Another Line of Defense?

Red Cross

I just got off the phone with my neurologist, who said that besides the fact we know this virus is susceptible to soap (thus the need for constant hand washing), there is also some indication it may be susceptible to heat that exceeds 130 degrees Fahrenheit. So place a towel around your heads, put your head above a bowl of steaming water and inhale through your nose. The theory is that the heat will kill anything that settled into your nasal tract before it can get to your lungs.

I don’t know what the CDC or WHO has to say about this, but it certainly could not hurt, makes sense, and is drug free. I know this will become a part of my daily routine.

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Kind of War

War

When I last wrote, I somewhat flippantly said it wasn’t as if a nuclear blast was imminent, and mockingly asked if people would resort to wearing garlic necklaces. How things have changed during these last twelve days.

I now have enough food and supplies to last the better part of a month, completing that endeavor by hitting the package store and dispensary yesterday. I have been working from home since Monday, for which I am grateful. I am not living like a hermit, and continue to venture outside to get essential items when necessary. I also meander outside the house on sunny days, following the social distancing protocols to the letter.  Still, the experience is surreal to say the least.

What I have experienced more than anything else these last two weeks, is how my perception and perspective of things have changed. I have habitually looked ahead, and planned for stuff months in advance, primarily because it gives me something to look forward to. Now my focus is literally day to day. Many things that were important seem trivial by comparison, and my priorities are where they should probably have always been. I care about what is happening in the global markets, but am not obsessed by it. It sucks that this pandemic hit while I was trying to sell my house, but there isn’t anything I can do about it. At least I have an empty spot to use as quarantine headquarters if that becomes necessary. Sports has always been my passion, but I don’t care when or if any of the seasons resume. I have been diligent in my proactive MS treatment, but am seriously considering suspending all of it for two to three months.

All I care about is the health of my friends and family, and hope that we are all still here come 2021. Talk about a stark, sobering reality.

I fortunately have never had to experience the horrors of war, but lets not kid ourselves. We are neck deep into one. There isn’t any lead flying, and we don’t have to be afraid of the metal hitting the meat when we step outside, but this war involves projectiles that you can’t see, which is more unnerving when you think about it. I feel for those who suffer from anxiety in general because if I were an anxious person by nature, I would be constantly afraid that a person in my line of sight might be one of them, as if they were part of The Walking Dead, or that there was an invisible cloud of viral death lurking in pockets of air outside.  Rationally, I know that is not the case, and that by keeping the appropriate social distance and washing my hands constantly, I am safe. To say however I’m not anxious at all would be a lie.

I don’t blame our government for not preventing this because that was impossible. What I do blame them for however is not taking it seriously, preparing for it and at least ensuring that what was needed to test and treat once this hit was in place. They have failed miserably in that regard, continue to do so, and still mislead the public by painting rosy pictures about drugs that don’t exist, and that help in the forms of supplies and equipment is on the way. As citizens we are dependent on our Governors to take charge, and many of them are rising to the occasion, but it is tragic we have to resort to this. Working in the healthcare field, I know that front line staff is running out of personal protective equipment (PPE) and we still don’t have enough test kits. It feels like we are living in a the midst of a Stephen King novel. I just hope people remember this come November.

Unfortunately, we are not alone, as this brilliant piece by Bojana illustrates. God help us.

I am trying to appreciate the little things in life, like a glorious sunrise and sunset, sitting on our deck, and enjoying what nature has to offer.  As sometime who has been married for over 30 years, I am spending more quality time with K than I have in a long time, and enjoying every minute of it.  I am actually reaching out to friends and family more than before because I appreciate them more and because it is a way to feel connected as we isolate ourselves socially. It’s a pity it took something this catastrophic to make that happen.

I know that the large majority of us will not get sick, and that the majority who do will survive this. But what a sad and miserable way to go for those who don’t. I believe that we will see the good in people more than the bad as we all work together for the common good, and hope that feeling of brotherhood and community survives this crisis. Everyone needs to sacrifice and follow the social distancing protocols so our hospitals don’t get overwhelmed, like they are now in Italy and are starting to in New York City. If that occurs were are all truly fucked.

It is time to hunker down, follow the rules, hope that the worst will be over soon, and most importantly, survive.

I beg you all to do the same.

 

 

 

Wheezing Towards the Finish Line

Wheezing

The finish line is close. I can see it clearly, as it is almost within our grasp. All that is left to do is install the floors, finish the trim around the doors and floors, install the appliances, hook everything up to the plumbing and electrical systems, finish painting, plant the grass, and lay the blacktop for the driveways. It sounds like a lot, but in the scheme of things this is short par putt. At least I’d like to think so.

I should be giddy, but the truth is I’m exhausted, more mentally than physically. In fact, I almost nodded off on the way home from work yesterday waiting for a long stop light.

I can’t speak for K, but I’d bet she’d tell you she is feeling the same way.

I am tired of being in limbo, with a foot in both places. Not only are we preparing the final touches on the new place, our current one is in compete disarray. The garage is half full with packed moving boxes and other items, and our living room has an assortment of boxes in various stages of being packed laying about. There is still cleaning and painting to do. The pace is relentless, and not feeling settled is, well, unsettling. I know the end is near, as I believe a late September/early October move is imminent, and that is part of the quandary. There is still so much to do in such a short period of time. It often feels overwhelming.

Each day is a blur. Wake up when it’s dark, go to work, come home and figure out what to eat (planning and preparing meals is more the exception than the rule), then head to the site and perform a myriad of little tasks to make things easier for the workmen and prevent unnecessary delays. One or both of us stay there until dark, then we come home, clean up, collapse for a few hours, drag ourselves to bed, and do it all over again the next day. By day’s end my mind is mush and my body is spent. I move around like a Walking Dead zombie. K’s body is sore from head to toe.

This weekend’s priority is to get everything off the floors of the new place, and trust me when I tell you there is a lot of big and little shit strewn about, much of which needs to be removed by tradesman, and get the floors cleaned, vacuumed, and otherwise prepared for the wood floors that will be put down next week.

It has literally become a seven day a week, eighteen hour a day gig, and has been this way for about a month now. You’d think the pounds would be melting from all the activity and the reduction in food intake, but you’d be wrong, so I don’t even have that perk to feel good about. The grind is relentless and tedious.

We are at the end of a what has been a grueling marathon, which is ending on an upward slope. The slope feels steep, but we need to muster a strong finishing kick. The task seems Herculean, but I know it will happen. What choice is there?

I know it will all be worth it. I know we will love the comforts and amenities of the new place, and I know that some day in the not so distant future we will look back at this with a nostalgic fondness. I also know this will all be over soon.

But it can’t happen soon enough.

 

 

 

Perception vs. Reality

reality

“I wonder what people think when they see me.”

That was a common refrain of mine once the symptoms became entrenched and my mobility became compromised. I was never one who liked to stand out in a crowd, preferring instead to blend into the background. MS made that impossible. My inability to walk in a straight line, my tendency to thrash my arms about to maintain balance before the cane became a constant companion, and the frequency in which I would stub my toe and stumble forward because I refused to slow down, made it feel like the  white hot spotlight shone on me whenever I was in the public eye.

The idea that people made assumptions because of the disability used to really bother me, and on the rare occasions where I actually fell in public, I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself out of sight from those prying, judgmental eyes.

I don’t feel that way anymore. Quite frankly, I don’t care one iota what anyone who doesn’t know me thinks when they see me struggling. Having said that, not caring isn’t the same as not being curious, because I still sometimes wonder what a person’s perception is the first time they see me.

What do they see? What do they think? Are they sympathetic? Are they afraid? Do they think I’m a freak? Perhaps they are so wrapped up in their own heads they don’t notice me at all.

I try to think back of what my reaction would have been when I had an uncompromised body and was the one observing someone like me today. In all likelihood, I would have given them a casual glance and not give it a second thought. Perhaps I would have wondered what their story was, but would have spent maybe ten seconds pondering that question before focusing on the task at hand. Any thoughts I may have had would have evaporated, just like deleting an obsolete file from a computer.

I was self conscious at first because I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. Not wanting to appear weak or unsure of myself, I worried that the image I projected made that impossible. I was also hung up on the primary progressive label attached to my MS, which convinced me that I was going downhill fast, which only fed my insecurity.

The most intriguing aspect about having a chronic illness or disability is that you learn a lot about yourself. My self-esteem from a physical perspective was shattered, but over time I learned that physical appearances and ability are not what defines us, although it’s a pity it took something like MS for me to realize that. What I also learned is that that my priorities were wrong.

Career and money were very high on my list, you see. But of all the humbling realities something like MS forces upon you, the one true gift it provides is perspective.

In hindsight, I think family, friends and health were always important to me, but not like they are today. My career had to take a hit because I couldn’t physically handle the stress and demands of the position I was in, and with that came a loss of income, which really freaked me out because the fear of being broke had always been my Achilles heel.

But I was fortunate enough to land in a place where over time I was able to recoup that temporary loss, and the reality of not having to deal with all the crap that comes with  being a boss in a middle management position was an unexpected bonus. My ego took a hit at first, but that soon faded as the amount of stress I endured in the work place shrank to practically nothing.

Not having the work distractions I was accustomed to for over twenty years, in addition to having diminished physical abilities, made me appreciate and understand how important family, friends and health were. It’s a cliché, I know, but when your health is compromised, material things don’t matter. What matters is the love and the people in your life.

That epiphany allowed me to step back and reassess where I was and where I was going. Many of the little things that used to concern me fell by the wayside. One of those, although it took some time for me to get there, is that strangers’ perceptions of me were unimportant.

It helped that what I thought “progressive” meant in terms of how quickly my physical ability was going to deteriorate didn’t materialize. Remember, this was almost eleven years ago. I thought that by now I would be unemployed, wheelchair bound, on disability, in searing pain, and unable provide for my family the way I was accustomed to. So I am lucky in that respect.

But the not caring about what others might think evolved because I learned how mentally tough I really was. There is a line in the Shawshank Redemption, where Red talks about his future and the two choices before him: get busy living or get busy dying. I chose the former.

Self-pity wasn’t something I was going to indulge in. I was going to do whatever it took in the way of treatments, drugs, diet, and things of that nature to keep the progression at bay and live as normal a life as possible. I wasn’t going to let MS rule or define me, and a rebellious nature I never knew I had bubbled to the surface. Of course, I’ve fallen a few times, literally and figuratively, but for the most part this has served me well.

Maybe attitude has nothing to do with this. Maybe I’ve been lucky in that the progression hasn’t accelerated like I thought it would. I still think there is a very good possibility what I feared in the beginning will eventually occur, but I was planning on pulling the plug at work in five to six years anyway. I think I have that many good years left. Probably more, if I’m honest.

Having said all this, I still wonder on occasion what people think when they see me, but not for the same reasons I did eleven years ago. I’m curious because I’d love to know if their perception matches my reality.

I seriously doubt it.

 

The Need for Zs

Sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), the average healthy adult needs between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night to function at their best. One can assume therefore that those of us dealing with a chronic health condition need more than that.

So of all the options available to help manage my symptoms and progression, you would think getting the proper amount of sleep would be number one on my list: a no-brainer, a slam dunk! You would also be very wrong.

For most of my adult life, I have averaged between 5 to 6 hours during the week, and it isn’t because I have a hard time sleeping or falling asleep. Unless my leg is twitching like a fish out of water, I’m usually out cold ten minutes or less after my head hits the pillow, and won’t wake up unless a full bladder or the alarm beckons. No, my sleep deprivation is entirely self -inflicted.

I know this needs to change. I’m often comatose when I wake up, and it is not uncommon for me to nod off while I am watching television or reading something in one of my comfy living room chairs, especially on weekends. During the work day, although my body and mind feel alert, my eyes often feel like they are sunk into the back of my head. My patience at home is less than stellar, I get annoyed very easily, and according to K, I have become a very cranky husband and father.

This is entirely fixable, and always has been, yet I resist. I’m a logical guy, but this defies logic and boarders on the absurd. I have my reasons, but honestly, they aren’t reasons. They’re excuses.

Decades ago, when I became a department head, I started arriving at work long before anyone else, because it was the only time of the day where I could accomplish something. But I’m no longer a department head, haven’t been for over ten years, and control my work day instead of it controlling me, so that issue no longer applies. What’s the next excuse?

I live thirty-five miles from my place of employment, which is located in one of the busiest sections of Connecticut in terms of rush hour traffic, which I hate. So even though I promised K that I would be a good boy and not wake up as early when I took this job, I somehow convinced myself that it would be a good idea to keep the early-to-work habit because not only would it allow me to avoid the morning rush, it would also allow me to leave the office early, avoid the afternoon rush, and have more time to spend at home.

Then MS reared its ugly head and I started all these treatments, which requires me to leave work much earlier than normal on treatment days. This sometimes results in me working less than forty hours for the week, which isn’t a big deal because I’m a salaried employee. But I am also old-fashioned and hard-headed. Salaried employees are supposed to put in more than forty hours, and I overcompensated by arriving at work even earlier, and working longer hours so I would never be in a position where I averaged less than the minimum requirement. This is insane because not only would that never happen, but if it occasionally did, nobody would hassle me.

So instead of sleeping more and getting up later, I am actually getting up earlier each morning, at 4:30, and sometimes even earlier than that.

The logical thing to do would be to go to bed earlier at night. We aren’t talking about stupid early either, such as 7:30 or 8:00. All I need to do is get to bed by 9:30, but instead, I normally hit the sack between 10:30 and 11:00, or later if my leg is spazzing out and I can’t fall asleep.

K thinks I’m nuts, and she’s probably right. Why is this so hard? I need to have some time to unwind, chill out, and enjoy the solitude of the evening, but I should be able to still do that and get to bed by 9:30, but it never works out that way. Unless I am so tired that I can’t keep my eyes open and I am physically unable to function, which happens on occasion, I typically get engrossed watching something on the television with K, or I’m caught up in the Red Sox game. The next thing I know, it’s after ten. Once again, these are excuses, not reasons.

Part of this being stubborn and a creature of habit. Part of it is this misplaced macho attitude that I am not going to change anything or give into this disease one iota, and by exerting my will, I am winning this battle.

Smart Steve understands what I am doing isn’t good for my health in general or MS in particular. Smart Steve knows the attitude I described is juvenile, and that there is no bona-fide reason I can’t sleep until 5:30 or 6. My job doesn’t require it, and I would still miss the worst of rush hour. On the rare occasions where I sleep even a half hour later due to an off-site meeting, I feel more rested and alert, so I know changing my ways would be good. It’s a simple thing to change too, yet I continue to resist. Why?

I’ve given you all the excuses, but what are the reasons? I pondered this question and wracked my sleep-deprived brain for a long time, but only come up with one.

I’m an idiot.

I’m not sick…I’m healthy impaired

I don’t recall exactly how I came across Billy Mac. It was either through a fellow blogger (probably Grace) or he happened to stumble across one of my posts and liked it, which prompted me to peek at his blog, Superman Can’t Find a Phone, where I read this.  https://goodtobealivetoday.wordpress.com/2018/02/08/hell-what-do-i-know/

I was hooked and have been following him ever since. Billy is a hell of a writer. He’s insightful, brutally honest, self-depreciating, and laugh out loud funny. I love his perspective on people and life, so much so that I extended an invitation to him to grace the pages of my blog with his candor and wit. While I have never met him, although I hope to some day since we both live in New England, I consider him a friend who is among the band of brothers and sisters I have met through the blogging community.

If you have never read his stuff before, please take the time to visit his site and take a look. You will be glad you did.

Thanks for sharing Billy.

 

My name is Billy Mac and I am honored to have been asked by Steve to guest post on his blog. Steve is an excellent writer and a supportive member of our blogosphere and I am happy to have discovered his little corner of the internet. We faithfully read each other’s work, share experiences and there is always a positive takeaway from our back and forth. Although it tends to break convention, I think of him as a friend though we have never met in person. He’s a good guy with a great story.

As with most connections, the question may be asked: “How did you and Steve find each other?” The answer is simple, we have a common connection, and that is Chronic Illness. Steve has MS, did I mention that? Steve’s blog is about the trials and travails of living with MS, it’s right there in the title. I didn’t lead with it because it’s only a part of who and what he is.

As a relative newcomer to the Chronic Illness community (I’ve actually had Kidney Disease for decades, but I only just accepted it on, what time is it? Yea, not that long ago) I am drawn to, and consequently follow many Chronic Illness bloggers. Many of these blogs were initiated by people like Steve and I, who have a condition that has affected our lives so profoundly that we want to share it, to inform others of it, or just reap the cathartic benefits of “putting it out there” to a world of anonymous, faceless strangers to read. Many bloggers with Chronic Illness are considered fine resources for their respective conditions with personal expertise in symptom management, links to journals, studies, and news updates. But if one were to bypass reading a blog because it is tagged “Chronic Illness” you would be passing on a great opportunity. I liken it to watching the evening news, seeing a teaser about a positive, uplifting human interest story and then changing the channel. You’re missing out. They tell a great story.

Sure, we write about our illnesses. But not exclusively. We write about our lives in all of its mundane details. We have jobs, we have families, we have social lives and we write about them just like everyone else. The twist of lemon, the ingredient that makes these blogs special is how our conditions impact, shape and affect us as we live our lives.  For example, Steve recently posted about the Blizzard that he (and I) had to clean up after last week. He told us about the ordeal of shoveling all of the snow. No big deal, right? Not really, until you remember that Steve has MS and that not only is he prone to fatigue but he has recently dealt with the minor nuisance of one of his legs simply giving out unexpectedly. It’s just another symptom to Steve, one more challenge in his daily life. But to the reader, his shoveling of snow just graduated from an ordinary chore to a goddamn human interest story. You will find such examples of illness permeating the everyday lives of normal people in all of these blogs. It’s easy to call them inspirational. They are, but at the end of the day, they are just regular people living their lives and not giving in to the challenges their illness throws at them. The resilience of the human spirit simply leaps off of the pages as they write.They are defining their situation before it defines them.

I am the author of Superman can’t find a phone booth and I”m a great story. I’m a great story only because I’m looking down at the dirt and not up. You may wonder where the Moniker of Superman came from. I assure you that it’s not born of inflated self-image. It is instead a very unflattering nickname sarcastically bestowed upon me by a loved one in recognition of my Superhuman ability to deny my illness. I was sick for decades but I didn’t take it seriously. I put on a good face for my family (to not worry my kids) and I dealt with my symptoms. My doctors said that I was in denial, they would later say that it worked for me. On the verge of dialysis, I received the best gift anyone could ever give, the gift of an organ donation. I had a kidney transplant and went on with my life. Then, out of the blue, the new kidney began to fail. And here I am, at the end of a long, downward spiral. I named my blog Superman can’t find a phone booth because I see myself as a strong person on the inside but without an outlet to express and release my inner self. With no phone booths in sight, I turned to the blog. Despite losing my house, my family and my career to my disease, I now find myself in a good place. With nowhere to go but up, I have a whole new outlook that I am sharing with anyone who visits my blog. I have accepted my illness and I am embracing the changes that I and my fellow bloggers with an illness are experiencing. I am part of a community. One that understands me, supports me and has watched me grow. I, in turn, support my peers and monitor their growth.

What are the takeaways from immersing yourself in the daily life of one with a chronic illness?

Here are some of mine:
download (44)
You either get busy living, or get busy dying
Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption

Be grateful.A dear friend of mine, who also has MS once told me that having MS was a blessing of sorts. I initially rejected this notion but I have come around. It has taught her, and myself, to be among other things grateful. Grateful to be alive, to be in a position to be a resource or maybe even an inspiration to another, grateful to understand the value of things that others take for granted.

Every day of your life matters. My doctor recently told me that I, with the help of modern medicine, may live 20 more years. The clock is ticking. This makes sitting around doing nothing a massive waste of precious time. No matter what I am capable of doing today, it is unacceptable to do nothing. Set goals, try to reach them. Better to reach for the stars and drag your feet on the rooftop than to reach for the ceiling and drag your feet on the floor.

Do something with your life. I would rather live 60 fulfilling years than live to 92 and have done shit with my life. Imagine yourself as a fly on the wall of your own funeral. What will people say about you? How many people will show up? Will you be remembered as a burden or an inspiration? Did you die the friend, husband, wife, son, daughter, co-worker and citizen you envisioned yourself to be? Write your own eulogy daily by cementing your legacy in every transaction.
download (46)
Leave nothing on the table. This is not just for the chronically ill. Some of us have a fast-moving Chevy meant for us. Don’t wait for tomorrow to do what you can do today. Make that call, take that road trip, pretend that “rainy day” is today. Tell people how you feel and leave them as if you’re never going to see them again. Talking to their stones simply sucks, granite can’t talk back. Everyone in my life knows what they mean to me.

Enjoy the moment. When you have your own mortality on your mind, even shoveling snow can be a moment. While I was shoveling snow last week I stopped to take a break. My heart was racing and my back hurt. As I collected myself I looked around and took a deep breath and truly absorbed my surroundings. It was a beautiful day, I wasn’t cold and it occurred to me that I didn’t have an unlimited amount of these moments, so I breathed it in and savored it.

Be your own advocate, but believe in hope. With advances in modern medicine, there is a potential cure for every disease, and I really hope for one for everybody involved. Steve has written extensively about being your own advocate, knowing your condition and learn all that you can about your condition. Sometimes doctors get it wrong. When I had my transplant, I was given a lot of information of what to expect. I was not told that my disease could potentially attack my new kidney and put me back to square one. Well, that is exactly what happened a mere 5 years after my surgery. I was furious at first, I felt like I was given false hope. But then I reflected on what I accomplished after my transplant. I attacked life. I rode a mountain bike and crashed it gloriously time and time again, every time I got up and kept riding. I hiked, I worked out, I treated my body like I wanted to live forever. If my doctors had told me about the potential to lost it all, I may not have done any of it.

Don’t focus on the “used to’s”. The “used to’s” are a major downer for the chronically ill. It is tough to reflect on what you used to be able to do before that you can’t do now. It is a reality we have to contend with. But at the end of the day, it’s dangerous thinking. Focus on what you can do today and do it well. When you can’t, you will deal with it.

Deal with it. At the end of the day, it comes down to one thing, how well you deal with what life throws at you. Some people out there clear some pretty major hurdles in street shoes just to get through a Tuesday afternoon. When I wake up and I only have brain fog, nausea, leg cramps and fatigue from waking up 10 times the night before it’s a good day. And that is nothing compared to the struggles of some.

Chronic illness has changed who I am. I am not only a different person, I am a better person. I listen more than I talk. I appreciate more than I criticize. I do more and procrastinate less. In the time since I started blogging, I have grown from a state of despondency to one of purpose. I think I am where I belong. I am working less and volunteering more. Wanting less and receiving greater rewards. In the process of downsizing I have achieved the real, the quality I have been searching for in my life. The prospect of death has improved my mortal campaign. I don’t fear death anymore. But I am simply terrified of the prospect of not living a full life.

One of my favorite quotes is “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
As a firm believer in this and an avid people watcher, I always look at a person and wonder what their life is like. But like most, I can’t always tell who is struggling and who isn’t. That’s why you’re encouraged to be nice in the first place…you don’t know. But if you had a way of finding out wouldn’t you want to know their story, maybe find a little inspiration? Something to make your own problems a little more ordinary? You can. Just by going to WP reader and punching in “Chronic illness”. You will have at your disposal as many “human interest stories” that you can handle.

We don’t want pity or sympathy, we just want our stories to be heard. What you take away from them….well, that’s up to you.

Advice from Tom … Get it Checked

Steve invited me on the show to talk a bit about health. I don’t really know anything about health. But my wife owns a stethoscope and I found a mask under the bathroom sink. Let’s get started. Tom. On Health.

Steve and I discovered each other, recently, through a mutual blogger. As these things go, he and I were impressed with each other’s content, each other’s body of work. I dug into his stuff about the same time as he dug into mine. I admire his writing style. Descriptive, informative, never dry. I love the way he subtly discovers his own path back to balance when he feels off course. I can relate to that. A good example was in November, when recent posts of his own prompted him to get back to the upside of down things in “Sunshine and Rainbows.” No matter what life throws at us, we have a choice on how we react. Life threw MS at Steve, but it never beat him down. Not once. In fact, just two days ago he plowed the snow. Really? Steve, we do have limits. Someday you’ll learn yours. Maybe. 😁

Last week, out of the blue, Steve asked if I’d be interested in doing a guest blog for his site. I love to write, and have always sought balance in the number of posts I do in a week on my own site, so I said “sure!” Of course, Steve founded his site as a means to share his journey with MS with “candor, humor, and brutal honesty,” so I said “you know I don’t have MS, right?”

In fact, I have had only two light brushes with the world of MS. A few years ago, when I signed up to Facebook, I reconnected with all my old high school/church group friends. One of them, a little sister to a close pal, whom I helped recruit into the group, had been diagnosed some years earlier. On Facebook, she would tell peripheral stories of days with it – of transfusions and immobility – but I never knew the depth of her ordeal. I only know it never seemed to break her kind and giving spirit.

The only other encounter I’ve had with MS was when President Bartlett revealed his struggle with it to the nation. I was aghast. He was the only president I ever really liked.

Steve said, “of course, I know that. Doesn’t matter, Tom. Be Tom. Do what you do.

“But keep it to the matter of health, if you can, in some way. That is the central theme.”

That created a challenge for me. As I’ve stated recently on my own site, I’ve visited the doctor twice (for checkups) in the last decade. And then back in high school, 30 years ago. Except for the occasional walk-in clinic visit to make sure rib or back pain wasn’t too serious, or to get something prescription-strength for a bad cold, I just don’t have any health-related experiences of my own. That’s a blessing, I realize, so not a complaint. Nonetheless I have opinions. I’m bigly in favor universal healthcare, the kind we see in what I call the “better countries” around the world. I also want to believe in the science of longevity, the likes of which Ray Kurzweil speaks about. I want to live forever, as impossible as that will be.

If invited back for subsequent visits maybe I’ll talk about those things.

But it hit me yesterday, while in the shower (don’t all breakthroughs come from there?), that I had a health-related story from last year, and maybe a lesson to teach. It isn’t about me. It’s about a friend. A co-worker. We lost him in 2017.

He didn’t die. I should point that out right away. But we haven’t seen him since the week after Memorial Day. And it was for the smallest of reasons. Well, it started small, but it damn near killed him, and it certainly changed him. We fear forever.

I’m in appliance sales, and this man was our delivery chief. Just as amicable a guy as you could imagine. And incredibly competent. I don’t believe he missed a day of work in 7 years. Strong, both physically and emotionally. Smart. Funny as hell.

The last day I saw him was the second day of a toothache. Not a normal toothache, but the kind of toothache that swells one entire side of your face. I never saw a toothache do that. For the second day in a row I warned him that he had to get that tooth looked at, or it could be really, really bad. He worked through.

The next day was my day off. The others at my workplace said he showed up, more swollen than the day before, and was sent home. “See a doctor, or don’t come back,” the boss told him. He saw a doctor. The doctor told him he’d never seen a tooth condition, swelling, or infection that bad. They gave him medicine, told him not to return to work right away, and wanted to see him again after the weekend.

Over the weekend, he nearly died.

Someone found him in his living room, looking like he’d already passed. They broke in through a bathroom window to get to him, because he hadn’t answered his calls. His face was so swollen he was unrecognizable.

Over the course of the next few weeks, the doctors induced coma and put him through 6 surgeries to go after the infection. He spent weeks in the hospital. The last I heard they were still waiting for the infection to go down enough to go after the tooth, and that was a further few weeks after his release.

I’ve tried to call him. We’ve spoken to his mother, whom we all know at work. She tells us that she passes along our thoughts and prayers to him, but no, he doesn’t want to see anybody right now. We ask that he stops by sometime, to see us. She says that he says he will. Sometime.

I have mutual friends who have run into him, about town, so I know he gets out. I know he’s recovered (or is recovering) physically. They all tell me the same thing: “he’s not the same person we knew.”

He doesn’t want to interact. To talk. To quip jokes as he does. As he did. His mother says that he suffers from a form of PTSD from the experience. Depression. Anxiety. Nightmares and stuff. It broke him.

I did some reading up on PTSD after that and learned that 80% of all sufferers are only afflicted for a short time. I’m hoping this is one of those 8 out of 10 situations. I hope my friend returns someday.

I told you earlier that I’ve only seen a doctor twice in ten years. The last time was last week. I have a clean bill of health, so far, but there are still blood tests to run, and that colon thing to do this summer when I turn 50. Who knows. I may yet be a man of perfect health. But this thing, with my friend, was a reminder, and I’ve learned a lesson.

He’s a good dozen years younger than me. He never had to go to doctors. He was smiling and happy and ready for whatever life threw his way. And then a bad tooth upended his world.

It can happen in an instant, we all know that. But when it’s happening over time, when there is something that we can do about it, our body will tell us. His body told him about his pain for months, and he ignored it. My body said nothing for decades so I’ve ignored it. But I will ignore it no more. Annual checkups. Taking heed of the pains. Exercise. Cutting back on the red meat. Less beer.

I’ll do most of those. 😉

But I beseech you, out there, do the same. Don’t let it go. Get it checked. The smallest thing can be the biggest thing. Don’t be afraid to know. The worst thing that can happen is you can find out you have something. If you do, you’ll find a way to deal with it. Steve has. He found out he had something. He’s learned to live with it. Learn from his example.

Our lives may change. Our lives will change as we get older. Guaranteed. But when we know what ails us we can have more control over that change. If we don’t, that change can upend us. Sometimes, when we are upended, we never come back.

So, that’s my health-related story. I want to thank Steve for letting me tell it. For inviting me on. I hope I’ve entertained a tad, educated a bit, and didn’t make a fool of Tom. I hope to be invited back.

Honestly, I haven’t even attacked the pharmaceutical companies yet. 😎