Chronicles of Disability

When Mike’s IBM began, how it progressed, where it is now.

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.

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.

Nov 092012
 

BethTimeLine30x20sm

A visual snapshot of Beth's life.

The first time I held Beth’s hand, she looked into my eyes and my heart was stolen. The last time I held Beth’s hand, she closed her eyes and my heart was broken. But the glorious years in between have been more than worth the agony I am feeling now.

The places we went, the love we shared, the friends we made, the children we raised …

Our favorite things to do together were traveling and throwing parties. I always suspected that both were just excuses for a new wardrobe, but as beautiful as she was who could possibly say no?

We would travel by car usually. I liked to drive and she liked to sleep. Once in a while she would wake up long enough to see something along the way. When we returned, Beth would take those visual memories and turn them into incredible works of art. One was Maui jungle, where she managed to distill a week of driving around the island onto a 2″ x 3″ piece of zinc. That image won major awards and the edition of prints sold out.

When I was forced to retire due to my disability, I took up painting as well and we enjoyed our trips even more. We would come home to our studio and commit memories to paint and paper. This was a very happy time. But then I became even more disabled to the point where we could no longer be away from home at night. Beth began losing her eyesight and was diagnosed with her own physically disabling disease.

For a while, we continued to paint, drawing upon the memories of previous journeys. But for the past 2 years, painting simply stopped. Beth couldn’t see well enough and I couldn’t move my hands well enough and the focus of our lives turned to helping each other get by.

And now Beth is gone. But she is still helping me get by. Because she has left me with a lifetime of beautiful memories.

Her loss gives me great pain, but it is a small price to pay for the richness that she has left behind. Beth, I will always love you and I will forever thank you, for having been my wife.

May 292012
 

Note: At the time this series of articles was written, my wife Beth was still with us. She died October 11, 2012.

Beth having lunch during our first week at Huntington Manor

Beth having lunch on the deck outside our room during our first week at Huntington Manor

As my weakness from Inclusion Body Myositis became more debilitating and Beth’s vision and cognitive issues worsened, we faced the big question – should we move to assisted living?

There were several aspects to this decision. Perhaps the most easy to evaluate was the financial. Perhaps the most difficult was the emotional.
And then there were family issues, especially children who were tired of worrying about us.

Being the analytical type, I prepared numerous spreadsheets trying to decide whether the move to an assisted living facility made financial sense. I discovered that, to obtain adequate care within our home, we would need to spend about as much as it would cost to get assisted living outside the home. However, there were so many other emotional issues involved that no amount of tweaking the numbers on the spreadsheet seemed to fully resolve the issue in either of our minds.

View from our home in Rancho Bernardo

We had promised ourselves to spend the rest of our years in our Rancho Bernardo home.

We had spent a lot of money on, and had a significant emotional attachment to, the changes we made to our existing home. It was single-story, easy to get around for us in wheelchairs, and had a very nice view out the living room window. We each had our individual art studios on either side of the spacious family room. We would have to say goodbye to all of that. In addition we would be downsizing dramatically from about 1600 ft.² to a little over 500 ft.²

Then there was the concern about our independence. Would we feel as though we were unable to live our own lives if we moved into a facility that had its own schedule and structure?

Eventually, the more I worked on the financial side of it, the more I realized that moving to some form of facility was going to become inevitable. If we remained where we were and continued to spend considerably more money than we had coming in, we would eventually reach the point where we had exhausted our savings and then what? We could sell the home, but then we would hardly have enough resources to maintain us in any other location for more than a few years. On the other hand if we moved and spent down our savings, we could retain our home and rent it, which would provide additional income during that time. Then, when the savings was depleted, we could sell the home and continue to live in the assisted living facility for several more years.

So, ultimately, the practical considerations and family concerns outweighed the emotional worries. How is it working out? Better than we expected. In the next article we will get into the details of how we chose Huntington Manor to be our home – conceivably for the rest of our lives.

Index for this 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?

May 152012
 

Note: At the time this series of articles was written, my wife Beth was still with us. She died October 11, 2012.

Mike and Beth touring the English Garden at Huntington Manor Assisted Living.

Mike and Beth touring the English Garden at Huntington Manor Assisted Living.

We are moving to Huntington Manor, an assisted living facility about 5 miles from the single-family home where we have been living for the past six years. This may come as a shock to many who know us and know how fervently I have been clinging to my independence. It comes as an even greater shock to us. However it is not a move that has been made casually. It is the culmination of many months of questioning, analyzing, arguing and soul-searching. The best way to picture what we have been going through is to pretend you are passengers on the Titanic. You’ve been enjoying a spacious stateroom and fine cuisine. Then the iceberg announces itself. You can choose to remain in your comfortable stateroom and hope for the best, or you can fight through the crowds and climb into a lifeboat, with no idea how you will survive that experience. But you know the freezing waters of the North Atlantic are waiting if you make the wrong choice.

For us, that time arrived when we could no longer say that we were each others’ caregivers.

I have been in a wheelchair for 12 years and my wife has been in hers for six. But we have always managed to find a way to be just enough help to one another to get by on our own. Several months ago I began losing what little strength I had in my hands and arms, causing me to stop driving, stop cooking, and start thinking about what to do next.

I am technically classified as “non-ambulatory” and in my case that is an understatement. I cannot walk, I cannot stand, raise my head, or rise to a sitting position without the help of my electric bed. Most assisted living facilities can’t accept a non ambulatory resident. Maybe we should just stay put.

Then at Christmas my wife began having symptoms of a cognitive issue. Whatever is going wrong inside her brain causes her to be very anxious and confused, especially at night. She will get up at two in the morning thinking it is time for her to leave for an appointment. Picture my helplessness lying in bed knowing that I can’t get out before attaching my ceiling lift sling and using it to get into my wheelchair, a process that would take at least half an hour. That is when I realized that it was no longer safe for us to be alone. The waters were rising.

Huntington Manor is an Assisted Living facility in Poway, California

Huntington Manor is an Assisted Living facility in Poway, California

So, back to the search for assisted living. Fortunately we discovered a facility that had been off the radar the first time I looked. It is Huntington Manor, a charming old ranch home that has been converted into a modern assisted living facility with a special emphasis on meeting the needs of the frail elderly. We are neither frail nor elderly but the services they offer are exactly what we need. Best of all, because of their emphasis on an older population, many of their rooms are certified to handle non-ambulatory and bedridden patients – like us.

The owner was very sympathetic to our situation and offered to make some modifications on a new wing of his building to make the transition for us less painful. The most significant change was to give us two rooms at the end of the hall, remove the doors while adding a wall and door in the hall. This lets us be together and also gives us some much needed extra storage space.

Index for this 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?

Mar 112012
 

With an appropriate mobile arm support, I hope to some day return to creating art such as Quiet Harbor now part of the Muscular Dystrophy Association Art Collection.

Since I was diagnosed with Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM) 16 years ago, I have been stubbornly maintaining my independence. I have made use of every technical aid that I could find, beginning with canes and walkers and scooters and ultimately graduating to wheelchairs and hospital beds and overhead ceiling lifts. I started with a swing away lift in the back of van to take my scooter with me wherever I went, then bought a van with a ramp and a transfer seat, and ultimately moved to a van with an ez-lok system in the driver’s position. All these were steps to allow me to independently get around. I adapted my bathroom and my kitchen so that I can could continue to cook et cetera. I adapted my studio, even my workbench in the garage. I designed and sewed special shoes, pants, and leggings. No matter what, this disease was not going to get the better of me.

Today I am reluctantly admitting that this is one battle that ultimately I could not win. IBM is too progressive, too relentless, too untreatable. The final straw came when my right shoulder and arm became so weak that I could no longer raise my arm much above my waist. This meant that it was no longer safe for me to drive. It also meant that I could no longer chop vegetables or stir a skillet. It meant that I could no longer hold a paintbrush and create art. And worst of all, it meant that I was no longer an appropriate caregiver for my wife, whose own battle with Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy was not going well.

The first thing I did was have my van converted once again, only this time in the opposite direction. I had the passenger seat moved over into the driver’s seat position and put the ez-lok on the passenger side. This meant that I could pull into the van and lock myself in on the passenger side — provided I had found a willing driver to take me where I needed to go. Fortunately, my friends and family and neighbor have pitched in and I still have been able to get around when absolutely necessary. Perhaps more importantly, my wife, who also can’t drive and who has more medical challenges than I, could get to her various doctor appointments. When drivers aren’t available we are able to get to appointments using the accessible bus transportation called MTS access. It gets the job done, but it is certainly not a convenience. I plan an article on the general subject of bus transportation (and lack there of) soon.

But the really big change I have made is to hire caregivers for the two of us morning and night. The loss of arm strength meant that I was at great risk of being stranded when trying to use my ceiling lift to get into or out of bed or onto and off the toilet. After several close calls and more than a few minutes of hanging suspended in a very painful and awkward position, I realized I simply couldn’t go it alone anymore. It is an expensive adaptation and one that we will not be able to afford indefinitely. But for now it is getting us through each day. In future articles I will talk more about the good points of having caregivers.

I am also searching for a “mobile arm support.” The right one might restore some of the functions of my right hand and could possibly let me try to paint again.