A Wind in the Door

Only two more days until my Tobii Dynavox comes. I cannot wrap my head around this. I’m getting back the ability to text and talk on the phone. I will be able to write emails and blog posts at a more normal pace (right now, my fingers are a total mess, so I type like a snail).

Change is in the air, a wind is in the door. My voice is slipping away, and technology to replace it is stepping in. The arrival of my Tobii Dynavox will be an emotional time; I’m scared I will cry.

 

“I wish human beings couldn’t have feelings. I am having feelings. They hurt.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wind in the Door

The Opera and Mosquitoes

This morning I tried to buy opera tickets as a surprise for Evan (he is a major fan), and all accessible seats were sold out. I know it’s not the end of the world, or even cause for tears. Operas are clearly a luxury. Still, incidents like this chip away at my loved ones’ assurances that I am not bringing them down. I remember the countless, tiny limitations hovering around me like a cloud of mosquitoes. I remember I can’t be the wife I was: the one who goes on romantic sunset canoe trips, holds hands with her husband while walking beside him, hikes with him in the afternoon, and goes stargazing in the park with him at night.

Wheels

My enunciation is getting rough. The letter “s” is my particular nemesis. I slur and lisp so badly, I have stopped using plural forms, and I avoid contractions. This afternoon, though, my sloppy “s” saved the day.

By 4:00, it felt like everything that could go wrong had already happened. A scheduling error left me without a caregiver, Pickle threw up after eating too much of the food that our parrot Jasper enjoys tossing to him, and the taxi I had booked way in advance never arrived to take me to a doctor appointment.

However, I didn’t want to end the day this way. I simply refused to let the sun set on this note. You see, I have a mindset that has led to me being labelled naive and unrealistic, but I can’t seem to shake it. I suffer from a relentless optimism, a belief that it is never too late for things to get better. Maybe that really does make me naive, but I like to describe myself with such words as “resilient,” “resourceful,” and “dauntless” instead.

Consequently, when my new cab arrived bearing a kindred spirit, I was delighted but not surprised. Every day holds some shred of happiness if only you remember to look for it. Doju, my driver, also had a rough start to his day. The cab he usually drove was out of commission, so his boss saddled him with the taxi outfitted as a wheelchair van… a vehicle full of equipment Doju had never seen before.

Anxious not to mislead me, as soon as he parked at the curb, he confessed, “I’ve never worked with a wheelchair van. I don’t know exactly what to do.” His anxiety aggravated his speech impediment, and I could tell he was now embarrassed on multiple fronts.

“That’s OK,” I replied, not bothering to hide my slur over the contraction; you have to be willing to give if you’re going to get anywhere important. “Let’s figure it out together.”

And we did. Rather quickly.

We fell right into conversation once we hit the road. His stutter grew less pronounced as I waited with patience to hear him out. He got the hang of my own impediment, and then it was easy to talk and listen. We shared chocolate chip cookies I had in my purse (welcome to my life in the Clinic weight maintenance program; must love calories), and relaxed into one another’s company. It ends up Doju has a wicked sense of humor.

“Rachel, you are just great. Here’s my card. Call anytime,” he said.

“You are so sweet!” I replied, taking his card.

“Oh, no, you misunderstand,” he grinned. “You may call me anytime, but I never promised to answer. I think I will see your number fill my call log and just click delete, delete, delete…”

It ends up both stuttering and slurring disappear in laughter.

Stuck in traffic, I learned he had been born in Tibet, but was whisked away so quickly to a safer patch of earth that he cannot remember his home. Despite this, and knowing he can never return, he chose not to tell his story as a sad one. Instead, the tale he shared was about love and accepting loss. I was amazed, not for the first time, at how deeply our most distant brothers and sisters can speak the language of our own messy hearts.

Traffic crawled, and I knew I would miss my appointment by a half hour, but the day was still salvaged in my eyes. As we sat on the glimmering hot road, Doju marveled at the brilliant sunshine after such a rainy spring. I pointed out the riot of colorful flowers spilling out of gardens lining the street.

There were so many words neither of us could manage to say, but still, we chose to speak to each other. We chose to see roses.

A Pashmina For My Appendix

Today I bought shoes for the first time since my diagnosis. It was also the first time I bought shoes I would not actually wear for walking. My new sandals will just serve as a barrier between the soles of my feet and my wheelchair’s foot plates. No more worries about arch support or gaping at my heel. No test runs to make sure the shoe doesn’t rub the small bulge on my toe where I once snapped it during ballet. Shopping for shoes was like getting a frivolous accessory for a vestigial organ, a pashmina for my appendix. It was a novel experience, but ultimately too bizarre and sad to look forward to repeating.

Welcome to the Helicarrier

Warning: Excessive Marvel references ahead.

This is not the story I wanted to write today. I planned on sharing something emotional and joyful. It was going to be a bigger piece, and I looked forward to a long stretch of appointment-free hours to get it done. However, ALS doesn’t care about plans. Like Loki in “The Avengers,” it lives for chaos.

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When I got out of bed, it was like stumbling onto the Helicarrier when Thor and the Hulk used it as an arena. The stress had my heart racing and made my speech even messier than usual. Evan was marching around the apartment on the phone trying to get an explanation for an unexpected and rather staggering medical bill. My theory is that marching keeps his energy up during marathon conversations about insurance and durable medical equipment – not naturally thrilling topics. Laura was on the phone at the table hunting down the right type of medical mattress for the hospital bed being donated to me (!!!!). I settled in beside her and she started spooning yogurt and pills into my mouth while on hold. Things must have been going well for her since she still in Bruce Banner mode. God help whoever tried to blow her off; she’s secretly the Hulk, and she’s on my side. Between her fierceness and Evan’s Captain America-esque determination, I felt plenty loved.

I also felt useless.

We finished with the pills, and Laura took the dishes to the sink. Then, as she dialed another number, she slid a piece of paper my way with notes about what she learned so far to catch me up. She went into her room to continue her work, and Evan parked himself next to me, hanging up and diving straight into a summary of where he was in his investigation. I made some notes about emails I could be writing to help, and noticed my voice getting stronger. His phone rang, he kissed my head, and he was off.

Laura’s door flew open at that moment. She raced to the table, skidding across the floor in her rush to get more scratch paper. I laughed hard, and she struggled to remain calm and polite to whoever was on the other end. Business now; laughter later.

Good caregivers can make people with ALS feel like Helicarrier leader and superhero guide Nick Fury. We can’t always speak or even hold a pen to write a phone number. If we are having a really bad day, yeah, we might be wearing an eye patch. Our minds are still sharp, though. There are days when we need rest, but there are also days when we like commanding the Helicarrier by pitching in, being informed, sharing our opinions.

We are grateful to the caregivers who know how to let us take back some control, the ones who remember that every now and then, even the weakest among us likes to stand at the helm, if only to remember how it felt to fly.

 

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Far From FDR

Lately, I’ve been worrying a lot about my identity. So much is changing at what feels like breakneck speed. My body in particular is alien to me. I swing between thinking I am an ALS research guinea pig, a robot incorporating new mechanisms to extend the life of what is clearly a junker, or, most recently, a plain old invalid.

My sister is not OK with this.


Me: Am I an invalid?

Laura: Rachel, what are you talking about? They haven’t had invalids since FDR. Besides, I don’t we are supposed to use that word anymore.

Me: Oh… then what am I?

Laura: What you’ve always been. You’re a woman with pursuits.


It was pretty unexpected, a little Victorian, and a lot perfect. I remembered then that I’m more than braces, machines,  and physical therapy exercises. Maybe I’m not exactly what I’ve always been like Laura said, but I’m also not less than I was. And as far as pursuits go, I still chase dreams. Now, though, I’m racing after them in a 400 lb vehicle… I like my chances.

 

 

 


Disclaimer: No offense intended towards FDR, who, according to my grandma, totally rocked.