Home Modifications

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.

May 252015
 

As a degenerative physical disease such as myositis progresses, our coping methods also progress. In the beginning there are inexpensive physical aids such as canes and walkers and often the help of a spouse or family member. Then come more expensive pieces of equipment such as wheelchairs, hospital beds, adaptive toilets, lifting mechanisms and modified vans. Next may come home renovations or moves to homes with more appropriate layouts. Next we may hire caregivers from home health agencies. Finally comes the really big decision of whether to enter a facility. Recently I have noticed more discussion about assisted living or skilled nursing facilities among the myositis community. I can only speculate that as awareness grows and diagnoses increase in number more of us have advanced to the point we can no longer live independently.

It is difficult to write a general article about the need for assisted living or the experience of residing in such a facility because there is no federal standard. It has been left to each state to create its own definitions and requirements. In some states such as California, assisted living facilities may approach the level of skilled nursing in the amount of care they are allowed to provide. In other states assisted living can only provide minimal assistance with activities of daily living. For those states with more restrictions, skilled nursing may be the only option. Of course that means more expense and less freedom.

I wrote a series of blog entries on the subject of assisted living and much of the content is still valid especially for those living in a state such as California. I have provided links to each of those blog entries below. I am continuing to do research on the subject and someday I might turn this into a book. For now I will expand on the series of articles I have already written, with special emphasis on the unmet needs of the physically disabled.

Follow these links to read more:

Is it time for assisted living?

Making the decision to move to assisted living, emotionally, practically and financially.

How we chose the facility we did.

Deciding what to take, what to leave, how to adjust our expectations.

What life in assisted living has been like.

How can we make assisted living better for the physically disabled?

Oct 192014
 

Some more advantages to using an overhead lift together with a hygiene sling.

This simple device could save huge amounts of time and discomfort for people who are non-ambulatory and those who must care for them.

This simple device could save huge amounts of time and discomfort for people who are non-ambulatory and those who must care for them.

In addition to lifting someone safely and easily, an overhead lift offers some additional benefits. You might compare it to taking your car in for an oil change. Just like they put your car up on the rack to have easy access, the caregiver also has easy access to otherwise hard-to-reach areas of the person being cared for. Besides post-toileting hygiene, this helps with skin checks, skin care and changing underwear.

Changing underwear? Here’s how: while the patient is being suspended by the lift, pull the underwear around the bottom and toward the knees as far as possible. Lower the patient back down to a seat. Unhook the leg straps from the overhead lift and then bring them back up, passing them between the underwear and the seat. Lift the patient again and let the shorts fall off. Put a clean pair over the feet and legs and lower the patient once again. Unhook the leg straps from the lift. Pull the shorts as far up as they will go. Put the leg straps on the lift again, being sure they are on the outside of the shorts. One last time, lift the patient and pulled the shorts the rest of the way on. Lower the patient back to the seat and the shorts have been changed. (The process takes a lot longer to describe that it actually takes to accomplish.)

I designed and sewed pants that I could put on by laying them on the chair and  fastening them around me.

I designed and sewed pants that I could put on by laying them on the chair and fastening them around me.

What about the outer wear? Some people use open-bottom garments that are specially made for wheelchairs. Personally I prefer the type of pant that I designed which simply lays flat on the wheelchair seat and I am lowered onto it. Then it Velcros in three places – along the legs and down the front to form a complete pair of shorts that look exactly like a regular garment.

If you are not yet convinced, maybe a demonstration will help. In the interest of public decency I decided not to be the model for this brief video.


Jeff Conner, President and owner of Pacific Mobility.

Jeff Conner, President and owner of Pacific Mobility.

Special thanks to Jeff Connor, President and owner of Pacific Mobility, who recently presented me with a new overhead lift mechanism, courtesy of Prism Medical. He also brought along his panda to help demonstrate the advantages of an overhead lift and a hygiene sling.

Mar 042014
 

bookdessert
I was just finishing a follow-up visit at the wound care center, when I mentioned my book to the nurses. One of them asked how much it was and I told her it was $2.99 for the Kindle edition. “Is that too much?” I asked her. “What if it was free?”

“That would make the difference of whether I had dessert with my meal that day,” she said.

“Well in that case, the Kindle edition will be free starting this Thursday for five days.” (One thing I have learned is that it is always important to keep on the good side of your nurses.)

Because I enrolled my book in a program called “Kindle Direct Publishing Select,” I have the option of setting the price for the Kindle edition to “free” for a five day period. They offer this as a way to widen the audience for a book. The downsides are that you lose out on the royalties during this time and you risk getting some unfavorable reviews as people who may not be especially interested in such a narrow topic may feel they didn’t get their “money’s worth.”

I am hoping this promotion will also help expand awareness of inclusion body myositis and myotonic dystrophy. So it is well worth my cost.

If you haven’t want my book yet and if the reason you were holding back was at all related to the cost, please take advantage of this promotion. It starts Thursday, March 6 and ends Monday, March 10. The free book offer is only available for the Kindle edition and not the paperback which will remain available at its regular price of $6.99. (See the link to the left of this 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

Mar 202013
 

A handicap-accessible bathroom.

Every time I explore other assisted living facilities, my bathroom always draws me back to Huntington Manor.

The following is a comment I posted on another blog site. It is in response to an article written by Martin Bayne on Dr. Bill Thomas’s ChangingAging website. Mr. Bayne finds himself in a situation similar to mine. He has begun writing articles advocating for the plight of those of us who need assisted living and for whom there are no satisfactory options. I share his concern and am hoping that I can find a way to add my voice.

I am 72 years old, nonambulatory due to a rare disease (inclusion body myositis), and am living in an assisted living facility. It took me a lot of searching before I could even find one that would accept me. Most said that they would not take care of someone who wasn’t able to stand or walk. My “neighbors” are almost exclusively people 20 years older than me and most are incapable of carrying on a conversation. (no fault of their own, disease and age have damaged important cognitive functions.) The caregivers here are very conscientious, but like most, they are overworked. I am fortunate that I can be my own advocate and thus I get very good treatment.

Every so often, I will check the surrounding area of Southern California to see if something new has arrived that might provide a more stimulating environment. At the end of each search I always return to my room and feel grateful for what I have, because it is fully wheelchair accessible including an enormous roll in shower. Most of the facilities have tiny tub-showers with fiberglass enclosures and little built-in seats that could not possibly accommodate me. As for their “activities” the larger facilities seem to focus on the needs of the least common denominator and provide “sing-alongs” featuring songs from the 40s, bingo, and various childish games. For this, they charge anywhere from $5000 – $7000 per month. By comparison, I like to spend my time studying computer programming via the Stanford University lectures on iTunes. (Or writing this blog.) I know that I am not the only person who is older or disabled but also has a continued desire to learn.

It is obvious that we need a new paradigm for the care of an aging population. As we live longer, more and more of us will develop chronic illnesses that reduce our mobility or our cognitive facilities. In my own case, the ideal solution would be to live in my own home with visiting care givers to get me out of bed and shower and into my wheelchair in the morning and then get me back into bed at night. For most of the day I can be independent except for meals, which I could obtain at a local restaurant or my local microwave. The problem comes from not knowing exactly when I might need help. If I were in bed at night and an emergency arose, what would I do? If, during the day, I dropped something important and couldn’t pick it up, how would I get help? Right now, I can press the pendant that is always around my neck and someone will be around to help me. At home alone there is no such system. The cost of round the clock in-home care is prohibitive and would be a terrible waste of human resources anyway.

My concern is that the movement of for-profit corporations into this field means that any rational and humane solutions will be forever blocked.

Mike Shirk

Since I wrote this article, my circumstances have changed. I was able to find an assisted living facility, Sunrise at La Costa, that was willing to put up with my non ambulatory status and ceiling lift. I wrote about my new residence in this blog article. Since living there I have learned that even one of the best facilities in the area leaves a lot to be desired for providing intellectual stimulation to someone who has no cognitive deficiency. (Well, not beyond the usual deficiencies I have always had, that is.) I will continue to write about this subject because I think it is important to hundreds of thousands if not millions of people in this country and around the world.

Index for series of articles about assisted living.

Introductory article plus updates.

Is it time for assisted living?

Making the decision to move to assisted living, emotionally, practically and financially.

How we chose the facility we did.

Deciding what to take, what to leave, how to adjust our expectations.

What life in assisted living has been like.

How can we make assisted living better for the physically disabled?