Volunteer

I and my wheelchair served on the board of a nonprofit for six years.

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.

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.

Dec 222010
 

Rainbow north of our Rancho Bernardo home.

Rainbow north of our Rancho Bernardo home.

The New Year is often a time for reflection and introspection. So in 2010 I took this opportunity to review the highlights (ho ho) of my journey with inclusion body myositis, along with my wife’s struggle with myotonic dystrophy. This is my second annual update. Sadly, my wife’s struggle ended October 11, 2012.

1985-1995 (pre-diagnosis) stumbling while jogging, golf club flying out of hands, difficulty rising with backpack, jogging speed declining

1996 – diagnosed at UCSD Medical Center

1997 – started using walking sticks to help avoid falls

1998 – purchased scooter with elevating seat for distances more than 100 yards

purchased van with lift in rear for taking scooter along

1999 – fitted for full leg braces (KAFO) and forearm crutches

purchased Jazzy wheelchair with elevating seat

had condo modified with ramps at curb, entrances, sunken living room

replaced roman tub with roll-in shower, added roll-up counter in kitchen

bought fiberglass portable rampp

2000 – purchased raised toilet seat

purchased hand controls for van

retired on disability

gave up piano, golf, tennis, took up watercolor

2001 – became coordinator for paint out group of San Diego Watercolor Society

2002 – became Membership Director of San Diego Watercolor Society

2004 – became International Exhibition Director of San Diego Watercolor Society

purchased van with ramp and transfer seat

2005 – purchased Pride lift chair

became Technology Director of San Diego Watercolor Society

began making hooks and dressing sticks

purchased grabbers (six)

Beth erroneously diagnosed with ALS by local Centre for Healthcare neurologist

(two months later) Beth correctly diagnosed with myotonic muscular dystrophy by MDA neurologist

acquired Permobil C500 (Medicare) for Mike

purchased Jazzy 1103 wheelchair for Beth

2006 – purchased Biobidet

became President San Diego Watercolor Society

purchased single story home in Rancho Bernardo (San Dego)

added 200 feet of outside sidewalks for wheelchair access to yard

added ADA bathroom (elevated toilet with bidet, low-lip shower, roll-under sink, room for wheelchair)

acquired hospital bed (Medicare)

2007 – began using shelf liners to lift legs

began purchasing wheelchair pants from USA Jeans

2008 – purchased ceiling lifts for bedroom and bathroom

2009 – purchased rechargeable wine opener

2010 – purchased iPad for drawing, games, voice recognition, etc.

purchased automatic can opener, jar opener

purchased computerized sewing machine (no foot pedal)

made belly bag, art apron, cooking apron, robe, work table, sliding pad

2011 – Lost ability to make horizontal transfers and began using overhead Waverly Glen lift.

Sewed pants that velcroed around me after being lowered onto them.

Hired part time caregiver for showers ( no longer safe to do on my own).

Lost ability to drive, began relying on the bus.

Hired second caregiver and greatly expanded their hours to daily as Beth also needed help.

2012 – Beth began hallucinating.

Moved both of us to assisted living and put home up for rent.

Beth died of respiratory failure due to myotonic muscular dystrophy.

Lost most strength in arms, began using mobile arm support.

Oct 092010
 

Script page with php code

Why was my life's script being written in code?

If you have been following along, you know that a slowly progressive, disabling, muscle illness (inclusion body myositis) caused me to rewrite the script I had written for my own life. Seeking a new challenge after no longer being able to write, play music, play golf or tennis, etc., I decided to take up watercolor painting – specifically plein air painting – because my scooter gave me a unique advantage for moving from one paintout vantage point to another. It was at one of those paintout gatherings that the next chapter in my life story began. I was asked if I would become the leader of the group – not because I was a good painter but because someone seemed to think that I might be well-organized. (They had no idea how compulsive organized I could be.)

The job consisted of finding a different paintout location for each week, making sure it had adequate free parking, restroom facilities, and subject matter worth painting, and then handing out a sheet listing locations for the next few months to the group.

Mike on scooter painting

From plein air painter to php programmer, now that's a rewrite!

Since there were between 50 and 100 possible locations, there was quite a bit of typing involved. I decided to convert the entire list into a database which made it go much faster. You can still see some of my work and 54 of the sites we visited by going to the Plein Air section of our Shirk Studios website.

About this time I joined the San Diego Watercolor Society (SDWS) and I was asked to become part of their Board of Directors in charge of Membership. Naturally I developed my own database solution for that job, since it involves keeping track of more than 750 members. I found this volunteer work to be very rewarding and continued to take on new tasks until eventually I became President of SDWS. Along the way I had been developing database solutions for a variety of needs, including staffing the gallery, monthly member shows and our annual International Exhibition. Eventually I realized I could save a lot of our volunteers time if they did not have to type in all of the information in the database. We already had a website, so I converted it into a dynamic site, using PHP and a Filemaker Pro database. This meant I needed to learn PHP programming and how to interface with the database on a website. It was a great challenge and I truly enjoyed it. I also enjoyed getting up (so to speak) in the morning and seeing true purpose in the way I would spend my day. You can see the results of my work at the SDWS Website.

After six years on the SDWS board, I “retired” and once again found myself at loose ends. But in the meantime, voice recognition technology was making great strides, and there was finally a good program for my Macintosh computer – MacSpeech Dictate. This meant I could think about writing again. Thus was born this blog site. And if people keep reading, I will keep writing!

Sep 112010
 


So, if my legs were too weak for golf or tennis, and my fingers were too weak for music or writing, what kind of future should I write for myself? I needed a challenge, and I needed an activity that could fill the days better than sitting around on a scooter or wheelchair.

While I was pondering this question, I could hear the music coming from my wife’s studio. She had a degree in art and was a lifelong artist and seemed to be having a really good time listening to music and creating beautiful works of art. Why not me?

Well, if I wanted a challenge, this was certainly going to be one. Because I had no art training whatsoever. A coworker had once looked at my attempts at sketches and declared that I had created a new form called “the opposite of art.” I couldn’t hold the brush firmly enough to make accurate marks, so any attempt at realism was out of the question.

Painting of a scene near Del Mar, CA

Beyond Recuerdo was one of my early paintings.


However, I was intrigued by the difficulty and decided to give watercolor painting a try. At first I was very disappointed with the rough quality of my work. But then I would have artists come up to me and ask how I was accomplishing this style. Sometimes I would be honest and tell them that I really didn’t have any choice. They would smile and tell me how lucky I was.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was that so many artists struggle for years to “loosen up” after having received years of training directed toward accurate rendering of subject matter. I was able to simply skip that whole stage.

Watercolor painting of a wooded path.

Morning Walk is a recent work, purchased by a fellow artist.


Lately, the weakness of my fingers has become so great that I can no longer legibly sign my name at the bottom of the painting and I am looking for a way around that problem. It is also taking my “loose” style to an extreme that I’m not sure I can tolerate. But I will keep trying anyway.

Somewhere along the way to becoming an artist, I discovered another way to challenge myself and to make my life more rewarding: volunteering. More about that in Act II, Scene II.

Sep 072010
 

Welcome to Life! (disabled). And note the emphasis. Despite having a difficult disabling illness, I still find a lot of pleasure in living. Much of that pleasure stems from finding – and sharing – new ways to cope as my illness progresses. In this blog I will share some of the things Inclusion Body Myositis has taught me. I am not a medical professional, so please regard this information as personal observations and not medical opinion.