Summer Dreams

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Something about spending time on a covered porch always leads me reminiscing and daydreaming. As the rain clears to make room for the summer sun, I spend hours out there, watching my dogs play and letting my mind float on the afternoon breeze, I remember, and I plan.

This beautiful weather makes me miss canoeing with Evan terribly. The sound of the water as our paddles slid through the gentle waves slowed my thoughts so I could exist in that moment, working in perfect synchronization with Evan. I especially loved our sunset excursions when the world we knew drifted off to sleep and another secret world began to stir, a nocturnal kingdom we could only glimpse before we lost the light and our way.

When I am cured, Evan and I will return right away to the water. We will buy a red canoe and name it Carlos, and he will take us on dozens of new adventures.

The other activity I am missing is something I only did once. I was shy and nervous, so I didn’t get up the nerve to try karaoke until rather late in the game. When I finally sang into that microphone, though, I was hooked. I especially loved singing duets with Evan (he makes everything at least ten times more fun). When I have my voice back, I am going to hit every karaoke bar in town!

ALS Films to Watch

Did someone say “movie night”? Grab some friends and a bucket of popcorn. End advocacy month by educating, inspiring, and entertaining your crew!

The Official Blog of The ALS Association

There are many ways, both big and small, to raise ALS awareness. Some people have used their filmmaking or public speaking talents to craft compelling stories of those living with this disease. From TED talks to award-winning documentaries, these videos inspire, educate, challenge and entertain viewers, while celebrating the lives of people with ALS and the contributions they have made.

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Three Dreams and A Dragon

When I was thirteen, I bought a small, blue, canvas-bound book whose title, scrawled in loopy silver script, read, “The Interpretation of Dreams.” I purchased it because every morning, I awoke with vivid memories of three, sometimes four, dreams. About half of them were nightmares, but they didn’t trouble me as much as what I called the Sagas. In those dreams, I lived entire lives, and when I woke up and realized that none of it was real, the resulting devastation was almost as intense as if I just lost actual friends, a husband, children. I hoped that I would find answers about what the Sagas meant and achieve peace by way of the knowledge.

I never found my answers; when I started taking anti-depressants at age fourteen, the Sagas disappeared, so I abandoned my research. However, the nightmares began to run rampant.

Lately, my nightmares have been especially painful. I have three that take turns playing in my nocturnal theater. First, I dream that fierce predators escape from the zoo, lurking the city’s streets, lying in wait for unsuspecting humans to cross their path. Unfortunately, I’m the only one who knows this, so it falls to me to protect my husband and sister even though I don’t have a single weapon.

Next up, I awake on a dark beach. I lay on the rough sand, utterly confused by my surroundings. Then a pair of hands reach down to help me up. I realize too late that they belong to my rapist. Raising a hand to caress my cheek, he says, “We’re the last people on earth. It’s just us. Now we can be together forever.” It’s then that I notice I’m wearing my wedding dress.

The worst dream starts before I even fall asleep. As I drift, memories of the words of my last Lower School Director and the Head of School echo in my head…

“Your students are bored.”

“Their parents lack confidence in you.”

“Maybe your personality is the issue. Go observe the Spanish teacher. Try to be like her.”

“You lack presence in the classroom.”

“Have you considered being a librarian? Then you won’t work with children every day, and you can be around those books you love so much.”

“You’re too academic.”

“Try not to look so frail. Stop hunching over your cane.”

“Are you really teaching if the kids aren’t learning? ”

“Fifth grade is an important year, and we need a teacher so fantastic that families don’t even think of transferring to another school for sixth grade. There are five families thinking of leaving – you’re not a strong enough teacher.”

“I’ve been disappointed in you from day one.”

Then, when sleep finally comes, I am teaching in a classroom with glass walls. I don’t have a lesson plan, and when I see the Lower School Director and the Head of School watching me, I panic, making one stupid mistake after another, knowing each is a nail in my coffin. The dream fades when memory wipes away the fear and reminds me that it’s over now. I survived being kicked to the curb, and – awful as it was to end my career on a low note – they can’t hurt me anymore.

I don’t need the book to pick up the themes these dreams share; in each one, I am caught off guard and helpless. That is the essence of ALS. No one is prepared for the diagnosis (most cases can’t be tied to a family history, and lifestyle seems completely irrelevant). To make matters worse, the diagnosis comes with a decree of helplessness since there isn’t a thing you can do to fight back. I’m guessing that I am reliving the trauma of the diagnosis, but I don’t think it has to continue.

I recently realized that I am not helpless, not by a long shot. How many pieces have I written detailing my commitment to my range of motion exercises, my eagerness to participate in drug trials 135164, my openness to new medications and protocols 136165 to manage my symptoms? I use the cough assist 137166 to keep my lungs strong, my feeding tube to maintain proper nutrition and hydration, and my tobii to prepare for when I lose my ability to speak. I am not sitting on the sidelines watching this monster consume me. I am fighting the dragon with a small dagger, slashing and slicing bit by bit until I bleed it dry. From now on, I will hold this gruesome, glorious image in my mind as I fall asleep. Maybe then I’ll dream of slaying the beast.

Rag Doll

 

At the recommendation of ALS Worldwide 129147 and with the approval of my beloved neurologist, I have begun an unconventional course of medications. I use the word “unconventional” because some of the medicine is either not typically used in cases of ALS or is being used outside of the FDA approved dosing. Additionally, none of this is covered by insurance. Our hope is that the new protocol will better manage my symptoms and even gain back some of the strength and mobility I have lost.

I began taking quinine sulfate to manage my excruciating muscle cramps. Even though my mouth now constantly tastes of bitter tonic water, it’s worth it because I am getting near total relief.

I am taking Nuedexta three times a day rather than the standard two in order to better control my PseudoBulbar Affect, which causes involuntary fits of laughing and crying. We are seeing good results so far.

Next week, I begin daily injections of B12 into my arms and legs. I am not absorbing the B12 I ingest orally thanks to ALS messing with my blood-brain barrier, so we will be delivering it directly to my muscles. This should restore some of my strength and mobility.

And so it goes. We experiment to manage the untreatable, to keep me going by patching up the tears until I am more rag doll than woman. Still, as long as I am, I will be grateful.

A Dream

If my dream of collecting and expanding my best essays and turning them into a book ever becomes a reality, there are a few new topics I am dying to write about that are just too involved for my blog. I would devote a whole chapter to the ways ALS has changed my understanding of gender, and then another chapter on how the changes ALS has wrought upon my body fit into my lifelong, desperate quest for beauty.

Learning Helplessness

Today while out on a (st)roll, I witnessed a toddler run out into the street in front of a car. I was unable to do what every molecule in me demanded: race to the boy and snatch him up out of harm’s way. I couldn’t even scream in horror or point and shout so a neighbor would notice and intervene. I could only watch.

Luckily, just as the child reached the middle of the road, the boy’s mother realized he had wandered off and saved him.

I thought by now I knew what it is to be helpless. When I fall, I can’t get up. I am not able to feed, bathe, or dress myself. I can’t even be left alone for more than one hour. I had no idea, though.

Now, I know.

Image credit – Marc Chagall’s “Un champ de ble apres-midi d’un ete”