already written that getting out of bed is the most physically challenging portion of my day.  Maybe having that ability would kick start the day on a good note.

Perhaps none of this really matters, but now that I have thought about the subject, it would be nice if I could pay more attention to and be more there in my dreams, because I honestly don’t remember what I felt like before MS wrapped me in its tentacles.

I would enjoy reliving the experience.

 

 

 

Blizzard Brody Visits Connecticut

snow flakes

We had our second winter storm of the year yesterday. The talking weather heads wavered on their snowfall forecasts in the days preceding the event, but nobody expected Winter Storm Brody to morph into Blizzard Brody.

The flakes started flying in the pre-dawn hours and didn’t finish falling until late afternoon/early evening. Somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen inches of snow fell. It was hard to determine how much we actually got because some areas had very little snow while others had drifts that were several feet high, compliments of strong, gusty winds, which whipped the snow around and created white-out conditions during the day. Needless to say, the wind chill was arctic. Fortunately, we did not lose power, which was my biggest concern because of the potential for freezing pipes.

As you know, I use these kinds of events as a measuring stick concerning my symptoms and progression. Snow removal of this magnitude had not been on the agenda for almost a year, so this experience would be a good way to gauge how I’m doing in terms of strength, balance, and general progression.  The verdict wasn’t good.

But it started out well. When I heard what was coming during the morning broadcasts, I heeded my wife’s advice to stay ahead of the storm, and cleared the sidewalks and the portion of the driveway our plow guy doesn’t touch before lunch. Our snowblower can handle a foot of snow or less, so if I waited until the storm was over before removing the snow, the blower might not have been much of a help. Getting rid of it in stages would make the evening removal a lot easier and less strenuous, or so I thought. Besides, I needed to remove the snow that had accumulated around the foundation and was threatening to cover the furnace vents, so if I had to bundle up to do that, why not stay outside and remove everything.

The task took a while to complete, but I came away from it in fine shape. Other than trying to open one of the doors that had been smothered in a snow drift, the task wasn’t physically demanding, and when I returned inside, I didn’t feel any different. Everything was working the same as it was before I ventured outside. So, when the snow finally stopped and it was time for round two, I expected nothing different. I knew there was a little more snow on the ground compared to the morning, but my son was going to do all the heavy work in the form of shoveling and getting rid of the stuff the town’s snow plows had dumped onto the sidewalk. All I needed to do was navigate the snowblower and clear the rest.

I was also better prepared, as I once again listened to the wife and wore both the AFO brace and the knee brace, which I didn’t bother with earlier. Everything was strapped on good and tight, so I felt confident that I wouldn’t have to worry about slipping or hurting myself.

It didn’t take very long to realize round two was going to be a struggle. Right from the start, the ankle kept turning to the right, and the knee followed. Planting the foot to get any push off of it became extremely difficult. The leg weakened quickly, and the balance followed. Like an inchworm, I was literally stepping forward with the good leg, and dragged the bad one behind it. With a little practice, moving straight ahead became easier, but turning and backing up was dicey. When the task was finally done about an hour and a half later, I couldn’t bend the leg at all. The weirdest thing was my bad leg actually felt shorter than the good one, perhaps because I couldn’t keep the ankle or knee straight. It was a good thing my son was there to do the shoveling, because I don’t think I would have been able to do it and remain upright. My balance was that bad.

When I finally made it inside, I had to sit on a chair to shed my winter garb, which was a first, and my wife had to remove my boots, also a first, because I could I couldn’t lift the leg, which was completely limp.

Fortunately, the snow was of the fluffy and dry variety, which made the job easier.  Having said that, my lower back currently feels like an alligator is chomping in on it, and my hip is barking. Both will feel worse tomorrow because the discomfort is always worse on the second day. Plus I had to do a little shoveling when I arrived home from work today, because tomorrow is garbage day, both of the containers were buried, and my son is not home.

Was last night’s experience the result of fatigue at the end of a long, busy day? Perhaps, but as I sit here twenty four hours later, the leg is still pretty weak, the ankle remains shot, and my foot is constantly drooping. I realize this sounds ludicrous, but I sometimes wonder if I’d be better off with a prothesis instead of a limb that feels like a lifeless piece of meat. At least I’d have more strength and better balance, or at least I think I would.

Is this a progression or simple weakness from a limb that isn’t used to working that hard? I have no idea, but suspect it’s more of a weakness issue because I have a similar experience when I get off the exercise bike after thirty minutes. At least I hope it is, because if this is my new normal, it is going to be a very long winter.

Temps are currently in the single digits and the wind, while not as brisk as yesterday, is enough to make the wind chill dangerous. It is bitterly cold out, so the snow will not be melting any time soon. I’ll need a week to recover from this episode and hope we don’t have another storm before then. And the next time it does snow, I hope we get less than a foot so it can be removed all at once instead of in multiple stages.

I know there will another big storm this winter, but pray we won’t have a repeat of four winters past, when it snowed every week for a couple of months, including one whopper of a storm that buried us with almost three feet of the white stuff. The piles of snow from the plow and snow blower became so high and wide that it got to the point where if it kept snowing, it would have been impossible to put it anywhere. Of course, that was four years ago, and my leg was a lot stronger than it is now, and my balance was infinitely better. If we were to ever have a winter like that again, I have no idea what we’d do.

Pray for hot rain, I guess.

 

 

The Hardest Part of My Day

dressed

I love sliding into bed at night. By that time, my body is tired and stiff from having to carry itself on one good leg throughout the day. My hip is sore, my lower back is barking, my foot is dragging terribly because I can barely lift it, and my knee won’t bend without a significant effort. In fact, it is ramrod straight, and almost feels like it is hyper-extended, although it doesn’t hurt.

When I slide under those soft, warm covers,  I can feel my body exhale and melt into the mattress. It feels like I’m weightless, and this poor body, that has trudged and wobbled around all day, finally has a chance to lay prone and release the pressure that has coiled inside it.

The flip side of this is that I have to drag my ass out of its warm cocoon the following morning, which is often the most difficult accomplishment of the day.

First of all, it’s a struggle moving in bed, other than the periodic leg twitching. Turning onto my side is an endeavor, particularly when I turn to my left. The only way I can accomplish that is to reach across the mattress, grab onto its side with my right hand, and literally pull myself onto my side. Turning to my right is easier, but instead of grabbing the mattress, I have to tuck my right arm behind my back and flop over onto my side, like a fish out of water. I therefore have a tendency to sleep on my back all the time, which has forced me to sleep with a pillow under my knees to prevent my back from getting sorer and stiffer, which further complicates the turning process.

So by the time my alarm alerts me to the new day, my body is fully rested, but it also feels like it’s one hundred years old. You see, I can’t just sit upright from a prone position anymore, and as I have already mentioned, turning on my side isn’t as easy as it sounds. Getting out of the left side of the bed is almost impossible, so after I turn to my right, I literally have to shimmy my lower half to the side of the bed, push myself upright, then gently grab the bad leg and place it on the floor. The good leg easily follows.  That’s the simple part.

My leg is the weakest first thing in the morning, so I feel like a newborn colt when I stand for the first time every day. They are also unsteady and, like the colt, it looks as if I am learning to stand and walk for the first time. Compound that with poor balance, which is also at its worst first thing in the morning, and I’m sure I look like a staggering drunk as I make my way to the bathroom. I literally have my right hand on the wall from the time I get out of bed until I reach the bathroom, and there have been many times where that short distance from the bed to the wall almost ended in failure. It feels like gravity is doing it’s best to suck me down onto the floor, but it hasn’t happened yet.

I am a lot steadier when the morning bathroom routine is completed, but the limb is still very weak. The next mountain to climb is getting dressed. Getting my clothes on above the waist is a piece of cake, but not so much with the lower half. Underwear used to be an issue until I learned that the easiest way to get them on was to simply grab the bad leg by the ankle and place it where it needs to go. Same with the socks, but there are two complicating factors in play.

The first is that I am not flexible at all, and I don’t think any amount of stretching, which is hard to do in the first place, will change that. If you have ever strained your lower back, you how difficult it is to put any article of clothing on your legs or feet. That’s how it is for me, minus the searing back pain. Some mornings, the body is so stiff that it feels like the act of getting my leg high enough, and bending my body forward enough to get my socks on, will result in a hernia, a rupture, or a complete blowout of the lower back. Maybe all three.

Then there is the balance issue. Most people think that balance is an issue when one is standing, but it can also be a problem when you’re sitting. When I’m getting dressed, if my butt is to too close to the edge of the bed, and I’m leaning forward a little too far, gravity will take over and I’ll crumple to the floor. Falling is embarrassing enough when you’re upright, but falling when you are already sitting down would be the ultimate humiliation, even if nobody is there to see it. It hasn’t happened yet, but I have come close several times. Mostly when my mind is somewhere else.

So now the chore is almost complete. I am fully dressed and ready to take on the new day, but before that can occur, I have to take my first trip down the stairs. This is the most perilous thing I do all day, not only because of the unsteadiness, but also because I have my socks on, which tends to make the wooden stairs feel very slippery. Plus, it is dark, so I make sure to count every one of those fourteen steps until I reach the ground floor. One hand is firmly on the rail and the other is sliding along the wall when I make that trek, which helps not only maintain my balance, but will keep me upright if the foot slips or the knee doesn’t bend and I lurch forward unexpectedly. As you can tell, I fear falling down those stairs. I don’t think it will ever happen, but I believe that if I were to ever suffer a life-threatening MS related mishap, falling down those stairs would be the most likely scenario.

Once I’m downstairs, all I have to do is get my stuff together for the ride into work, followed by the final act of putting my shoes on and tying them, which often takes two or three attempts. You see, the AFO brace I wear is in that shoe.  I have to hold the leg by the calf and aim my toes into the shoe. Once they are in, I can lean forward, hold the back of the shoe with my fingers and slide the rest of my foot in, before I tie the strings. I’m sure this process looks very odd to someone who witnesses it for the first time.

Now I’m golden. The stiffness that existed twenty minutes earlier is gone, and my strength and balance is starting to come back, although it will take another hour or so to reach maximum capacity. I’m ready for the day and all that comes with it.

By day’s end, the body is once again tired, ragged and spent. I’m off my feet for most of the evening after dinner and the evening chores are done. My rocker recliner calls and welcomes me as I watch television with my wife. Once it is time to turn in, the legs protest having to carry my 190 plus pounds once again. It actually feels like a thousand pounds, but I shuffle up those stairs one last time to start the bedtime routine, then slide under those blessed covers and let the tension melt away. It has become my favorite time of the day.

I wish I could say the same thing about the next morning, but one has to look at the bright side. At least there is a next morning.

Balance

Balance

 

If you look up the word balance in the dictionary, you will find a variety of definitions and meanings, but there two in particular that interest me the most.

The first one, which applies to me specifically (and perhaps many of you), concerns physical equilibrium: an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.

Of all the difficulties MS has presented, this one has been with me like a shadow from the beginning. At first, the shadow was small and barely noticeable. Now it is large and long, like those that  trail you when the sun is low in the sky towards the end of the day. This has also provided the biggest challenge I’ve had to deal with over the last ten years because, slowly but steadily, my balance has become more tenuous.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, I was a member of my college’s modern dance company. My motive for joining this group during my freshman year was to become more flexible and stay in shape for the upcoming baseball season (and to meet girls, I must confess), but I learned to enjoy the movement and creative aspect of the art, and stayed with the group through my senior year. During this period, I learned a lot about body mechanics, and this knowledge has become invaluable as my balance has eroded. One thing it did, although I didn’t realize it at the time, was teach me how to fall and roll without hurting myself. Needless to say, that has become a very useful skill. I also learned the secret to staying upright.

Marcy Plavin, our company’s director, always urged us to “find our center,” primarily because it provided a better form on stage and made our movements crisp and clean. Now, staying grounded in my center is what allows me to avoid crashing to the ground when my delicate balance is disrupted.

In general terms, my “center” is that spot just above the middle of the pubic bone, and I try to always keep my weight focused on that single spot. This isn’t an issue when I’m on flat terrain, because my body isn’t tilting in any specific direction, and my weight naturally settles there. It’s a different story, however, when I’m on terrain that is sloped, slanted, or flat but bumpy.

First of all, if my foot catches something, regardless of the terrain, it’s a recipe for disaster if I’m not aware of where my center is. Should I lurch forward, I can, with the help of my cane, quickly reorient myself and reestablish my center. As a result, my cane, which was once something I used occasionally, is always in my hand outside of the house. Otherwise, gravity will take over in these situations. I also need to be constantly aware of how my body is positioned, and instinctively react the moment my balance is compromised.

What is weird and infuriating, is what sometimes happens when I’m not moving.

If I’m on flat terrain and allow my mind to wander, I can sometimes stagger sideways if I unconsciously lean to my right. I’m sure this looks bizarre to anyone who witnesses it. They’d probably think I was hopelessly drunk or on something. While this rarely occurs, it does happen.

Most of the dangers that await me are outside of my home, and my yard is a prime example.

My house sits on a hill, and the downward slope has become increasingly difficult to navigate. Part of it because my foot drop has become so bad, that my foot is constantly getting stuck in tufts of grass. As a result I’m literally taking one step at a time, like an inch worm, when I’m out there. But I’ve also had occasions where I’m standing still, not moving at all, and still almost keel over. This used to happen only when the downward slope was on my weak side (the right), but I learned to manage this by transferring the cane to that side to have something to hold me up if I felt myself tipping in that direction.

Recently, going up a particularly steep grade has become treacherous. I have to force myself to lean forward when the slope is behind me because if I don’t, I can sometimes tilt backwards. Should this occur, it is the one and only scenario where I can’t recapture my center. This has occurred a few times, particularly around our pool that sits on a mound that has a short but steep pitch. When I’ve felt myself losing my center while standing on that slope, panic instantly sets in for the briefest of moments because I know that if I reach that point of no return, I will tip backwards, I won’t be able to brace my fall or protect myself, and could really wind up getting hurt. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.

And this is during the summer, when the ground is warm and dry. I hate to wonder what the winter will be like.

To illustrate how silly this has become, even the act of correcting my posture, particularly if the motion is quick, sharp and I’m not holding onto a cane, or aren’t near a wall I can brace myself against, can cause me to stagger backwards.

The bottom line is that MS has stolen my physical balance, and has made it something I constantly have to battle to achieve a stalemate. It is the reason why negotiating stairs requires my full attention and concentration. It’s also the reason why the simple act of walking and standing has become a competitive sport.

The second meaning, which applies to us all, concerns mental and emotional steadiness: a condition in which the competing elements of our life are in equal or correct proportion.

This type of balance is the most difficult for me. Specifically, where is the line between being smart and taking care of myself, and giving in or giving up? Where is the line between between being cool and rationale about the disease and its future implications, and focusing too much on them and panicking? Is it better to stick your head in the sand and not worry about the what-ifs until you’re forced to, or to always think about them and plan for their eventuality. Do I need to concern myself with the prospect that all the drugs I’m taking could potentially shorten my lifespan, or is it better not to think about that at all, to focus instead on the quality of life, and how things are in this current moment?

I have my own answers to these questions and navigate according to that compass. I think I do a good job of maintaining an even emotional keel, and not get too high or too low. One could argue that I don’t take my condition seriously enough, but that’s how I roll.

What I  struggle with the most is the proper balance between sharing the fears I do occasionally have with my family and loves ones, and keeping them  to myself, which is my typical MO. After all, there isn’t a thing they can do to improve my condition, and sharing too much might unnecessarily worry them more than they already are.

But is that being selfish? Is it better to let them in on the secret that I am sometimes afraid of  where all this might lead? That I’m terrified of potentially living in a body held prisoner by this relentless beast, and of having to become completely dependent on them for everything? The thought that one day I might need help getting dressed, eating, bathing or going to the bathroom is my skeleton in the closet. Honestly, that isn’t living, it’s existing, and I don’t want any part of that. That, and the possibility that my condition will become a financial sinkhole that will destroy our financial security, is a cross I don’t want to bear.

I don’t obsess about these things, but they exist. I don’t dwell on them because doing so would destroy that emotional scale, tilting it heavily in the wrong direction. Maybe that’s why I try to keep them at arm’s length, in a blissful state of denial. I own this and keep it to myself because emotional balance is a very delicate thread. One unfortunate tug could unravel everything.

And that doesn’t help anyone.

 

For those of you who follow the blog, I will be away on a business trip next week and may not be able to submit what up to now have been weekly posts. Expect the next post to appear in two weeks