I have become a tobii wizard. It’s true. Once upon a time, it took me fifteen minutes to type one paragraph. Now, I glide across apps, carrying and adding to my content, dipping into shortcuts to rearrange my words into uniquely crafted messages that sound authentic to yours truly – all at a speed that constantly wows clinicians. Despite my skills, though, using the tobii is still taxing work. I will never be fast enough to keep up with the natural flow of conversation. Still, I hurry and exhaust myself in the process.
However, there is one individual who eases the tension of the race to communicate because she is also nonverbal. For five years, Malka (introduced in “Someone to Watch Over Me”) has been my faithful, furry companion. On the surface, we don’t have much in common: she has four legs and I have wheels, she swallows her kibble whole and a gravity bag slowly drips formula into my stomach. I am becoming more mechanical, and she remains pure, divine animal. But when we lay down side by side, we speak our own secret language. Eye contact and perked ears or my raised brows, touches, wiggles, and wags… There’s nothing we can’t say, and our talks are just my speed. She’s a source of solace like no other as I fight the monster inside of me, and sometimes when she looks at me, I swear she understands what I am fighting and her role in the battle. I am endlessly grateful for my silent soldier.
This song reminds me of my fur baby every time I hear it. It also reminds me of Evan, but pretty much everything does. “We laugh until our ribs get sore, sharing beds like little kids” even though everything outside of them grows scary. At least we have each other.
Warmth tempts my berry tipped toes
to the opening of my den.
I crouch by new grass blades
sharp with the bitter scent of promise.
I am spring born.
What was my life before this long darkness?
Before this crescent edge of sun?
Do the trees stand exactly as they used to,
cutting out room for my shadow
in their own greater shade?
Does the river carve out the spots where I used to stand
in hopes that my feet will
nestle in its water again?
I take one step forward
I am spring born.
This news is both moving and a profound reason for hope! When I was diagnosed three years ago, voice banking would have taken eight hours, and I simply didn’t have the strength – or money – for such an endeavor. As you will see in the video, this company was able to recreate this man’s voice with only three hours of recording. Maybe one day, my half hour of recording will be enough to get my voice back!
“I’m shouting hard… This is the start!”
This beautiful writer hits on one of the greatest points of pain for people with ALS. We’re all wondering why this mysterious disease with no known cause or cure chose us. Every day, I think, “Why me?” Read on to learn the exact reason I write and how sharing your own story can improve your mental health.
When you have a chronic illness, you’ll inevitably hit a point where your mental health starts to suffer. No one likes to be limited by factors outside of their control, and living with ongoing health problems is the pinnacle of just that: a steady, uncompromising burden to which you relinquish autonomy. Of course, with certain conditions there are things you can do to minimize the disruption it causes to your day-to-day life; but when all is said and done, it’s still a weight that colours your existence in a significant way. And it’s nearly impossible to have that fact not take a toll on your mental wellbeing.
One aspect I continue to struggle with is making any sense of why I got sick in the first place, and for so long. I don’t get why, a month after starting my third year of university, I came down with a flu-like…
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I haven’t written a lot about the problem that has rendered me bedbound for quite a few months now. You may think you understand the severity of the situation. However, what you know is the tip of an iceberg that you soon discover is actually the edge of a glacier that is moving inevitably into the sea to raise and heat the ocean around you. In other words, you don’t know the full story. Yet.
The first two minutes of this video offer an explanation of what has been happening to my body.
The spasms affected me first in predictable ways, like decreasing my mobility and flexibility. Then my caregivers began to struggle to dress because of the extreme rigidity of my joints. Bye bye to my fitted retro clothes. Hello baggy sweaters. Maybe this doesn’t sound like a real loss, but when you have ALS, or even just live in a wheelchair, there’s already so little you can control about the way you present yourself to the world and the impression you make. A teal camisole under a blue tunic topped with a gold 1960s cardigan was my way of telling new people, “I may look kinda funny, and yeah, I need a computer to talk, but I’m happy and playful!” Those clothes made me feel like my old self. Losing the clothes was a stinging paper cut type of hurt: sharp, yet invisible.
Soon, the effects of my spasms took unexpected, dangerous turns:
– I spasmed in my shower chair and nearly fell. I would certainly have broken a bone since my limbs were locked.
– My jaw clenched so hard that I can’t brush my teeth anymore. This put me at risk for more than cavities. Dental hygiene is a first line of defense against pneumonia, which is all too often fatal for people with ALS.
– I became bedbound because moving me became too risky with how violently I shake. As a result, I am vulnerable to circulation problems, bed sores, and serious mental health issues.
I am now officially on every antispasmodic and pain medication my mind can handle. I had another one, but it causes nightmares so violent about the pets, I am haunted by them. I can’t even tell Evan, that’s how bad they were. Still, despite all the medicines, my spasms are so bad that I even sense them in my dreams and wonder why my dream body is shaking. Other people in my dreams avoid me because they are afraid or judgmental. The new medicine disturbs me. I wake up suddenly because, for example, I hear a crow and see it rushing at me out of the dark with the face of a human. I also have a black owl with raven feathers who guides me through the dark forest that is now my dreamscape. (clearly, I’ve been reading too much Rosamund Hodge). I wake up in pain, exhausted, and breathless.
I wasn’t supposed to get to this point. My doctor recommended that I have a Baclofen Pump implantation eight months ago, which my insurance denied immediately. So began an epic struggle with my insurance on one side and my doctor, the amazing team of nurses at the clinic, and my mom fighting valiantly on my behalf. Guess who finally won? Are you guessing the good guys? I can’t see you. You should be guessing the good guys.
BUT BEFORE THE SURGERY… I needed to do a successful Baclofen Pump trial.
The trial will look like this. No needles are actually shown in the video, only syringes, the tubes that hold medicine at the top of a needle. There is no blood. You can safely watch this while eating lasagna and your weak little tummy won’t so much as turn.
The trial was four hours of pain, but I got through it. Evan was with me, and Evan makes all suffering 50 – 75% better according to the latest study in the Harvard Medical Review (2017 Nov. Volume 4). The pain wasn’t caused by the needle in my spine – been there, done that – but by the fact that I can’t have any baclofen – my main antispasmodic – before the procedure, and it took four hours for the baclofen pumped into my spine to take effect. That meant four hours of spasms so intense that my whole body shakes and cramps, my jaw rattles, my teeth start chattering so wildly that I actually chew skin off my lips, and I beg Evan to cut off my limbs (usually starting with my right arm).
It was worth it, though, because it worked. The trial worked.
I forgot how luxurious it is to feel comfortable in my own skin, and after April 19th, the date of the surgery, I will feel that way all the time. the other side of the surgery…
I imagine that’s where sunshine lives, the daylight outside my bedroom window that I so long for. It’s where holding hands with Evan on the back porch watching the dogs play has been waiting for me, and so too the quiet scent of the poetry paperbacks in the last aisle of the Blue Room at Powell’s City of Books.
On the other side of the surgery is everything I love and live for, and I am overjoyed that I will have it again.
I will keep you posted on the events around the surgery. For now, start around minute two where the pump first shows and stop before the explanation of side effects to gain a better understanding of how the implant works.
At my most recent clinic, the nurse pulled out my mic-key – the feeding tube that allows access to my stomach – so they could give me a fresh one, and all of my breakfast came out like a volcano. Before the nurses could even react, Evan dove in and covered the hole with his bare hands. Remember, my feeding tube version of vomit was pouring out. Nothing grosses him out when it comes to me. Nothing. And that is true love in all its gross glory.
Please enjoy the illustration below, and have a happy Valentine’s Day!
J/K about the illustration. I love you too much to do that to you. (insert adorable, mischievous grin)
Rachel “The Volcano” Doboga
This one goes out to all the people who can’t cry at home. Whether you are trying to be brave for a loved one or just don’t have the space or privacy to cry at home, I hope this gives you some relief.
Step 1: Park your car somewhere safe, like the edge of a parking lot of a big box store or an off-season community space, such as a pool or tennis court.
Step 2: Be aware of your surroundings. If someone approaches you looking concerned – which has literally never happened to me – don’t roll down your window, just wave them on. They are obviously a carjacker.
Step 3: Let it all out. If you have trouble getting started, listening to sad music usually works. You can also try a crying playlist. This one has 118 songs. This means that if one doesn’t work for you, you can click next until something hits you. I have included my favorite tear-inducing tunes below.
Step 4: You’ll know when you are done because your mind will start to wander to something unrelated, like if you have enough lettuce for dinner (don’t worry about it; no one really likes lettuce). Also, your breathing will even out.
Step 5: Take ten deep, slow breaths, counting to four as you inhale and six as you exhale.
Step 6: Carry on.
These are my top three go-to songs for crying. The first one completely wrecks me because I always think of my husband Evan. Indie, country, pop – there’s something for everyone (probably).
It’s time to celebrate what your donations accomplished in 2017! Let’s keep up the fundraising and advocating so that 2018 will take us even closer to a cure. ALS doesn’t quit. Neither can we!
In 2017, many new research discoveries and collaborations accelerated the momentum toward finding treatments and a cure for ALS. We helped lead the way by awarding several new grants to top scientists and clinicians. We currently fund over 126 projects in eight countries, furthering the best ALS research in the world.
Here are just a few of the biggest advances in ALS research this past year that give us hope! All projects were funded by The ALS Association.
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I have never really been one to get excited about New Years. Early on, my mom instilled in me a lasting fear of the hordes of drunk drivers careening about all night. I am now 30 years old, and to this day, I have never been to a New Years Eve party I couldn’t walk to. I will probably continue this habit for the rest of my days because no one can prove that it hasn’t saved my life.
As for New Year’s resolutions, I remember my dad saying every single year, “I don’t see the point of making resolutions. If you need to make a change in your life, don’t wait. Do it immediately.” This advice, combined with my perfectionist tendencies, made me a reflective, proactive individual.
Lately, though, I have been thinking about the value of making resolutions. I still agree with my dad’s advice because, frankly, if you’re only taking stock once a year, you’re not living your best life. However, when everyone around you is examining their lives and discussing changes they want to make and goals they want to set, a uniquely supportive environment forms. If you randomly tell someone at any other time of year that you want to be better about keeping in touch with family or watching less TV, you just don’t get the same reaction as you do if you share those goals as resolutions around New Year’s. This time of year lends gravity to decisions. It signals that this is a Big Deal to you, which can elicit bolstering enthusiasm from your social circle or prompt advice and conversation. Best case scenario, you may end up with a resolution buddy who loves your idea and hops on board. Having someone to help you through rough patches, prevent backsliding, and celebrate successes with can make all the difference in the world.
Because mental health is on my mind more and more, I have been thinking about what gets me down, what triggers my depression and PTSD, and how I handle (or more accurately, don’t handle) stress. I began research new-to-me ways to improve my mental health and maybe even my physical health as a result.
This NY Times article offers suggestions on ways to be healthier in 2018 that even those of us with ALS can try. The ones that appealed to me the most were:
- GETTING BETTER SLEEP – There is a LOT of information on this page. It is divided into five sections, which you can navigate by clicking on the submenu text immediately beside the title in the black bar. Or you can just hit the down arrow. I especially liked “How to Wake Up,” which is nested under the section called “Morning Lark or Night Owl.” (See what I did there? Nest? Lark? Owl? You’re welcome.)
- CONQUERING NEGATIVE THINKING – The art of acceptance is a tough one to learn, but if I want to stop the cycle of dark thoughts that keep me up at night, I better start learning.
- REDUCING STRESS – Whatever your anxious little mind likes to obsess over, from relationships to your health, there’s something here to help. Now the key is not to stress about reading this whole article.
One of the ways that the article lists to decrease stress on the body and mind is yoga. That may seem impossible for many of us with ALS, but chair yoga is real thing. I recommend exploring video guides on YouTube by searching “gentle chair yoga,” which will yield countless results. I especially enjoyed this ten minute wheelchair yoga video. The neck stretches felt heavenly (using the Tobii requires me to keep my head very still, and after a few hours of writing, I get vicious neck cramps). I could not actually do most of the movements because I can barely move my arms, but I think a caregiver could help me. I’m super excited to see if I can get in Eagle Pose. Before ALS, that was my favorite way to ease back pain. Note: it is important that you do close your eyes when the instructor tells you to. This will allow you to focus on the sensations of the practice.