Equipment

Wheelchairs, scooters, braces, walkers, crutches.

Feb 202014
 

This is a reenactment of my position when the caregivers got to me.

This is a reenactment of my position when the caregivers got to me.

I am supposed to tilt my wheelchair every couple of hours to relieve the pressure where I sit. This past Saturday was a beautiful day (sorry those of you in the rest of the US and UK), so I chose to get horizontal out in the garden. Before I knew it I had dozed off and was awakened when my right arm slipped off the armrest. It was time to get out of the sun anyway so I attempted to raise my arm to the seat controls. I got within an inch or two and then my arm collapsed. So I tried again. No luck. “Well,” I thought, “I’ll rest a few minutes and try harder.”

Still couldn’t get my arm high enough to grab the armrest. By now both arms were becoming sore from dangling and I realized I would never build up enough strength. There are usually a few people wandering around in the garden, but not this day. Surely someone would come soon. After another 30 minutes I realized it was wishful thinking. Then I noticed I was having trouble breathing. My weak diaphragm makes it more difficult to breathe when I am horizontal.

So I tried to yell for help. Now you’re probably thinking (and you would be right), “How can someone with weak breathing muscles do a good job of yelling for help?”

I decided to pace myself and yell for help two or three times every few minutes. After another 15 minutes, I heard lots of excited voices and was soon surrounded by caregivers who restored me to the upright position. It turned out a resident had been enjoying the sun on our patio about 200 feet away, heard me calling, alerted the staff and I was saved!

I wish I could say, “All’s well that ends well,” but not really. Now I know I can’t venture far from the facility on my own if there is any chance I might, through force of habit, tilt my wheelchair.

I often say that inclusion body myositis forces me to rewrite my life’s script. Lately, it seems it’s trying to force me into coming up with an ending.

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 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.

Dec 192013
 

What if you liked to drive fast? And what if you couldn’t drive at all? What if the most exciting part of any trip was when you tried to negotiate your power chair onto the EZ-LOK system on the floor of your van?

Well, that’s basically my situation. But I do have a few advantages. I have a power wheelchair. It doesn’t go really fast, but I usually can catch up to most of the pedestrians on the sidewalk. More importantly, I have a GoPro camera that I can strap to my head or mount on the chair. And I have A brand-new iMac with Logic Pro X for manipulating sound and creating music plus Final Cut Pro X for editing video. Put it altogether, and what might be the result?

You are about to find out, provided you click on the video link below. It only lasts a minute and half, but it might give you a whole new idea of what life in an assisted living community could be like.

I call it Huntington Raceway Lap. You will see why.

Enjoy.

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.

Sep 232013
 

As a disease like inclusion body myositis progresses, it does more than produce the physical changes you expect. It also has a way of taking over your life. It seems that every day I spend more time trying to find solutions to living with IBM than I do actually living. It is like I had just taken the most demanding job imaginable and simply have little time for a personal life.

This may be why I am able to tolerate my current living situation. Even though I am in a very comfortable room with a perfectly large bathroom and am surrounded with just about every assistive device you could think of, it still is not what a normal person would consider ideal. The other residents are nice people, at least the ones who are capable of speaking, but for the most part they are either older than I am by many years or have other issues that prevent forming a personal bond.

About two hours of every day is spent taking care of basic physical needs such as getting up, toileting, bathing, eating, etc. The rest of the time I generally spend at my computer working on the website and blog for Huntington Manor, updating my own blog and my wife’s memorial site, visiting friends on Facebook and posting to the various support groups related to my illness. Every so often I need to tilt my wheelchair back to a horizontal position to help avoid pressure sores and circulation problems and during that time, since I am basically staring at the ceiling or the sky (see video below), I generally focus on meditation. I usually spend one or two hours out of each day looking up information about living arrangements, adaptive equipment, etc., or making phone calls about the same issues. Then there are the doctor visits which usually happen one or two times a week. Even though the appointments themselves are not that long, they involve 8 to 10 miles of wheelchair riding for the round-trips, or even longer bus rides. If there is time left over, my latest Netflix treat awaits.

As I write this, I am not sad or bitter, I am simply amazed by the way I have been so completely taken over by IBM. Up until a year ago, my post-retirement time was more likely to be spent dealing with my wife’s myotonic muscular dystrophy, as it was a disease even more complex and, as we now know, more life-threatening than mine. But that seemed like a worthwhile pursuit and as long as there was hope for making her better, what else would I be doing?

Now here is where this analysis gets a little weird. When I look at the lives other people live, I do not feel envy. if I had to describe what I feel I would say it was puzzlement. Dining out, games, camping, trips to the beach, all the things I can no longer do, I don’t really miss. Somehow I feel like what I am doing is actually entertaining.

My biggest regret about the way I live is that I wish it could be more meaningful. I am sure everyone starts having such feelings as we begin to realize that one of these days will be our last. But I have a unique opportunity since I have almost no obligations other than arranging for the assistance I need to keep me healthy. I keep returning to writing in the hopes that someday I will write something that really has meaning. I am sure that makes me one of about half a billion writers who feel the same yearning.

Unfortunately, making the decsion to “write something meaningful” isn’t enough. I am reminded of the scene in Funny Farm where Chevy Chase is sitting at his typewriter, having left his job in the city to pursue a career as a novelist. He types the title, puts in another sheet of paper, types “Chapter One,” shoves the carriage return (something young writers may not know about) and sits staring at the empty page. For days.

One of the nice things about voice recognition is that an empty screen and listening microphone can’t apply the same pressure. Eventually it will hear some background noise and start typing random words, frequently expletives. For that matter I can just start talking gibberish and Dragon Dictate will not even raise an eyebrow as it spits the words onto the screen.

See what I mean?

A two minute sample of garden meditation.

Aug 122013
 

After years of dealing with Medicare, I have managed to distill their process into this simple card.

My latest healthcare adventures have involved Medicare. The Scripps Health system managed to get into the act again as well.

Case 1: Inclusion body myositis has left me completely immobile when I sleep at night. This makes me very susceptible to pressure sores. I had developed several and was being treated by a home health nurse who told me she did not think she could make them get better as long as I was sleeping on my old mattress. It was not a cheap mattress by any means, it was a special pressure reducing mattress that cost $500. However, she told me I needed a mattress that would alternate the pressure and thus relieve susceptible areas. It also has a feature called low air loss in which tiny holes let air leak from the mattress and provide a source of oxygen to the skin which is also good for healing. She ordered the mattress through a local supplier to deliver immediately and it worked great. Within a couple of months my pressure sores were nearly gone and the home health nurse said she did not need to come back anymore. Right after that I got a call from the mattress supplier telling me that they were coming to get the mattress because Medicare would not pay for it as long as my sores were better. I said, “But my wounds will come back right away without it.” They assured me they knew that, but that is the way Medicare wants it.

In this case, rather than trying to go through a dysfunctional medical system, I simply went to Amazon, found the same mattress and ordered it. I was expecting it to be many thousands of dollars, since Medicare was paying several hundred dollars a month to rent it. However it actually only costs a few hundred dollars. (And people wonder why the Medicare system is in trouble!) Think about it: during just the time that I was renting the mattress, Medicare paid far more than it would cost to buy a brand-new one. In addition, Medicare’s policy was designed to force me to develop pressure sores all over again at which time I would again have to rent the mattress, and hire home health care again. Medicare pays approximately $200 per visit for the 15 min. that a nurse spends changing a dressing.

Case 2: I have been on a BiPAP system every night for the past 15 years. Not only is my breathing weak because of inclusion body myositis, but I also have severe sleep apnea which was diagnosed by UCSD. Recently Medicare instituted a new “competitive bidding” system which opens up each type of durable medical equipment to bidding from any company anywhere in the United States. This has left out most of the smaller companies that had always given people excellent service. In my case, it meant my provider could no longer furnish me with BiPAP supplies since they did not win at competitive bidding. I either had to go to another local company which has a terrible reputation for bad service or go to one of the out-of-state companies that won the bidding. Neither was a good option. However, if my need could be escalated another level to a constant volume type of BiPAP instead of a constant pressure type, it would not be subject to competitive bidding and I could retain my good supplier. The supplier was certain that I would qualify due to my advanced disease. So I went to the doctor at Scripps who sent me to their pulmonologist who really did not know much about my history but was skeptical as to whether I needed that kind of help. So now before I can qualify, I have to do overnight oximetry which entails two trips to Scripps clinic, one to pick up the equipment and the other to return it. In addition I must have several pulmonary function tests and a blood arterial gas test. Then, depending on the results, he may prescribe the more advanced equipment. All because a bunch of clerks of Medicare think they know how to practice medicine.

Meanwhile, politicians in Washington are arguing about whether Medicare benefits should be cut back. They rarely argue about whether the Medicare system should operate more intelligently.

If you came here from the later article about low air loss mattresses, here is where you get back.

Jul 232013
 

A photo of Earth taken from nearly a billion miles away by Cassini orbiting Saturn. I am in the picture.

Living with a progressive untreatable disability like inclusion body myositis can be very difficult, but it is not rocket science––or is it? Friday, July 19, I toured the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena California, and shot lots of video footage with my new GoPro Hero 3 Black camera. It just happened to be the day that the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn was going to take a picture of Earth. Many of the employees of JPL were out in the courtyard waving for the picture. You cannot see them in the video but you can hear them. I also included the picture that Cassini took of Earth, with the assumption that I am in the shot. The shakiness in the video comes from my inability to hold my hands very steady. I should have used my helmet mount, but I thought that might give security some problems.

Now about the rocket science. To begin with, it turns out the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is no longer that concerned with jet propulsion other than hitching a ride with a rocket to get to where they need to go. Their main focus these days is on robotics. Their mission control center is all about sending and receiving signals through millions and even billions of miles of space. For example, the photograph that is on this page and featured in the video showing Earth as seen from Saturn, was taken by the Cassini orbiter. if you wanted to be in the photograph (not that anybody would really know you were) you needed to be facing Saturn and smiling and waving about one hour and 20 min. before Cassini actually snapped the shutter. That is how long it takes the light waves to get from Earth to Saturn.

But on a more down to earth example, the camera I used, my GoPro, is a marvel of technology in its own right. Slightly larger than a matchbox and not much heavier, it can shoot video that is 4000 pixels wide and I control it with my iPhone. Despite being unable to move my fingers, I was able to compose a fairly complex score to go with the video using Logic Pro software on my iMac and a Korg Nanokey keyboard that is perfect for me since the keys merely need to be touched. The video editing was done using Final Cut Pro X, an amazing software program that puts the equivalent of a million-dollar video production studio onto my desktop for a cost of about $300. Finally, I am dictating this entire blog, along with tens of thousands of words that I have recently written for books in progress using Dragon Dictate voice-recognition software.

Thank you scientists everywhere, and please keep these wonderful innovations coming!

Jul 212013
 

Mike wearing GoPro

Here I am wearing my new camera. I just have to be careful not to nod my head if somebody waves to me!

Every time I think I have hit upon a pastime that I can continue to pursue despite the progression of my illness, I discover how wrong I was. When I was forced to give up work, I took up painting. That lasted for 10 years until my arms and hands became too weak to guide a brush. So I decided to take up writing a blog. But that meant I had to overcome the weakness of my fingers – fortunately voice-recognition was improving and it is a pretty good substitute. However the other part of writing a blog is photography. Over the past few months my hands and arms have become too weak to hold the camera or cell phone and press a shutter. Since part of my new “job” now that I am living at Huntington Manor assisted living is maintaining their website and blog, photography is a very important part of my work. I was about ready to throw up my hands and quit (except I cannot throw up my hands anymore) but then I was watching a NASCAR race and one of the cars was sponsored by GoPro. I had heard the name before and knew that it was some kind of camera system, so I looked it up on the Internet. I discovered that the GoPro was a very compact camera that had been designed by surfers to allow them to make videos of their rides. It soon spread in popularity and was used by skateboarders, skiers, model airplane builders, free base jumpers, and just about anyone who wished to make a video record of their exploits. It came with a waterproof housing of course but that did not interest me so much. What really caught my attention was both its light weight and the fact that it could be controlled remotely using an iPhone app.

I visited my favorite store (Amazon.com), read about the various models and ordered the GoPro Black, the one with the highest resolution. I also ordered the special mounting system that goes around the head. Now I have a camera system that I can take with me without having to hold it in my hands, and I control all of its functions from my iPhone resting on my lap. I have been using it for a couple of weeks now and have already produced a major video for Huntington Manor as well as taking the number of other photographs. It does not have a zoom, but it has the capability of taking very high resolution video, double the size of high-definition, which means that I can use video editing software to zoom in on sections that I have shot, without winding up with fuzzy, pixelated video. Below are my first videos produced using this camera.

I have included this link to the GoPro camera description on Amazon in case anyone is interested in getting one for themselves. There are three different models, but I highly recommend getting the highest resolution “Black” model which would then allow zooming in postproduction.

This is a video I made about the Huntington Manor Summer Picnic. It includes the food preparation in the kitchen as well as the event itself. All the video was shot with the GoPro camera, and edited using Final Cut Pro Xon my iMac. The background music was created using Band in a Box, The only way I can create music these days is using that program. I can use one finger to type in the chords and a simple melody and it does the rest.

Here is another video shot with the GoPro. I placed it near the bird feeders at Huntington Manor and from a distance waited for the goldfinches to arrive and then started the camera recording. The video was shot at 120 frames per second to produce the slow-motion effect.

Jun 282013
 

Dear bidet, you have no idea how much I have missed you for the past 24 hours.

After struggling with inclusion body myositis for more than 17 years, it was a bout of constipation that finally sent me to the hospital. After 17 days, I owed too large a debt to my toilet to ignore the problem any longer.

I checked into Scripps Green Hospital late in the afternoon. I was in my Permobil C500 power chair, but I was forced to abandon that for a gurney. The hospital staff seemed shocked when I told them that I could not stand up and transfer, they would have to find a way to lift me. A Hoyer lift I suggested. They shook their heads. “We will get a lift team,” one orderly said.

Silly me, I expected to see a few rejects from the San Diego Chargers show up. Instead, it appeared that their lift team consisted of anyone who was not on break at the moment. I tried to explain that I had contractures on my left arm and left leg and that I would be no help whatsoever, not because I did not want to, but because I could not. Nevertheless, they each grabbed a limb and said “one, two, three!” and lifted. I have a fairly high tolerance for pain, and even when something really hurts I try not to make too much of it. I literally screamed out loud at the top of my lungs. But on a positive note, they didn’t drop me to the floor. This process was repeated when they transferred me to the x-ray table, then transferred me back, then to my final destination––a bed in room 466.

At last! Oh how wrong I was. You see in order to cure my bout of extreme irregularity they were going to administer “GoLghtly” which is mostly used to prepare for a colonoscopy. It makes you Go, but certainly not Lightly. In my case it was a way to force the issue. After drinking a couple of quarts of the stuff, I was ready for the next phase at about 3 am. A nurse’s aide came in response to my call button (eventually) and I explained what was about to happen. She extended her arm and wondered if I needed help to the toilet. Obviously the second shift had not been told about my condition. When I told her that I could not walk, stand, or even roll from side to side, she left quickly in search of help. Help consisted of two more aides and a bedpan.

Their technique was simple, but brutal. They would shove me to one side of the bed, rolling me in the process, then put a very uncomfortable plastic thing beneath and roll me back the other way so that I was perched on top of it. Now my pain was complete. In order to shut me up, they brought in several more pillows and placed them in areas that bothered me the most. Of course the entire process had to be repeated to remove the pan. And both processes were repeated five more times during the night.

By morning, I was declared “fixed” and a nurse asked if I would like to have breakfast. You would not think I could have an appetite after all that, but since I had not eaten for nearly 24 hours, I let them bring it to me. I don’t need to tell you what hospital food is, but fortunately it was not possible for me to eat any of it. My dysphagia means I must be sitting upright but the hospital bed wouldn’t take me to that position.

“Can’t you just sit on the edge of the bed with your legs dangling over the side?” the nurse asked. Once again I had to explain about having no upper trunk support. So they put the breakfast on the over-bed table and shoved it up close to my face. Of course I could not raise my arms high enough to even pick up a fork, let alone get something to my mouth. When the nurse returned and saw that I had not eaten anything, she offered to feed me a few bites. A few bites was all it took to send me into violent coughing spasms whereupon she promptly decided I needed a consult with a respiratory therapist and a speech therapist. For that matter, why not also have occupational therapy and physical therapy? (I was on Medicare with a good supplement after all.)

So, for the three hours before lunch, I was visited by all of them plus a case manager, charge nurse, resident doctor, dietitian and nutritionist. Then came lunch and once again they tried to feed me, and once again it was nearly impossible. By then they were ready to fill out my discharge papers and send me home. But there was one last minor detail. They had to get me out of the bed and onto my wheelchair. This time they did get a Hoyer lift, but none of them had used one before, so it was a part scary/comical procedure that lasted for the better part of half an hour and ended with me kind of in my wheelchair.

Now I am back at Huntington Manor, sitting in my very comfortable Permobil, secure in the knowledge that soon my two caregivers will use the overhead ceiling lift to painlessly lift me from the chair and place me in my bed.

I had asked one of the nurses why the hospital was not better equipped to handle people like me. Her answer was that they had all kinds of patients, not just people like me. Of course that is true, however local grocery stores also have all kinds of people shopping there, but that does not prevent them from having wide unobstructed isles, handicap parking out front, and automatic doors. Time and again I read of people complaining about the inaccessibility of healthcare facilities, yet nothing is ever done about it. if I were a little bit younger I might take this up as a cause. It is not that I am too old for the work, it is just that I know I would never see any progress during my lifetime.