Monday, April 20, 2009

What do you say to a dying man?

Since I was planning to write about this topic, I came across this article and thought I would put it out there so those of you who are interested, can read it, mull it over, and then read my response to it later, when I get around to it. I agree with the writer of the article on some points, but not on others. Then again, he is newly-diagnosed, and I am in my sixth year since diagnosis, so I have a whole different perspective. To read the article, click on the title.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Nancy O'Dell, Outings in a Wheechair Van, I May See the Beach

Nancy O'Dell, co-host of TV's "Access Hollywood", lost her mom recently to ALS. Despite her mom's passing, I am hoping Nancy will continue to fight for an ALS cure. Read more about that, here. The dilemma with ALS is that often after the death of the patient, the family and friends seem to pull away from the ALS community. Except for the small percentage of "familial" ALS cases, I guess most people whose lives have been touched by ALS, feel that the disease will probably never touch their lives again. So they go back to raising money and awareness of cancer, AIDS, or some other disease that is much more likely to affect them or a family member or friend. They prefer to forget the whole ALS experience. And, since most ALS patients die within two years of diagnosis, there isn't a lot of long-term follow-through.

The best possible arrangement an ALS patient can possibly have is a wheelchair van. But not everybody can have this, because either they can't afford it, or they don't have a caregiver who can drive it, or both. In my case, I can't have a wheelchair van for both of those reasons. And that is why I have to depend on Access-a-Ride, which must be scheduled a day in advance, and can be terribly unreliable, or public buses, which can be inconvenient. In my case I also don't have a lot of companions who have the time to spend going places with me, while putting up with those modes of transportation.

Last Saturday, I had a special privilege. My friend Valerie, who unfortunately lost her husband to ALS last fall, picked me up in the wheelchair van she still had, last Saturday. Everyone knows two of my favorite places are Trader Joe, and the beach. Well, Valerie, her 6-year-old daughter Layla, and Louise and I, went in the wheelchair van to Trader Joe, but the rain ruined our beach plans. What a gift to be able to pull into the van without having to do a difficult transfer, ride where we wanted, and when we wanted, on no set schedule! Just a laid-back afternoon of Trader Joe and snacks at a Chinese bakery in Forest Hills.

The good news is that it is going to be 70 degrees today, and Valerie is going to pick me up again for a trip to the boardwalk. I have not seen a beach in three years, and I have been very depressed about this! By the way, disabled people can actually go onto the sand at Long Beach, Brighton, Coney Island, Rockaway, and Orchard Beach, due to mats they have installed. For all ththose skeptics who don't believe me, or who don't think a wheelchair-bound person can enjoy the beach, check out this article or this one, with great pictures
and also a listing of exact locations for the mats. I might add that Forest Hills is one of the many accessible stations of the Long Island Railroad [LIRR], which goes to Long Beach and Jones Beach [the latter with a bus connection from Freeport] For the webpage to look up a list of accessible LIRR stations, click here.

Since Valerie has to return te van this week, today will be my last shot at going in such style. I am really looking forward to it!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Any Twitter-ers Out There? Please help!

ALS/TDI [ALS Therapy Development Institute] has an opportunity for anyone on Twitter [go to twitter.com to join] to join in the campaign to get a $100,000 donation from Hugh Jackman!

Go to this link for instructions. You have to tweet often, and ask your followers to retweet! Thanks!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Update April 4, 2009

Louise brought me to see "33 Variations", a play about a musicologist who has ALS. It was my first time in a Broadway theater since late 2003. It was exciting to me to be in a Broadway theater again, and even more exciting still to see the 71-year-old Fonda in her first Broadway play in over 40 years. There is no excuse for a wheelchair-bound person to stay away from Broadway. All the theaters are accessible, and there are wheelchair spots in every theater. You can book wheelchair spots online or by phone, and as a wheelchair user, you sit in the orchestra section, and your companion gets a seat as close to you as possible. And the best part is that you both [wheelchair-user and companion] get the lowest-priced ticket. I also joined a program through the Theater Development Fund [TDF], called TAP for people with disabilities [PWDs], which sends lower-priced offers every month. So there is no reason for PWDs to stay away from Broadway, or museums or other attractions for that matter. They are all accessible, except for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum because of the landmark status of its building.

One weekend when Judy could not come, Louise came over to take me to Starbucks. My friend Andrea came one Saturday, stayed the whole afternoon, and really brightened my day. My former student Jessica Aguilar came last Sunday to help me with some reorganizing that really made a difference. And my weekly visits with Judy are always something I look forward to. I still need to measure the width of the hallway leading into the bathroom so I can hang curtains from a tension rod. We had to take off the bathroom door so I can get up to the doorway for my once-weekly trip to the bathroom. And, I went with Judy to shop for a cotton rug for the bottom of Chelsea''s cage, but all we saw were rag rugs. Then Debbie sent me a rag rug, which we "installed" yesterday. Chelsea slept in her litter box all night. She will have nothing to do with the new rug. It probably has to do with the nubby nature of the rug. Her own cotton rug is in the laundry, and there were no rugs like it in Bed, Bath, and Beyond. So my aide and I switched out a rug that she loves to lay on, which was on the floor, and put the rag-rug on the floor. Problem solved!

I have my portable vent. on a chair when it is recharging; otherwise, it is on the back of my wheelchair, but it needs two people to put it there. The purpose is to enable me to go out for up to six hours when I am totally vent-dependent, but right now, I use it for when I am out and feel short-of breath or sleepy from not enough oxygen. And the ventilator has to be taken on and off the wheelchair to be recharged. Today I am mostly using the vent [non-invasive] at night. This is, of course, next to my cough-assist machine. So much equipment!

By "vent", I mean NIV [non-invasive vent], which goes onto my nose and/or mouth with a mask. I use a Bi-PAP at night, which is similar to the C-PAP that people use for sleep apnea. My "vent" is also a NIV. This is not to be confused with a tracheostomy and mechanical ventilation, which some patients opt for, when NIV no longer works. This is considered life-support and is a big decision. Stephen Hawking is on mechanical ventilation. In pictures of the famous physicist, you can see the tracheostomy tube coming from his throat. Most people who opt for this, have a ton of money to pay for care, which is not covered by Medicaid or most insurance plans. A patient on mechanical ventilation needs either trained nurses and/or trained family caregivers to be present all the time, because the patient can never be alone. In the absence of that, the patient must live in a nursing home. Since I refuse to live out my life in a nursing home, I have a health-care proxy that instructs that I am not to be trached and mechanically-vented. There are many people I keep in touch with, on mechanical ventilation, most of whom have a spouse who does most of the care, and nurses to fill in, even children who can do the job. Many of them run fund-raisers throughout the year to raise the money to pay the bills. With stem-cell research being much more on the horizon, a cure or improved treatment is more imminent, so they want to go on as long as they can. As for the patients I correspond with in nursing homes, they are not happy. They say the staff doesn't understand ALS, are especially mean to patients who can't speak, and are especially isolated because their friends and relatives are uncomfortable visiting nursing homes. From my understanding, good nursing homes with compassionate staff are few and far between. I even correspond with a patient in a nursing home where the staff never brushes his teeth. For Christmas, all he wanted was someone to brush his teeth, so a friend came over to do just that.

On the other side of the spectrum, I know of a man in Manhattan who is on mechanical ventilation and lives with his wife and a live-in aide [paid privately]. He has a push chair, because he can't use his hands anymore, and so he can't drive a motorized wheelchair. Every day he goes out -- to the park, to a movie about twice a week, out and about, etc. Every situation is different. In his case, he wrote a book totally using a computer that works with eyebrow movement, because his eyebrow is the only thing he can move. He uses the book sales [the book is called "Not in Kansas Anymore"] to raise funds for his care. He is the epitomy of strength and resilience. Most people with ALS will tell you that before their diagnosis they would have said "I'd rather be dead than live like_____." You can fill in the blank with any scenario/phase of ALS. For me, it could have been "I'd rather be dead than not be able to wash my hair three times a week/take a shower daily/not be able to go to the beach/not be able to drive, etc. etc. BUT when you get to each stage, you adjust, you accept, you are happy to be here.