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.

 

 

 

 

 

Think Getting Published is Easy?

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I’ve written a novel. The main character has MS (big surprise), but that’s only a subplot to the story, which is about self-discovery, perseverance, family, friendship, love and redemption.

I never intended to be an author, and how I came to write this is a long story in itself, but I enjoyed the process, had the assistance of an editor along the way, and I think the end product is pretty good. Most of the people who have read it certainly think so. Who knows? Maybe this can become a second career if working regular hours in an office  becomes impossible. A guy can dream, can’t he?

But I have to get one little detail out of the way, which is getting the damn thing published, and I don’t mean self-publishing. When I finally got the manuscript finished after so many edits and revisions I lost count (at least twenty of them), I figured the hard part was over. Little did I know.

I assumed all that needed to be done was to send the manuscript out to hundreds of publishers, who would see how brilliantly I write, and fall all over themselves trying to sign me. My literary agent, who has been in the business forever and whom I trust, quickly disabused me of that idea. In today’s competitive environment, you need more than talent. You need a social media presence.

Oh shit!

Just hearing the term “social media” makes me cringe, primarily because I never believed in it, didn’t have time for it, and didn’t want to be bothered with it. E-mail and texting was more than enough for me. Unfortunately, social media numbers are necessary because the assumption is you have a built-in network to market the book to. So whether I liked it or not, I had to jump on the bandwagon. And until a few days ago, I thought I did.

The laundry list of things I needed to accomplish when this odious chore was first presented made my sphincter pucker. I needed to max out the number of friends allowed on Facebook, which is 5,000. At the time I had less than 100. This took me the better part of three months to accomplish.

But that wasn’t enough. More was required, the list of options long, and starting a blog was the least objectionable of the choices. That, dear followers, is how this blog got started. Not that I have any regrets. I enjoy doing this and have met some fun and interesting people along the way.

I also needed at least five endorsements from published authors, which took as long as it did to achieve 5,000 friends.

Those three accomplishments got me to the point where I could sit down with my agent and hopefully move forward on the publishing front. That meeting occurred on Wednesday, and the good news is that we are going to actually start the process. YAY! 

The not so good news is getting started means I also have to create a web site (ka-ching!), and get my Linkedin presence more robust than Facebook. By the way, Linkedin does not have a follower limit, so I presume I’m looking at having to get in the 10,000 range. I currently have 103. And while all that is going on, I need to get started with Instagram.

In addition to this, a marketing plan that can be sent to publishers along with the manuscript needs to be developed, which demonstrates how wonderfully connected I am, shows all the writing groups I am affiliated with, and lists more endorsements than I currently have. That presumably will occur once the web-site, Linkedin and Instagram are in full gear, along with Facebook. Getting the blog numbers up would also be helpful.

I walked out of that meeting with mixed feelings. I was happy that we are going to actually move forward with this, but all the other stuff? It’s completely foreign to me. I think I will become enthusiastic and have fun once I get into it, but right now it feels like I’m sitting in the dentist’s office waiting for a root canal.

I know my agent is right, because once it does (hopefully) get published, the foundation to market, sell and get the word out will be in place, and the news hopefully spreads like a virus.

Still, all of this for a freaking book? If I’m going to go invest all this time, money and aggravation to get the platform up and going, it sure as hell means I’m going to have to write more stories. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Wish me luck.

 

Does It Matter What People Think?

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I wasn’t self-conscious about my “disability” or even thought of myself as having one after I was initially diagnosed. Back then, I moved around pretty easily. I had a slight limp, my balance was only beginning to get a little shaky, and I occasionally stubbed my toe on uneven surfaces due to the foot drop. But I wasn’t using a cane yet, and could still get from point A to point B quickly and in a straight line.

Nonetheless, I obtained a handicapped parking tag. I remember thinking, if I’m going to be saddled with this I may as well get some perk from it. After all, having access to parking spots closest to a building’s entrance was convenient, and I could fall if I rushed, so why the hell not?  Be that as it may, I had not yet entered the stage of being self conscious about my appearance. That changed the day I stepped out of my car to enter a local grocery store, and noticed a disdainful look from an anonymous passer-by that screamed, “why the hell are you parking there, you fraud!”

To be fair, I had never liked seeing someone who I didn’t think was disabled park in a handicapped spot, thinking it was selfish and self-centered. In fact, I never parked in one thinking it was bad karma, and that the Gods would somehow give me a reason to have to park there if I did.

But my vehicle clearly had the tag hanging from the rear view mirror, and I still got that dirty look, one that said “you’re not really sick.”

This self-conscious period didn’t last long because it soon became obvious I had an issue, and I had become so absorbed in what was happening to me that I didn’t give a rat’s ass about how the general public viewed me. Plus, once the shock that someone might actually think of me that way wore off, I soon came to realize I wasn’t the one with a problem, and never gave it another thought.

I remember this now because I’ve read a lot of chatter recently about the how general public’s attitudes and perceptions can make us self conscious about our appearance, and influence our self-esteem. This makes me very sad, and very angry.

So forgive me as I climb on my soapbox for a moment.

Reflecting on all of this has made me wonder what those who don’t know me think when they see me. Do they think less of me? Do they pity me? Does the sight of me make them uncomfortable? Do they notice me at all? Most importantly, do I even care?

Above all, I don’t want anyone’s pity, and I don’t need their sympathy because I’m fine with the way I am. And I don’t take offense if the sight of me makes people uncomfortable, because I think it subconsciously reminds them of their own mortality, which is scary.

And if my disability somehow reduces my status as a person in the eye of the beholder, they are a shallow ignoramus in my book who, in the immortal words of my basic-training drill sergeant, I wouldn’t give the sweat off my balls if they were dying of thirst.

The bottom line is I really don’t care what the outside world thinks, and haven’t for a while. Friends and family are different, but the general public? Nope!  I am who I am, and if that isn’t good enough, tough shit! But………..

It’s easy for me feel this way because I didn’t begin coping with my condition until I was in my late forties. I was well-established career wise, happily married, and wasn’t concerned about a roof over my head or food on the table. I’ve been blessed to have a spouse that is a genuinely nice, loving person, and not once have I worried she would kick me to the curb. My mobility wasn’t significantly impacted until my son was already in his teens, so I never lost the privilege of playing with him when he was young.

I still have my issues, not wanting to be a burden chief among them. I’ve been guilty of doing too much, and not asking for help. Those close to me, and K in particular, are already doing more than they should, and need a break. But I also see the pain and concern in their eyes when they see me struggle, and know they want to help. Maybe it’s because they feel helpless, and need to so something. It made me put myself in their shoes and imagine how I would feel. So my hardest lesson has been to learn it’s okay to ask for help, and show vulnerability, because doing the opposite does not make us closer. It disconnects us.

And since I am firmly entrenched as a middle-aged person – I hate to admit I’m getting old – I have the benefit of a perspective I would not have had in my twenties or early thirties.

I would have freaked out if I was stricken at that age. I’d think of myself as damaged goods, and probably do everything in my power to hide or downplay my symptoms so the opposite sex wouldn’t run and hide. After all, who is going to want to hitch their saddle on a broken horse? Nobody wants to be alone, and we especially don’t want to be alone because of something we never asked for.

That perspective also knows this would have been a fool’s errand, because presenting ourselves as something we aren’t is a betrayal of trust, and only leads to worse heartache down the road.

In a perfect world, everyone would understand that living with the physical burdens of a chronic condition does not change our core. It (hopefully) doesn’t change our personality, our sense of humor, our integrity, or any the things that make us who we are. Those attributes are what is most important, and should be the only reason someone chooses to  like us, love us, be our friends, or want to hang with us. Sure, the packaging is important, but lasting relationships are built on more than that. It’s sad to think this might be lost on some, but it’s sadder to let outside opinions change who we are, and lose ourselves in the process.

So my message, particularly to young adults, is I’m not minimizing that it hurts knowing our condition could influence how a person thinks or feels about us in a less than flattering way. It could also be the deciding factor when considering whether to take a risk and share a life with somebody. This reality is unfair, and can make anyone feel angry, frustrated and hopeless.

But it’s their loss, not ours. It can be a tough pill to swallow, but it shouldn’t change how we feel about ourselves.

 

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.

My First Time

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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.

The Guilt of Living with a Chronic Disease

guilt

The most unexpected emotion I’ve encountered living with MS is feeling guilty about it. It’s infuriating because I obviously didn’t sign up for this. And I know the cliches: it isn’t your fault, you can’t blame yourself for this, shit happens, blah blah, blah blah blah. I get it, but that still doesn’t negate the fact that guilt is one symptom of MS I never expected, and it pisses me off.

I don’t want to give the impression I’m consumed by this, because I’m not. I also understand this sentiment is irrational. After all, I still work and “provide” in that sense.  I’m not an invalid by any stretch of the imagination, and I contribute to running and maintaining the house any way I can. An argument can actually be made that I too often push myself more than I should. So from an intellectual perspective, I understand that there is absolutely nothing to feel guilty about.

Unfortunately, the emotional reality keeps getting in the way, and often strikes like a lightning bolt.  First of all, I’m obviously not the guy I was ten years ago, and no matter how you rationalize, I can’t escape the truth that I can’t do a lot of the things with my loved ones I once took for granted. Simple things, like going for walks and riding a bike, are difficult to do and in some cases are impossible. Even holding hands while waking is hard because I trudge very slowly, and it throws my balance off.

I need more physical space than the average bear to maneuver, and people in the know  often step aside or give me the right of way in tight quarters because they know I don’t walk in a straight line, can’t stop on a dime, and they don’t want to bump into me and potentially cause a fall. Add that to the list of things to feel guilty about.

I’d wager that watching the freak show of me doing anything that requires physical dexterity is painful for anyone who looks. I know K worries about me constantly, and I suspect my son does as well, although he never broaches the subject. So I feel guilty about that too.

Maybe I’m projecting subconscious insecurities about my present and future onto others. Maybe this is a subconscious way of feeling sorry for myself, but I sure as hell hope not because I swore I would never to do that.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered that my father and I are two peas in a pod, and this is a perfect example.  He never wanted to be in a position where people had to cater to him because of failing health. He’d tell us more times than I care to remember that if we ever found him unresponsive, to make sure he didn’t have a pulse before calling 911. Of course, Dad was in his 90’s by then, and never thought he’d make it that far. He had been blessed with good health all his life and was sharp as a tack until he passed away at the age of 96, but the chinks in his armor started appearing several years earlier, and that concerned him.

The bottom line was he never wanted to have anyone disrupt their lives because of his health. I thought he was being ridiculous at the time, but I certainly get it now. He didn’t want to deal with the guilt of being a burden, and that is the crux of the issue for me.

I don’t care what anyone says, when you live with a chronic illness like MS, you become a burden, because people in your life have to pick up the slack for the things you can no longer do. They might not think of it that way, but I do.

Guilt comes with the territory. I don’t believe I’m the only person living with a chronic condition who feels that way, but would love to know if I’m in the minority.