Today is the Don’t Talk-A-Thon, a fundraising event in which participants vow an hour of silence in support of those who are forever silenced by ALS. In honor of this special event, I am sharing a very personal and painful story about the first time that ALS stole my voice. Remember, for me and countless others with ALS, our voices disappear permanently as a result of this awful disease.
The Sound and the Fury
Before ALS, I associated silence with prayer, reading, sleeping, being comfortable with friends. It was full of promise. Now, I know silence can be sheer terror. It falls like a knife from your hands to the kitchen floor, clattering around your bare feet. It paralyzes you with its chaotic power.
I knew it was coming. My voice is fading to nothing; that was established months ago. I hadn’t really imagined what it would feel like, though. I may have had a vague notion that permanent laryngitis awaited me, but I understand now that it’s so much more than that. I learned the truth when I spilled a glass of water by my computer (weak fingers). I couldn’t lift the computer out of the way (weak wrists). I imagined songs, stories, and photos being leeched out of the laptop into the puddle. Panicked, I called to my sister to come help me.
No sound came out. My tongue was heavy in my mouth. I felt like I had been slapped in the face, my breath stolen from my lungs. On the third try, I finally understood. This was my disease, a preview of what’s ahead. My horror rendered me motionless. My sister was in her room talking on the phone, but she might as well have been on another planet. I hit the alarm on my wheelchair, but Laura couldn’t hear me through her door. Malka raced to me, recognizing I needed help, but she couldn’t understand what was happening, and what could she have done anyway? I wanted to scream.
I broke into tears while Malka ran in frantic circles, panting hard in her desperation. A hot, fuzzy tingling sensation climbed the back of my neck, and all I knew was that I needed Evan. Despite my clumsy fingers, I managed to text him that I needed help. He was at work a few blocks away. He flew to me, his footsteps pounding down our hall faster than should have been possible. He crashed through the door and was by my side before I could blink away my tears, as if by moving quickly enough and wanting it badly enough, he could save me.
Evan held me and I sobbed for a while, calming down once I realized I was making a lot of noise with my crying. That was reassuring, but when I tried to speak, my enunciation was too messy to understand. My words sounded like a sad foreign language.
I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be speaking intelligibly until I recharged. A storm rolled in from the mountains, filling our valley with night dark clouds so it seemed far later than four in the afternoon. The lights in the living room became far too yellow and dim. My bird screamed then, and fluttered around his cage. I checked his food and water; there were plenty of both. His favorite nap area was clean. Laying back down, I felt awful that I couldn’t figure out what he needed. He chirped and squeaked, but it meant nothing to me.
I drifted off watching him flap around, never figuring out what he was trying to say. I remember thinking, though, just as I lost consciousness, that I had only narrowly escaped my own cage. My stomach rolled and I got dizzy imagining the door still open, waiting for me.