We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program For This Important Announcement

leg

This was one of those weeks where coming up with a topic to write about was a chore, and writing about said topic was tedious at best. For the better part of an hour and a half, I fought my way through writing about something my heart wasn’t really into, and trying to make it sound entertaining and relevant. When I was done, I had my typically shitty first draft completed, and was poised to make it look pretty and shiny today.

Then the obvious hit me like a bolt of lightning.

As you know, most of my recent posts told the story of my decision to dip my toe into the medical marijuana world, and what the experience was like. A lot of readers were enthused about the journey I described and asked for updates. My plan was to go back to that subject in a month or two, but after I had closed the file on the draft I was going to polish today, I had an epiphany about something that happened within the last week.

I am walking better. Better than I have in years.

When I had my last flare, the symptoms moved from just below my knee to my lower thigh above the knee. This was a game changer because I no longer had a firm foundation below me. My leg felt like a broken kickstand, one that could easily wrench violently to one side, tearing ligaments in the process. My limp became more pronounced, my balance became infinitely worse, and the leg felt like it didn’t belong to me. Performing any physical task became more difficult and potentially dangerous, as my tales of woe about snow removal this past winter described.

But as I rose from my recliner to grab a can of seltzer from the fridge last Saturday evening, it occurred to me that I was actually bending my knee as I walked, and moving the leg in more of a normal walking motion rather than having the knee locked, and swinging the leg forward by the hip. The knee felt strong and stable, which meant the entire leg felt more controllable, and I felt steadier on my feet.

Keep in mind I was a little buzzed at the time, compliments of my PM dose of CBD oil, so I asked an impartial observer, Kim, if it was my imagination or if I was actually walking better. After watching me move around the living room and head back to the recliner, she agreed it appeared that way.

Talk about a holy shit moment!

I wasn’t going to take this as gospel though, because part of me was wondering if I was over dramatizing something because I wanted to justify taking the new med. It just so happened that I had my quarterly neurologist visit two days later, and I told Dr. G. on Monday that it felt like the leg had improved, that I had reclaimed some strength and control in the knee, and was walking a little better as a result.

He put me through the paces, and lo and behold, it wasn’t my imagination. I’m not going to bore you with the details of what the “paces” are, but he confirmed what I suspected. There was measurable improvement.

That assessment was reconfirmed yesterday, two days after I saw the neurologist, during my annual physical. My PCP put me through similar paces and drew the same conclusion. There is therefore no doubt I’ve regained some territory from my MS foe, and the functionality within my leg has improved to where it was before the last flare.

Great news, yes, but let’s not get carried away. What I’ve described represents a subtle, incremental, improvement. If I were to place a percentage on how much better I think I am, it would not exceed ten percent. I still need my cane, my balance still sucks, and I still can’t run, jump, or even consider going on a dance floor. I remain disabled.

However, walking with the cane doesn’t take as much effort, and I can actually walk faster and in a straight line with the cane instead of meandering from side to side. I can also lift the leg a little where before I had to grab it around the thigh or calf to lift it, particularly when getting into and out of my vehicle.

Most importantly, I have increased confidence in my ability to do stuff, where before I shied away from tasks for fear of falling or hurting myself. I’m actually looking forward to resuming my exercise routine, and am curious about how the leg will feel when I push myself.

After years and years of things slowly getting worse, this is the first time something sustainable seems possible. So what caused these changes?

I started taking Super Biotin about seven weeks ago, and the CBD Oil began a little less than three weeks ago. These are the only new items that have been introduced into my routine. I’m sure the CBD oil is at work here, because I was on Super Biotin once before for a longer period than the current six or seven weeks, and nothing changed at all. I don’t think it is any coincidence what I have experienced occurred shortly after I began taking CBD every day.

Is the improvement here to stay? Logic says no. In the past, I experienced improvements when new treatments or a new medication was introduced, but they were short term in nature, and faded as my body got acclimated to them. I’m therefore trying not to get too giddy about this recent development. While I would be sad, it would not shock me to see these changes regress over time, and have the weakness climb back above the knee.

Hopefully I am wrong, but I’m not dwelling on this possibility. Instead, I’m cautiously optimistic for the first time in a long time that maybe, just maybe, I’ve found something will actually help control my symptoms, and am enjoying every minute of this new feeling. I am a true believer in the benefits of medicinal MJ for MS.

As a matter of fact, I’m going back to the dispensary Saturday morning to re-load.

Heat

summer

The summers of my youth were idyllic. I remember family vacations at cottages on the Connecticut shore, where a Good Humor truck was always parked near the boardwalk. Days would be spent frolicking in the water, crabbing, and riding bikes. Twice a week, we’d grab blankets, pillows and snacks shortly before sundown, and trek to the beach to watch a movie. The night air was warm, the sound of the waves gently lapping on the shore was always present, and the sand was filled with chairs and blankets as kids and families gathered to see what was typically a Disney movie. This was Heaven for a ten year old boy.

Days at home during the summer was spent riding bikes all over town, visiting a friend’s house to go swimming in their pool, or playing baseball all day long at one of the large grassy fields near my house. When it wasn’t raining, the only time I was in a house was to have breakfast, lunch, dinner and to sleep.

Summer was, and always has been, my favorite time of the year. The onset of summer vacation from school was wildly anticipated and celebrated, even for those of us who liked school and were good students. Summer days seemed to last forever when I was a kid, and while the new school year always arrived faster than expected, the break felt like a long period of time.

My enthusiasm for the season didn’t diminish when I became a teenager, and had to obtain a summer job. All that meant is I had less time to have fun, but fun was still to be had, and I pursued it with the passion of a religious zealot.

What is there not to like about summer?  It’s much more enjoyable to throw on a t-shirt, shorts and sandals than to bundle up in layers, struggle with a pair of boots, and find places to stash winter gloves or a hat. There are no limits to what you can do in whatever free time you have compared to the cold winter months, when darkness prevails, you’re in hibernation mode, live in sweats, and spend most of any free time you have in front of the boob tube.

Even summer chores are more pleasant. What would you rather do, mow the lawn, tend the garden, and maintain the pool, or scrape ice and shovel/plow snow?

Another thing I loved about summer was the heat. You see, I would always rather sweat than freeze, and there is something about sweating in the summer heat that appeals to the prehistoric recesses in my brain. When I lived in Southern Indiana for several years, the summers were brutally hot and humid. From Memorial to Labor Day, a typical day would involve temps in the 80’s and 90’s with extremely high humidity. I never lived in a place where it would be hotter and more uncomfortable at six in the afternoon than it was at two or three. Being land-locked, the heat would just build and increase throughout the day, which is one of the reasons they had such horrific storms. You could literally walk outside and start sweating so badly you felt as if you were melting.

But I didn’t mind it one bit.

New Englanders can wax poetic about the beauty of our autumns, and feel invigorated by spring, where everything quickly explodes into a lush green after the long winter months, but I will take summers any day of the week.

It is too bad summers don’t like me that much anymore.

I say this as we approach a stretch where we will have a week of 90 to 100 degree weather and high humidity. Once a cause for celebration it instead is a reason for caution because, unfortunately, heat and MS don’t co-exist very well.

Pretend for a minute that your body runs on a battery, which gives you the energy to work, play, move, think, concentrate, or do virtually anything. Food and rest help recharge it on a daily basis, which in turn allows you to function from day to day.

For some reason, heat drains my battery to virtually nothing the longer I’m exposed to it, and I’m not unique. Many, if not most, MS Warriors have this issue. I believe an increase in body temperature is the cause for this power drain, but I don’t know if that is the true clinical reason.

The drain occurs more quickly if I’m active while it is hot, but it has gotten to the point where I can feel a difference by simply sitting outside for an extended period of time. When humidity gets added, the effect is exponentially worse.

Imagine your body feeling completely limp, like every bone is missing. Imagine feeling so weary that the idea of getting out of your chair feels overwhelming. Imagine your  head feels like it weighs one hundred pounds. Imagine your mind feeling like a vast wasteland of emptiness, where the act of thinking feels like a herculean task. Hell, even the idea of sleeping seems like a herculean task. Your focus becomes a narrow pinpoint that centers on the thought that you can’t believe how shitty and utterly spent you feel.

I’m describing a worst-case scenario, but I’ve been there on an occasion or two. Most of the time the feeling is one of significant physical and mental fatigue, and the mental aspect is far worse than the physical.

Some warriors use cooling vests to regulate their body temps during the hot summer months. If I still lived in Southern Indiana I’d probably own several and wear them constantly in order to survive their summers, but they aren’t necessary in my neck of the woods.

My respite from the heat is a pool, which includes a deck and large umbrella that provides a lot of shade. The umbrella cures a lot of sins in terms of the heat from the sun, but nothing can escape the humidity. Nonetheless, immersing myself in the pool provides relief from the heat, and cools my body temperature immediately. It isn’t a perfect solution, because prolonged exposure to the hot sun can still make me feel like the battery is at fifty percent or less, even when I’m in the pool. But it certainly makes life more tolerable, and who doesn’t love the feel of being submerged in comfortable, crystal-clear water on a hot summer day. It brings out the kid in all of us. I especially love to float in a raft where my butt and feet are in the water, my upper body and head is resting comfortably in a semi-upright position, and a cool beverage is secure in the cup container within arm’s reach. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Every winter and summer provides a platform to gauge the pace of my progression. The struggles of maintaining a clear driveway this past winter told me there was a definite progression compared to the previous year. Now, this next week will test the theory from the heat and humidity perspective. How much of a difference will I notice compared to last summer?

When I left the house to drive to work this morning, it already felt like a sauna outside, and the sun hadn’t even risen yet. I know it’s going to feel like an oven for the foreseeable future, but I have stuff to do. So it will be interesting to find out if I feel like a rag doll when the evening rolls around.

I hope not. I don’t mind bitching about the winter, because the winter deserved to be bitched about, but I hate the thought of being a prisoner in my own house during my favorite time of the year. I can live with watching people enjoy themselves from the sidelines. Watching it from the inside is a completely different story.

 

 

 

My Restless Leg

Restless leg

The potpourri of symptoms I’ve previously chronicled include a severely drooping foot, no leg strength from just above the knee, an ankle that constantly wants to turn sideways, and occasional cramps in my toes, the arch of my foot, and my calf. And let’s not forget balance, specifically the lack thereof. I’m not exaggerating when I say that a strong and sudden gust of wind can cause a loss of balance and an unexpected fall.

The one symptom I’ve never mentioned before, which happens to be the most annoying, is something called Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).

Here is a quick definition: RLS causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs, creating an irresistible urge to move them. Symptoms commonly occur in the late afternoon or evening hours, and are often most severe at night when a person is sitting, resting, or lying in bed.  They also may occur when someone is inactive and sitting for extended periods (for example, when taking a trip by plane or watching a movie). There are a variety of sensations that generally occur within the limb that prompt the jerking movements: crawling, creeping, pulling, throbbing, aching, itching, and a feeling akin to an electric current. Research shows that people with MS are about four times more likely to have RLS than people in the general population.

In the scheme of things, my RLS isn’t a big deal. There is no pain or discomfort whatsoever that alerts me to its arrival.  Nonetheless, it’s aggravating to the extreme.

First of all, I can’t control it. Without warning, a jolt electric current surges into my lower leg, causing the toes to curl upward and the foot to lift. Sometimes it’s a quick twitch, and other times it lasts a few seconds, where the big toe is trying its damnedest to touch my shin, or the leg sticks straight out with the heel pointing forward, before it flops back to earth.

Secondly, when the twitching begins, it can occur as many as three times per minute. Do the math. It’s hard to enjoy anything when your leg acts like a flopping fish desperately trying to find its way back into the water.

I’m not self conscious about the way I walk or things of that nature, but I am about this, primarily because I think it looks bizzare. When someone parks in a handicapped space or you see someone with a cane, you expect to see them them walk differently or have a more difficult time getting about. Imagine sitting next to someone who looks perfectly healthy at work, in a movie theater, a sporting event, a wedding, or sitting in their living room over drinks, and their foot/leg begins to spasm and doesn’t stop. If you get too close, you might even get kicked.

The spasms always occur when I’ve been sitting for extended periods of time, like right now as I’m writing this piece. They can and do occur at work, but all I have to do is get up and walk around to make the twitching disappear. I don’t always do that because the spasms don’t impact my ability to do my job, but there are other times where getting up and walking around is impossible, like when I’m driving.

I have to be extremely careful when the leg starts flailing while I’m driving, because my bad leg is the right one, which controls the accelerator and brake. Try accelerating or braking  when your foot is trying to curl backwards. I’ve learned to brake with my left foot if necessary, and most of the time I can coast the few seconds during which the spasm occurs. If I’m on the highway when this happens, cruise control comes in handy. Nonetheless, my next new car is going to have to be equipped with hand controls whether I like it or not.

If I am at a public event or gathering of some kind, I don’t stay on my feet for extended periods of time, which means I’m usually sitting. In these situations I try to make sure there is some distance between me and the person I am sitting next to or across from, and do whatever I can to hide my legs. Sometimes, I’ll cross my feet to prevent the leg from protruding too far should the spasms start.

Then there is the issue of trying to fall asleep when RLS is active. In K’s recent post, she rightfully said that I don’t get enough sleep, but one of the reasons for this is that it doesn’t seem to matter what is going on with the leg when I’m dead tired. I’ll still fall asleep in five to ten minutes. Otherwise, the twitching, which occurs almost every night night, makes it hard to get comfortable.  I become restless, annoyed, and eventually wide awake. Of course, I could walk around to make it stop, but it takes more than a brief stroll for that to occur. Either way, it takes a while before sleep comes, and I get even less sleep in the process.

These are some of the reasons why I find RLS so annoying, but it is not the reason

K lamented that I do a lot of things that Shodan can and probably should do. Why? Because it gives me a sense of control over my tormentor. From my perspective, giving into MS by letting others do the work I am still capable of doing is like conceding to an enemy that wants me  to wave the white flag of surrender, which I simply refuse to do. So even though snow removal is very difficult, and I do stuff in the yard that my son could do more easily and in a fraction of the time, I find ways to compensate, which allows me to complete the task. This is all about my will being stronger than the MS, and not letting it get the best of me.

None of that works with RLS.  It’s as if the disease is taunting me. “So you think you can ignore me? You think you have control?” it whispers. “Let’s test that theory while I fuck with your leg for a little while. See how that works for you!”

I am absolutely impotent in this situation, which serves as a not so subtle reminder that I’m denying this inconvenient truth: if and when MS decides to throw the hammer down and takes control over everything I stubbornly cling to, I will be powerless to stop it.

And that is what bugs me the most.

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:
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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.
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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. 😎

The Final Straw?

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

What The Hell is Happening to Me?!

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My response to the treadmill incident was to ignore it. I had no idea what had just happened, instinctively knew it was bad, but my inclination has always been never to worry about something unless I absolutely have to. The episode was short-lived after all and might never return, so why bother?

Two weeks later curiosity got the best of me and I returned to the treadmill, the same thing happened, and I still ignored it.

This ignorant bliss came to a crashing halt several weeks later when I ventured outside to mow the lawn for the first time that spring. I don’t have a big yard, but the house was built on a slope, so the terrain is slanted and the landscaping made the lawn better suited for a push mower. So I grabbed the trusty self-propelled mower, ventured outside and experienced something I will never forget.

I had to stop several times because I lost control of the limb like I did on the treadmill, but it was infinitely worse. I was not on smooth, flat terrain you see, and I rolled the ankle over on three different occasions, once so bad I thought I might have sprained it. When the job was finished, I literally dragged my leg and the lawnmower to the garage. It took much longer for the symptoms to subside, but they did not completely go away this time. I was left with a slightly drooping foot and a very slight but discernible limp.

My bubble had been burst. Fear and panic began to worm their way into my comfortable cocoon of denial, and I wanted to scream. What the hell was happening to me? When I was in the throes of whatever this was, I didn’t have any pain, but the limb simply didn’t function. I didn’t have any point of reference in regards to what this could be, but I knew I had to do something. So I went to an orthopedist.

Tight hamstrings. That was the verdict after I explained the situation and he finished putting me through the paces and examined me, which took only ten minutes. My reaction, although I didn’t say it, was “are you fucking kidding me?” It was humiliating because the guy obviously didn’t have a clue but couldn’t admit it, and probably thought I was a hypochondriac. Being the dumb ass that I was, however, I religiously performed the stretching exercises he gave me for a couple of weeks and it did absolutely nothing in terms of improving my limp or foot drop.

By now I was really beginning to panic. I sensed it was something muscular, and for some reason grasped upon the thought this might be the beginning of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), which terrified me. I rarely obsess, but could not get this thought out of my head.

By this time, K was becoming concerned as well. I had hidden the entire thing from her until the lawnmower incident, but fessed up afterwards because she could obviously see what was going on. She also tends to worry more than me, so I did not share my ALS concerns because I didn’t want her to go down that rabbit hole.

I knew nothing about neurologists at the time, admitted that I didn’t know what to do, and she suggested I see my chiropractor. After all, he had always helped my occasional lower back issues. Maybe he’d have some insight that more mainstream clinicians didn’t.

So to the chiropractor I went, explained what had happened, including the ortho disaster, and he spent the next hour examining me in a variety of ways. When it was over he said I needed a MRI, and it would provide the answers we were seeking. He also referred me to a neurosurgeon he knew, and told me to make an appointment. I didn’t know it at the time, but he suspected I had a tumor on my spine that needed to come out.

Two weeks later, he called me with the MRI results, explained what they showed, used the term “lesions” and “demylination,”and told me that should I cancel with the neurosurgeon and find a neurologist instead. Afterwards I looked up both terms on the web and saw they were fingerprints of MS.

Although I had not yet been formally diagnosed, in my heart I knew I had MS, and was glad to finally have a name to what was ailing me. Although I knew nothing about the disease, I honestly thought it wasn’t a big deal, and minimized the implications, just like that first time on the treadmill.

What a fool! After I was formally diagnosed and the symptoms became progressively worse, I realized this disease wasn’t to be taken lightly. Once I found the neurologist I’ve been with for about eight years now, I was able to get a handle on it and retard the progression. It obviously has not stopped, but the pace of the progression is nothing compared to those first three years.

Knowing what it was with forced me to plan for a future that had suddenly possessed a lot of uncertainty. But at least I had the keys to the car that would take me down that road.