Beth

The last days of my beautiful wife who passed away October 11, 2012.

Aug 242016
 

image001

JOHN MICHAEL SHIRK
1940 – 2016
John Michael “Mike” Shirk died peacefully on Sunday, August 21, 2016 in Poway, CA after a 20-year struggle with the muscle disease inclusion body myositis (IBM). A writer, artist, and an inspiration to others living with disabilities, Mike spent his last days surrounded by family and friends. He was preceded in death by his loving wife, Elizabeth A. (Williams) Shirk.
Mike was born November 3, 1940, in New Castle, IN to John F. and Dorothy (Zerr) Shirk. After graduating from Hagerstown High School, Mike studied mechanical engineering at Purdue University, marketing at Wayne State University, and later earned his Bachelor of Business Administration, Marketing from National University. Mike’s professional career began at Perfect Circle Corporation in Hagerstown and later flourished in Detroit, MI when he launched the advertising campaign for the Pontiac Firebird. Career opportunities brought Mike and his family to San Diego, CA in 1969. He then served as Executive VP and Creative Director at Chapman Warwick Advertising for more than 7 years. In 1993, Mike partnered to start up Michael Talbart Advertising, where he continued to receive numerous awards until his retirement in 1999.
Mike was constantly challenging himself. He began to study watercolor and painting soon after his diagnosis in 1996. One of his paintings, “Point Piños Light,” earned a place in the Permanent Art Collection of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. His paintings have been accepted in numerous juried art competitions, including the San Diego Watercolor Society (“SDWS”) International Exhibition, Watercolor West, the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies and the Northwest Watercolor Society. Mike formerly served as the President of the SDWS, where he made numerous contributions including designing a database system and interactive website.
When Mike was no longer able to paint he turned his focus back to writing, sharing his experiences of living with disability. In 2010, Mike started his blog, “Life! Disabled,” to tell his story and provide “tips, tools, and inspiration for the physically challenged.” In 2014, Mike wrote and self-published his book Rolling Back: Through a Life Disabled completely using voice recognition software. Mike also wrote and performed an original song, “I Won’t Stand for That.”
Mike is survived by daughters, Linda (Howard) Gale, Jennifer (Andrew) Schilling and Karen (Ben) Kelly; sons Steven (Ailyn) Shirk and William (Claudia) Shirk; grandchildren Jarod (Sarah) Reyes, Jason (Katy) Shirk, Sarah (Rich) Payne, Becky (Julian) Davis, Britni Shirk, Kristina Shirk, Cody Shirk, Elijah Shirk, Kaitlyn Kelly, Stephanie Shirk, Nicole Shirk, Jackson Kelly, Lawrence Shirk, Timothy Shirk, and Ashley Schilling; and five great-grandchildren.
A gathering to celebrate Mike’s life will be held at his daughter’s home in Poway on Monday, August 29, at 3PM. For more information, please contact mshirksd@gmail.com.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Myositis Association in Mike’s honor through www.myositis.org or mailed to 1737 King Street, Suite 600, Alexandria, VA 22314.

Jun 282016
 

I was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis 20 years ago. Throughout this blog I have recorded the various stages of weakness and disability that I have experienced. I have always wondered how the story would end. Now I know. I hope this will help others suffering from my condition.

The past few months I have noticed the effects of my weakness to a much greater extent. Especially with respect to being able to hold myself upright when sitting, the ability to breathe, and most importantly, the ability to swallow. People have suggested a feeding tube however that would have meant moving to a different type of facility and a much lower quality of life. Therefore I decided that would be something I would never do.

Two weeks ago I woke up with pain in my left side that greatly restricted my ability to take a deep breath. I also seemed more congested than usual and attributed it to a cold. However after a week the cold had not gone away and I was spiking high temperatures at night. Eventually I decided I had to go to the urgent care.

At urgent care they took a chest x-ray and said I had aspiration pneumonia in three places in my lungs: upper right, upper left and lower left. I was immediately transported to the hospital where they began giving me their strongest antibiotics IV.

Their speech therapists evaluated my ability to swallow which was made much worse by the hospital bed that did not give me the lateral support I need in order to sit upright and swallow. So she said they would not be able to give me food or water. After two days the doctor came in and said I was not getting better and that I would never get better because they could not get nutrition into me. He suggested a feeding tube but added that even that might not be any difference. Of course I refused the feeding tube. He then told me my best option was to return to my assisted-living facility under hospice care. They would continue the antibiotics and I would be able to eat and have a chance to fight off the pneumonia. However he cautioned that under even the best of circumstances there was a good chance that this would be the end of my life. He was a very good doctor and went on to say that I had been fighting this inclusion body myositis for many years and that now it just might be time for me to stop.

I am back at Huntington Manor now and despite the antibiotics and being able to eat (although not wanting to) I am back to running high fevers at night which is a sure sign the pneumonia is continuing to worsen.

I am on hospice and they will keep me comfortable as I complete this journey. I have made many online friends over these years and I value those friendships deeply. I simply couldn’t leave without saying goodbye.

Apr 142016
 
Back where I belong.

Huntington Manor assisted living in Poway, California.

I recently returned to Huntington Manor assisted living after spending 15 months at a much larger, more expensive facility which I will refer to as “The Other Place.” People have wondered why I came back to Huntington Manor and, if I like it better here, why did I move in the first place? These are good questions and my answers may interest you.

Huntington Manor is a 27-bed assisted living facility located on the outskirts of Poway, California. My wife and I moved here in the spring of 2012 because it was the only place we could find that would accept my overhead lift system and was priced low enough that we could afford two rooms. My wife died a few months later but I remained here for another two years. I liked the location, had become friends with the owner, had gotten to know the staff well and enjoyed working on their website and blog.

Is this all there is?

My family felt that I was not taking advantage of some of the extra amenities that were available in larger facilities. So every once in a while I would check out a few of them, however I always got the same answer, “Sorry, but we can’t take care of someone as disabled as you and we definitely don’t want your overhead lifts in our facility.”

One day I was told about a place near the coast that might accept my physical requirements and my lifts so I checked them out. Like the other large facilities, they promised an extensive activities program, restaurant–style dining, frequent excursions, and several common areas where residents could mingle. When I asked about my overhead lifts, they said they would have to check it out with “corporate.” At the time I didn’t know exactly what that meant but I certainly do now. After several weeks they told me I was approved. But could I afford to live there?

Large assisted living facility

Could I afford to live this large?

Sticker shock.

Do you ever see those reports about assisted living that show the average cost by state and think “that’s not so bad.” It wouldn’t be if those were the actual costs, but sadly they are not. When the larger facilities publish costs or give them out over the telephone they are quoting the base rate for a room and the most standard care level available. (Smaller facilities are less likely to use this tactic.) There are very few people entering assisted living who could live with that amount of care. If you have difficulty transferring or walking or keeping track of appointments and medicines or dressing or feeding yourself, you will pay a lot more. The way it works is the facility will do an “assessment” and assign points for each type of care you need. Would you like help taking a shower? Do you have difficulty cutting meat? Do you have other bathroom issues? Based on the number of points, they will assess you an additional daily rate. In my case, the basic charge for the room was $140 per day, but the added charge for providing me assistance was $80 per day. That meant I would be paying $6600 per month for those months with 30 days — much more than I was paying at Huntington Manor. Nevertheless, they were advertising so many extra services that I felt I should try it out.

Corporate greed trumps senior need.

If I had known what was going on behind the scenes, I would have made a different decision. I had been given the standard story –a married couple started this chain of facilities out of a desire to create lodging for seniors that felt more like homes and less like hospitals. This was true, and from the stories I heard from people who had worked there for many years, life used to be very good for both the staff and the residents. But then came the economic downturns and the big corporations smelled blood in the water. Today The Other Place is owned by a real estate investment trust (REIT) that packaged several hundred senior living facilities together and offers shares to investors. They have no interest in the business or the residents — but they certainly worry about their shareholders. They contract with large property management corporations to run each of the facilities as profitably as possible. How do you get more profits? You cut costs and raise rates.

I experienced the cost-cutting first. This showed up in the number and quality of the activities offered, the quality of the food, and the number of caregivers available.

Activities – not my idea of good times.

The main reason my family wanted me to move to a large facility was for the activities. Even before the cost-cutting, I discovered that most of the activities were designed around the needs of people who were much older and especially for those who were suffering from early stages of memory loss. I’m sure my children picture me have a lively conversations, going to movies, developing close friendships, etc. Sadly, that did not turn out to be the case. Most of the activities focused on either playing bingo, or playing simple word games. There were crafts every couple of weeks but they were usually at the level of early elementary school. I understand that I was not the target audience for their program. Assisted living activities programs are mostly for people who are over the age of 80, female and with some form of cognitive difficulties.

The one program I truly enjoyed was the music. They brought in professional musicians who performed and encouraged residents to join in singing. Of course that cost money and it was one of the the first programs to be affected by budget cuts. The number of acts was cut in half and some performers just quit coming because the pay was too low. There were monthly excursions and weekly trips to local restaurants but I preferred my wheelchair and public transit for the independence it gave me. Besides, many of the residents needed to be watched carefully, so any trips away from the facility required at least one caregiver for every two residents to make sure no one wandered off. This limited the number of participants to about ten residents.

Dining

I had heard stories about the elegant dinners they used to serve, and you still see pictures of food from those events posted on their website. I never saw any personally however because by the time I arrived all menus were being planned from the central headquarters back east and the local chef was given almost no authority to change the menu or improve the quality of food being offered. In fact, the menus were printed a month in advance and shipped to the facility to be displayed for each meal. After a few weeks, everything seemed to taste the same. That was because many of the foods were based on the same packaged ingredients. For example soups were made from one of four stock bases. Very few items were cut from scratch in the kitchen.

No turkey loafing at Huntington Manor.

No turkey loafing at Huntington Manor.

At Huntington Manor, the first step in making chicken soup is to boil some chicken. At The Other Place, most turkey or ham dinners come from deli loafs of turkey or ham. Here, they come from turkeys and hams.

Cuts in caregiving.

Perhaps the saddest result of corporate greed is what happened to the caregivers and their relationships with residents. When I arrived there were seven or eight caregivers on duty during the daytime hours. They were charged with caring for approximately 70 residents. By the time I left, many days there were only five caregivers for the same number of residents. If you are doing the math you’ll see this works out to one caregiver for every 14 residents. Subtract from that the several hours per day they must spend on other tasks such as working in the dining room and there is obviously little time to get to know a resident well. By contrast, at Huntington Manor we have five caregivers on duty during the daytime for 27 residents – – an average of about one caregiver for every five residents. At night, the contrast is even more dramatic. The Other Place has two caregivers on duty at night for all 70 residents. Huntington Manor has three on duty for 27 residents.

At both facilities, the people who actually provide the care are competent and hard-working. Many of them truly enjoy what they do and like to help people. Because the pay levels are so low they typically work two or more jobs to support their families. They deserve our respect. Unfortunately many of the residents have personality disorders that go along with dementia, making them difficult to care for. In my four years of living in facilities, I have never experienced any kind of abuse but I have certainly seen caregivers on the receiving end of it.

Where does the payroll go?

Something else that comes along with bloated corporate ownership is bloated staff. It’s wasteful but may be necessary to keep up with the record-keeping and regulatory demands of a big corporation. Where I am now we have four staff who are seldom involved in direct patient care: the owner, the administrator, the cleaning person and the gardener. At The Other Place most of the common areas are filled with offices. There is the executive director plus people in charge of the business office, sales, assisted living, intermediate memory care, health services, activities, food service, maintenance, and reception. Many of these have their own staff. Every two months or so a carload of impeccably dressed executives descends on the managers and hovers over them making sure every procedure is carried out according to the corporate book. I’m sure the regional managers fly back to headquarters every so often for some of the same treatment. Almost lost from sight are the five or so caregivers themselves.

The big price increase.

When I was negotiating the price for The Other Place, I was given a chart showing price increases during the past several years. They averaged about 2% which made me feel comfortable that I could manage them. After a year I got my first actual price increase. It was just under 10%! Doing some investigating, I learned that a dollar increase of about the same amount was likely for the following year. There was no way I could afford to live here unless I changed to one of the smallest rooms. To do that I would need to reinstall my overhead lifts – an expense of about $2000 and adjust to a cramped lifestyle and wait for the next round of cost cutting and price increases. It so happened that I heard from Huntington Manor the next day asking if I would like to return. I really didn’t have to think twice. So now I am back here and far happier. I miss my favorite caregiver at The Other Place but I am back with good friends that I had here before. If only I had known all of this beforehand, it would have saved me tens of thousands of dollars.

Conclusion:

Despite my experience, I am not recommending people avoid larger facilities. For their target audience, they are providing the services those people seek and can afford to pay for. If someone has Alzheimer’s disease, it could be a very good choice. However, for those of us whose challenge is mostly loss of mobility, we may need to be more creative in our selection process. The big chains now control the largest portion of assisted living beds, but there are many intermediate and small privately owned facilities. Here in California, six-bed Residential Care For the Elderly (RCFE) properties are everywhere. They are less strictly regulated and can offer personally tailored types of care sometimes at significantly less cost. I was unable to find one that could meet my needs, but not many people are as mobility-challenged as I am. If you are facing the prospect of needing more care then you can receive at home, don’t be discouraged. During these past four years the good moments have far outweighed the bad and I’m looking forward to more.

Mike Shirk

Feb 252016
 
On the left, the way we were in 1996. On the right, with some of my grandchildren and great grandchildren, late last year.

On the left, the way we were in 1996. On the right, with some of my grandchildren and great grandchildren, late last year.

Normally, my “Chronicles of Disability” consists of annual reports on the changes in my health over the previous 12 months. I forgot to post a report for the year 2014, but perhaps it’s just as well because there were very few changes – – just more weakness in general. So now we come to this major milestone. It has been 20 years since I was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis (IBM). This rare muscle wasting disease is described as “slowly progressing”. That may be true one month to the next or even one year to the next. But when the person I was in 1996 is compared to who I am today, the contrast is jaw-dropping.

Twenty years ago I didn’t think there was much wrong with me. Yes I was slowing down in my running, and my golf shots seemed to be getting shorter, and I did fall once in a while, so what? I was 55 years old, just normal aging? I could still hike mountain trails, jog (slowly), show up for work every morning, work around the house, go to parties with my wife, take long driving vacations. Life was very good.

Now, I very nearly meet the criteria of a quadriplegic. I can’t move either of my legs or my left arm. I can only raise my right arm a few inches above my waist. I cannot stand, walk, or transfer without the aid of an overhead lift system and a caregiver. This will probably be the last year that I am able to continue feeding myself, unless the new drug (BYM338) gets released and actually works. My fingers don’t bend and my speech is getting quite weak. This is making my writing avocation more challenging and I may need to give it up within a year or so. Unrelated to my disease, but definitely affecting my life, my wife died of her own rare muscle illness in 2012.

My current home features the ultimate "open floor plan". My wheelchair loves it.

My current home features the ultimate “open floor plan”. My wheelchair loves it.

At the time of my initial diagnosis, we were living in a two-story four-bedroom home overlooking the mountains of southern California and a little slice of the Pacific Ocean. Today I am living in 250 square feet in an assisted living facility. The room is comfortable, the view isn’t bad (mostly of an ancient olive grove), the caregivers are friendly and helpful, and the food is very good. My days are spent doing what writing I can, either for Huntington Manor or for my Life Disabled blog, but that work is getting more difficult every day. So instead I am catching up on a lot of movies and television and doing a little reading. I also like to take my wheelchair out on long jaunts through the countryside and down to the local business district of Poway. Huntington Manor is launching a major renovation of the facility and I have been promised one of the beautiful new rooms that will overlook the garden and the hills beyond. That is enough to keep me motivated to stick around until the project is finished in 2017.

When I first started this blog, and when I wrote “Rolling Back: Through a Life Disabled” I suggested that the newly diagnosed read about my experiences to be properly prepared for what lies ahead. Now with a new treatment on the horizon, it is quite likely they may never have to experience this severe of a decline.

I have reposted many of the pictures and captions from the past 20 years. I think they tell an interesting story about the effects IBM has had on one person’s life. As you’ll see, I have remained generally happy and hopeful throughout that time, but I must admit that my general mood has been declining. Recently, I saw a neurologist who lowered my expectations for the new drug by pointing out that it would not be of any use for the muscles that were already dead and that, in my case, most of the muscles are completely destroyed. The most I can hope for is maintaining the minimal capabilities I have now.

By the way, one of the special pleasures I get these days is when someone purchases my book. It’s available on Amazon — just click on the link on this page — seven dollars for paperback and three dollars for the Kindle edition, or free if you are using Kindle Unlimited.

Nov 192015
 

My new/old home is calling me back.

My new/old home is calling me back.

My former assisted-living facility has been tugging at my emotions for some time. Then my current facility gave me a swift kick in the wallet. So I am moving back to Huntington Manor in Poway, the place that originally welcomed my wife and me with all of our disabilities, where I was living when she died and just a mile from where her ashes are buried. Compared to my current facility, it is one fourth the size, 30 miles further inland, and more country then luxury. But it is also much closer to my eldest daughter and many of my friends, more flexible in the kind and amount of care provided and surrounded by the mountains and trails I have enjoyed for so much of my life. So when I received the letter from Sunrise telling me my rates were being raised by nearly 10%, the message was clear: “Go!”

I can’t have my old room back with its gorgeous view, but they are doing all they can to make me comfortable in a different arrangement. I will be occupying two rooms that were recently constructed as part of an overall improvement project. (You can see them in the background of the photograph.) In a few weeks, once I am settled, I will share some of the insights I have gained into the big business side of assisted living. One little preview – – instead of a family–owned chain of facilities, I have actually been living in a real estate investment trust, VENTAS, comprising many hundreds of properties, each being run by property management firms, with the primary emphasis on returns to investors. Exactly what that means to the residents, and the hard-working caregivers who serve them, will be the subject of my next blog post.

Feb 132014
 

The paperback version of Rolling Back: Through a Life Disabled

The paperback version of Rolling Back: Through a Life Disabled

Rolling Back has been published in paperback and is available on Amazon for $6.99 ($6.64 for Amazon Prime members). There is also the Kindle version that costs $2.99. I have provided links to each of them below.

Writing and publishing Rolling Back as been a personally rewarding experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Several people have urged me to write another, and I will probably try. However I think I’m ready for a change of pace and may attempt a fiction novel next. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Paperback:

Kindle:

Feb 072014
 
Here is the cover for the paperback version of my book.

As most of you know (I hope) I have published the Kindle edition of Rolling Back: Through a Life Disabled. (You can see the Amazon listing by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post.) I had assumed that most people were now reading books electronically. However I quickly learned that many of you prefer to read books that you can hold in your hands, turn the pages, etc.
I remember those days. Unfortunately I’m no longer able to do that. But the good news is that there now are so many options available for reading on a screen. I am too weak to even hold a Kindle so I use the Kindle Reader on my computer. I have also recently signed up for a wonderful service through the local library called BookShare. It is for people like me who are not capable of holding a book. It is also for the blind. Once you have established your disability and have been accepted into the program, you can scroll through all of the books that a regular library might hold and select ones you want to read. They’re delivered instantly to your computer where you can either read them on the screen, or listen to them. I am very grateful that this program exists.

This is how I read (the 27 inch iMac) and how I write (microphone for voice recognition).

This is how I read (the 27 inch iMac) and how I write (microphone for voice recognition).

The paperback version of my book should be published in about three weeks. It has been a much more complicated process than publishing for Amazon Kindle. Both versions recommend that you work with Microsoft Word, but the publishing process for a paperback needs everything formatted to the exact size of the finished book.
Once the paperback is available you will notice its price is more than double that of the Kindle version. ($6.99 for the paperback versus $2.99 for Kindle.) This simply reflects the printing costs involved in producing a 134 page book with a full-color cover. If you’re curious, my royalty is greater for the Kindle version. I have received some kind reviews about my book. Thank you!

Feb 042014
 

This is the cover for my new book. The art is a slightly modified version of one of my late wife's paintings.

This is the cover for my new book. The art is a slightly modified version of one of my late wife’s paintings.

My book, Rolling Back: Through a Life Disabled, has been published and is available as a Kindle version on Amazon. You don’t need a Kindle to read it, you can read it on any computer or any tablet for smart phone using the free Kindle app. Kindle owners who are Amazon Prime members can borrow it for free.

Rolling Back will be available as a paperback in a few weeks. Right now it is only in the Kindle format, but will be expanded to include other e-readers in three months. The price for the Kindle version is just $2.99. If cost is an issue I hope to be able to offer it free for five days on Amazon. When that happens, I will let everyone know.

Jan 092014
 

At Huntington Manor assisted living working on my first book. Since I can't move my fingers, I write using voice recognition. Thus the headset.

At Huntington Manor assisted living working on my first book. Since I can’t move my fingers, I write using voice recognition. Thus the headset.

Some of you will recall that a few months ago I decided to learn how to write applications for the iPhone and iPad. I diligently studied and practiced the computer programs necessary to master if one is going to write an App. Despite my hard work, I found the lack of finger dexterity to be an overwhelming obstacle, since code writing involves a large number of special characters that are tedious to dictate. (I can’t use a conventional computer keyboard due to the loss of movement in my fingers.) There are also a lot of corrections to be made as you work, even more so than with conventional writing, and those corrections are even more tedious. The end result was that I was spending 3 to 4 times as long learning each chapter as the other members of my online class. So I finally realized that writing Apps would not be in my future.

The lemonade that came of that sour experience was that I became more proficient using voice recognition technology. Did that mean that possibly I could get back to doing some serious writing? Perhaps, although I know better than to get too enthusiastic as that seems to be an invitation for my disease to pick up the closest bucket of cold water and throw it on me.

I am cautiously working on some writing projects. One is a book that is fairly far along. You have to remember that, for me, something that is fairly far along must be measured differently. For instance if I’m fairly far along to the store, it means that I have been riding on my wheelchair for half an hour and am about halfway there. In writing terms, it means that I have finished the first draft of a nonfiction book. The topic is – – surprise! – – What it has been like to have a rare, untreatable, progressive muscle-wasting illness and the various ways I have found to cope with it. The book is made a little more complex since my wife also developed a muscle disease and I became a caregiver as well as a care receiver.

Once the book is finished, I plan to publish it as an e-book on Amazon Kindle and SmashWords, formats that will allow it to be downloaded and read on Kindles, iPads and other tablets and computers. I may also use CreateSpace to make it available as a paperback.

I am still deciding on a title so I won’t use it here, but here is the text I plan to use to sell the book:

Why you may need to read (This Book) right now.

Many years ago I would have loved to have found this book. I had been diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy called inclusion body myositis, and I had no idea what to expect. If could roll back time so I could have had this book then, my life would have turned out much differently. I would have done a much better job of preparing for what lay ahead, avoided being blindsided by changes I didn’t see coming, traveled more and worried about money less, hugged my wife and children more because I would have known there would come a day when I could not.
Going by the philosophy of better late than never, I have written (This Book) to give myself advice should they perfect time travel in the next few years. But if they don’t, maybe you or someone you know or especially someone you care for has been diagnosed with a disease that is going to impact the ability to function in life and this could be exactly the book you need right now.
I was diagnosed with my rare and untreatable form of muscular dystrophy in 1996, although I suffered from its effects for many years before. Just about the time I was learning to adapt, my wife went out and got her own rare and untreatable form of muscular dystrophy. Not the same as mine, she was far too original to do that. She had myotonic muscular dystrophy. But they were similar in the way they took away our ability to walk, to use our hands in a skillful manner (a serious issue since we were both artists) and they seemed to force us to rethink our living arrangements every other week. This book is about the things we learned, and that I am still learning by myself now that my wife has succumbed to her illness. I’ve shared some, but by no means all, of this information with the tens of thousands of people who have visited my Life Disabled blog. You will find links to parts of that blog sprinkled here and there, as it contains hundreds of pictures and illustrations and even videos that would be impractical to include.
I hope you find (This Book) to be interesting, sometimes entertaining, but always helpful.

Nov 182013
 
Read more about my drinking problem below.

Read more about my drinking problem below.

It is time for my annual update of “Chronicles of Disability.” However rather than simply cover the changes that have happened this year, I have decided to add some new content. This is partially due to my work on a new book I am writing which will tell the story of the journey (or should I say forced march) that my wife and I traveled through the jungles of disability. My own struggle with inclusion body myositis began in 1985, 11 years before I was formally diagnosed, and it continues to this day.

Part of the new content is a gallery of photographs, some new, some from earlier posts on this blog. My goal is to eventually put the entire visual record of my attempts to adapt to inclusion body myositis in one place, organized in chronological order.

This past year has been very difficult. It began with grieving for my wife who lost her battle with myotonic muscular dystrophy October 11, 2012. That grieving process will probably never end although it does change and has become less intrusive on my daily life. During that time I have also experienced the worst decline of physical function of any previous year. Most of that physical loss has been focused on my shoulders, arms and hands. I can no longer hold a Beefeater on the rocks, a Johnny Walker Black with a twist of lemon, a Cadillac Margarita, or even a glass of Petite Syrah. I also can’t hold a glass of water, but that seems to be a minor inconvenience by comparison. Dressing myself is now completely out of the question as is holding a camera or picking anything up from the table, bed or floor. Eating has been reduced to a process resembling a scene from a Monty Python movie. Getting anything from a plate to my mouth involves a slinging motion that frequently sends food flying in unexpected directions.


Now before this pity party gets out of control, I should point out that I continue to find ways to adapt. For example, there is a terrific acrylic beverage cup on Amazon that I use for coffee, whiskey, and wine. It is lightweight, has a handle that fits my hand perfectly and is relatively inexpensive. I can sling it through the air, provided it is only half-full, and generally get it pretty close to my mouth. (There is a slightly larger mug that I use for water.) As to the photography, that problem was solved when I purchased my GoPro and installed the iPhone app to control it. (See an earlier post.) Eating remains an unresolved challenge although I would rather put up with a messy aftermath then resort to being fed. I can only imagine how the pressure to eat quickly and my swallowing problem would combine, with serious consequences no doubt.


Voice recognition continues to get better with each iteration. Now my new iMac with its Mavericks operating system has built-in voice recognition that is almost as good as Dragon Dictate but has the advantage of being launched immediately by simply pushing the function key twice. I still use Dragon Dictate for the longer projects such as this post.