Things I almost say

I only just catch myself before I say something wrong. It’s such a close call sometimes, my heart races and my stomach flip flops for minutes afterwards. Here are two examples:

First, during a visit with my mom, we were listening to music when this beautiful song came on. It was so feminine, so pretty, that I could feel the the silk ribbons of my Pointe shoes lacing criss-cross round my ankle, the unforgiving cardboard and leather toe box slipping over the end of my foot. The choreography unrolled before me. Just at that moment, I almost said, “I would have loved dancing to that when I was alive.” Did you catch that? “When I was alive.”

Second, “I should have tried one of those in real life.” That’s what I almost said to Evan as he ate a vegetarian reuben sandwich. The words were on the tip of my now dead tongue. If I still spoke, the words would’ve reached him, and we would have had to talk about it.

Am I in Purgatory? Then what’s Evan doing here? Is Elon Musk right? Is this a simulation? All of this assumes I am so intuitive that I figured out my creator’s machinations. Or maybe I am in denial/ losing it.

Thoughts?

Part 2: Remembering

I cry as if someone is dying because someone is, in fact, dying. It’s me. I am dying. Evan holds my hand, reminding me to breathe, which is good advice because now I can’t get enough air. I would clench my hands into fists of desperation, except all but the middle finger on my right hand lie dead in the water, totally immobile. I haven’t been able to move my fingers in months, never mind my arms and legs. It’s all part of dying of ALS.

And I’ve just remembered that – I have ALS, and there’s no treatment, no cure. It’s worse than cancer because there is no hope, worse than AIDS because there is no why, and I have it.

I’m crying because I am afraid of death, and I am so young – only 32. But mostly, I am crying for Evan. He has told me multiple times that he will never remarry, and he doesn’t think he could ever fall in love again. Brick by brick, as sure as I am dying, he’s building a wall around his heart with only us inside. On the one hand, I love the wall. It keeps us safe, makes me the love of his life. And yet, as scared as I am of being replaced … 50 years is a long time to be alone.

That’s why I am going on a ventilator when my lungs fail. For those who are new to this sick game, that means life support. What this means in day to day terms is I will have a 15 lb machine the size of a dictionary or phone book attached to my body by a tube that leads to a hole in my throat. I can have it beside my bed or attached to my wheelchair, so I’m very mobile.

But… There is a but coming… I will need round the clock care. Someone has to be awake to suction my lungs if the alarm goes off. It may go off every hour. It may go off every eight hours. That’s a gamble we are willing to take. What we know for sure is that we can kiss privacy goodbye. Most of the caregivers we have now are very careful not to intrude. However, some will sit down in the middle of a family gathering and try to join the conversation.

So when I remember that I have ALS, I am inconsolable, I am grieving for what I have lost, and what this will eventually do to Evan. You see, ALS keeps going even after I go on a ventilator, forever and ever until I’m dead.

Part 1: Forgetting

Lately I’ve been waking up in the morning with the feeling something is seriously wrong. No, that’s inaccurate. I KNOW in my gut something awful has happened and I. Am. Terrified. I can’t tell if it’s a horrifying nightmare, or that something is wrong with the bipap (breathing machine) or the tobii eye gaze computer, but something IS wrong.

As my body calms from flight mode, I understand that nothing is wrong with the machines that power my day. The dream – if there was one – fades, and the caregiver who has been standing by, utterly baffled, proceeds to wash and lotion my face and comb my hair. Time goes by. Night falls and I can’t sleep until 3 am, a routine I hate. In those early hours, fears and loneliness creep in. Then I fall asleep, wake in terror, rinse, repeat.

It took a month for me to figure it out. It isn’t nightmares or malfunctioning equipment.

I am forgetting I have ALS.

It sinks in slowly throughout the day, which I spend in a hospital bed and wheelchair, watching people pump food and medicine – 270 pills a week – through my feeding tube, that I recognize something is seriously wrong with me, worse than tobii failure or any nightmare my wild imagination could concoct. But, some days, it never occurs to me that I am terminal. This is after all, my new normal. That’s not just a motto, it’s my real day to day.

For example, we have dinner together. Evan eats, I don’t. I just have a feeding tube. I don’t constantly think things like, “I have ALS, and that’s why I don’t get a sandwich.” I remember eating. I want to eat. I just… don’t.

For me, forgetting I have ALS is relatively easy. Remembering, now that is a whole different story…

In Which I Wet the Bed

As you may have gleaned from the title, I wet the bed. I felt the urge to go. Now. So I hit my alarm to let Evan know there was an emergency, but it was too late. I was peeing.

This disease leaves you nothing.

The smell and my tears let Evan know what was wrong. I felt heartbroken, ashamed… And such relief, as if I had been holding it for hours.

Evan kept saying “poor baby” and “my precious angel,” easing my fear that he would be disgusted at having to clean up my mess. I knew with a profound wave of absolute trust that he would take care of me, do everything I couldn’t ask and better.

I have a catheter now. I feel humble and ashamed every time he empties the bag.

Stepping Out of the Past to Appreciate the Present

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It’s hard to live in the present when the past feels as close as my shadow. I can’t stop thinking about the things I have lost. I’m nearly immobile, so the things I miss most are physical. I miss my feet touching the ground. I miss the luxury of scrubbing my scalp with shampoo and my face with soap. I loved the feel of writing with a freshly sharpened pencil. Above all, I yearn to wrap my arms around my husband again.

I have also lost my voice, so I have a whole other list of longing around that. To keep it brief, I would say that I miss humor the most. Being funny happens in the moment. Banter, sarcasm, puns, inside jokes, even comments on movies all happen fast. Asking people to pause so I can type a joke means the moment has passed. Trust me, there’s nothing more awkward than people silently waiting to indulge you in your attempt to be funny.

Focusing on the past has led to incredible jealousy. Most recently, I was on my way back from a doctor appointment, I was stuck in traffic downtown, and I swear, the jealousy was like a monster consuming me. Watching people walk with ease across the street, holding children the way I will never be able to hold my godson again made me glower. One man juggling his briefcase and phone answer a call. Observing him was like watching a ballet. I couldn’t believe I had ever moved with such ease and grace. The memory was both distant and visceral.

Slowly, though, I have come to accept that living in the past means I am missing an equally precious present. I haven’t stopped mourning being a part of laughter and hugging those I love. I never will. My jealousy hasn’t disappeared either, but sometimes it is not so painful. Ironically, my loss is what taught me how to live just a bit more in the present. I realized that with ALS, there’s always more to lose. I may not be able to make people laugh, but I can still laugh, and that’s something. Maybe one day, I won’t be able to laugh, so I should appreciate it. Gratitude has helped me step out of the shadows of my past to fully appreciate and experience the present. I hope it can do the same for you.

“And I Think to Myself, What a Wonderful World!”

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Every time I go to a doctor appointment – my main reason for getting out of bed and into my uncomfortable wheelchair – I blink at the brightness of day. The blue summer sky is blinding, and it always takes a minute to adjust. Once my eyes accept the sunshine, I immediately wonder how I’ve been living without it.

I’m always aware of the difference between me and those who enjoy sun-kissed lives; every time Evan or a caregiver touches me, I am jarred by the contrast of my unnaturally pale skin and their healthy tans and gold tones. I do envy them, but I have been too sedated to venture outside.

Until now.

My insurance finally approved a medicine called Provigil, which will help me stay awake for four plus hours! I tried it out today and was amazed by how alert I felt. I was even able to talk to my mother-in-law about books like we used to do!

I can’t wait for my experience of sunshine tomorrow when I go to yet another specialist. I HIGHLY recommend this drug to anyone who has also been missing out because of sedation or ALS fatigue. Ask your doctor about it.

I may still have spasms, but consider my hope for a few hours of normalcy renewed!

On the Other Hand

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It can be hard to “live my truth.” Just because I have had a revelation or realization does not mean I can instantly incorporate it into my lifestyle.

Especially because my hope just got a kick in the teeth. The latest bump in my pump did not work. This means more time on oral baclofen, which, remember, is heavily sedating. Being sedated is different than being fatigued because I can’t fight it. Chemicals overtake my body and my will. They rush through me, making me heavy, blurring my thoughts. I take baclofen four times a day. It knocks me out for two hours. Being unconscious so much hurts my mental health, relationships, writing, and hope.

I say “being unconscious” because being sedated isn’t always the same as sleep. I sometimes wake up fully rested, ready for an hour of activity before it’s time to pass out again. However, sometimes I wake up feeling like I have only been out a second. It’s disorienting to say the least.

Everyone, from caregivers to family, is overjoyed when I am awake, and they all want to see me. I should be flattered and feel loved. Instead, I feel pressured. Imagine if, as soon as you wake up, whoever is near you is full of energy and ready to play. When I wake up, all I want is a few minutes to myself to check my email, catch up with Evan, maybe send a few texts – all the things you do to slowly come back to the world in the morning. Because it is perpetually morning for me. In an ideal world, whoever finds me awake would express their joy, then ask if I need a few minutes. I think that would help reduce the pressure I feel and make me ready to fight through my discomfort like I decided to in my last post in order to be present for the people who love me.

I’m beginning to fear I will always need the baclofen, that the pump will never work. I honestly don’t know how much longer I can handle this. Choosing hope is harder with each failed bump.

But I know I will go on because I have no other choice. I have up to three years before my lungs fail, and even if I live like this, the time I steal with Evan makes any amount of suffering worthwhile.