Jun 282016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Feb 082015
 
 With surroundings like this I couldn't give up on photography.

With surroundings like this I couldn’t give up on photography.

 Heading out to shoot some stills and videos. See the video below to learn how my system works.

Heading out to shoot some stills and videos.


In my previous post, I explained that losing nearly all the muscles in my hands and arms and taken away my ability to hold the camera and press the shutter. Today I am happy to report that my occupational therapist has created a system that attaches to my wheelchair and restores my ability to do photography. Actually, it turns my wheelchair into a rolling tripod. Couple that with the ability to tilt, elevate, and roll, and my new system gives me more capabilities for taking stills and videos than before. Please watch the video below to see how it all comes together.
Occupational therapist John MancIl and his bag of tricks.

Occupational therapist John MancIl and his bag of tricks.

Dec 232014
 

This photo shows why I haven’t been able to take photos lately.

Inclusion body myositis has left my hands weak and disfigured.

Inclusion body myositis has left my hands weak and disfigured.

Recently I have not had much to say. No, let me correct that. I have not been saying much. I do have a lot to talk about, however I am trying to make some more adaptations to keep up with the progress inclusion body myositis is making on my body. The effects are especially noticeable on my hands and fingers, shoulders, and the ability to speak, sing and swallow. I recently got approval to go on home health and have started receiving regular visits from a speech therapist, occupational therapist and physical therapist.

Not only are my hands and fingers week, they are nearly frozen in one position. this has caused me to temporarily give up photography altogether. Some of you may recall that in the beginning I was using either my iPhone camera or my GoPro camera which was controlled by my iPhone using the GoPro app. I can no longer hold the iPhone in my hand and use my other hand to touch the screen, so that rules out both of those methods of taking pictures. My occupational therapist is working with me to try to find a system that will solve this. When he does (and I am sure he will; he is very clever and persistent) I will do an article about the method used.

My occupational therapist is also working with me to expand upon a scheme I devised to restore some movement in my fingers. I played the piano from the age of three. It was one of my great pleasures and a favorite method of relaxation. IBM took that away from me several years ago. There is a piano in the common area at my assisted-living facility and occasionally I peck away with the one finger of my right hand that is still strong enough to press a key. So I decided to purchase an electronic keyboard, a Yamaha PSR E443, that would always be waiting for me in the “office” of my assisted-living apartment. My theory was that I would be so motivated to produce music that I would play it often and perhaps expand my ability to move the fingers on my right hand. Even more ambitious, I was hoping to be able to use at least one finger on my left hand to take advantage of the auto accompaniment function of the keyboard. However, the extreme weakness of my left shoulder prevents me from using my left hand unless I lean to the right and lock my shoulder in place. Doing that leaves me unable to use my right hand. After working with my keyboard about one month, my right hand acquired enough dexterity that I can play two notes at once using the index and middle finger and then add a third note with my thumb. This is a major increase in hand function and it is also paying off with things as simple as picking up an object from my desk. I am also now able to use two fingers on my left hand, although I have not been able to overcome the problem of lifting that hand and using it in conjunction with my right hand. My occupational therapist believes this is a therapy worth pursuing and he is now working on a system that might allow me to make more use of my left hand by supporting my left arm and leaving my hand free to move. If this works out, it will also be the subject of a blog post.

My physical therapist is trying to loosen up my neck muscles which are so tight that I can no longer turn my head enough to see behind me. This is a big problem when you need to back up a 350 pound wheelchair. My speech therapist is working with me on strengthening the muscles used for swallowing and is teaching me ways to avoid further damage to my weakened vocal cords.

Early next year, I will let you know how everything is going. Meanwhile I wish you all a good holiday season and an even better New Year.

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.

Oct 012014
 

As you may know, I recently launched a series of blog posts discussing the benefits of overhead lifts and questioning why assisted-living facilities were not using them in this country. To gather data I had a meeting with the owner of Pacific Mobility (installed my lifts) and representatives of Prism Medical (manufactured my lifts). during the course of the meeting, someone mentioned that Sunrise Senior Living had a policy against lifting residents without mechanical assistance.

As soon as I approached the entrance of Sunrise at La Costa, I knew this was a place I wanted to live.

As soon as I approached the entrance of Sunrise at La Costa, I knew this was a place I wanted to live.

After the meeting I looked them up and discovered Sunrise was one of the the original assisted living programs for the United States and has grown to about 300 facilities in the US, Canada and Great Britain. Their founders were from Holland and their story is worth reading. You can find it on the Sunrise website.

Sunrise has facilities in the San Diego area that I had previously ruled out because of the locations. However I decided to give Sunrise at La Costa a call. I learned that they that do have a policy against most manual lifting however they use floor lifts to accomplish it. So of course I told them all about the advantages of overhead lifting and directed them to this site. After watching the video and reading my previous post, they decided to ask regional management for permission to give it a try. Hallelujah! They agreed.

Beautiful views of Batiquitos Lagoon are just a few minutes away by wheelchair.

Beautiful views of Batiquitos Lagoon are just a few minutes away by wheelchair.

I learned that living here would cost me nearly double what I have been paying at Huntington Manor. But since I had made such an issue of finding another facility that would accept me and my lifts I felt I had no choice but to make the move. I’ve been here several weeks now and am truly enjoying this new environment. For one thing, I am only a 30 minute wheelchair ride from the ocean. For longer trips, the local bus stops right in front every half-hour seven days a week. Also, because I am disabled, I get to ride for free on both the bus and the local rail transit.

In an attempt to make my relatively meager funds hold out, I have taken on two freelance clients. Fortunately since my background is in marketing consultation and writing, I can accomplish both mostly online with the aid of voice recognition.

Pacific Mobility owner Jeff Conner presents me with a brand-new overhead lift mechanism courtesy of Prism Medical.

Pacific Mobility owner Jeff Conner presents me with a brand-new overhead lift mechanism courtesy of Prism Medical.

More news to lift my spirits: Last week, Jeff Conner, the owner of Pacific Mobility stopped by with a free lift, courtesy of Prism Medical and installed the lift along with brand-new batteries.

By the way, this does not mark the end of my series on the advantages of overhead lifts. There are still thousands of assisted living and skilled nursing facilities that have not seen the light. Perhaps even more importantly there are countless caregivers trying to transfer and transport their disabled loved ones without the aid that an overhead lift could provide.

Note: if you reached this page from my series of posts on the subject of assisted living, here is how to get back:

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?

Jul 292014
 

Ceiling Lift installed in my room at Huntington Manor

The owner of Huntington Manor was willing to have my ceiling lift installed.


So why aren’t more facilities using them?

A few weeks ago, I decided to find out. It seems that the answer may be very complicated, although, like many questions, money and politics may be at the root of the issue. In the following posts I will share what knowledge I have been able to gain through talking with facilities, manufacturers, and installers. For this first post, I simply want to make everyone understand how simple the process of doing a transfer with an overhead lift can be. Those of you who have followed my blog through the years will recall the nightmare experience I had at a local hospital when they tried to transfer me with brute force. I weigh 220 pounds and it would take a lot of brutes to get me out of my chair.

So please watch the video below with that in mind. It is only four minutes long, because that is as long as it takes a single caregiver to smoothly and safely pick me up from my bed and put me in my wheelchair.

However, I know there are many other factors holding facilities back. Besides money, some are concerned whether it would be safe to install a lift within one of their rooms. I will show the many types of installations and explain that there is one for almost any situation. Others think it would be an expense that they might never recover. There are plenty of case histories to put that fear to rest. Then there is the misperception that most facilities don’t use overhead lifts. While this may be true in California and many other states, it is definitely not true in Europe and Canada. What do they know that we don’t? That will be the focus of one of my articles.

Jun 102014
 

Ceiling Lift installed in my room at Huntington Manor

The owner of Huntington Manor was willing to have my ceiling lift installed.

I am about to begin some posts on a subject that has been the source of puzzlement to me for some time.

Overhead lifts are widely used throughout Europe and Canada where studies have shown they dramatically reduce resident and caregiver injuries. They also cut labor costs since transfers that normally require two or more caregivers are now safely accomplished with one. Despite this information, the assisted living industry in the United States appears to be intractably opposed to overhead lifts, or for that matter any kind of patient lifts, within their facilities. Asking around I have found that many of the major chains have forbidden facilities from installing these systems. Instead they require the caregivers to do the lifting and repositioning. Some claim that overhead lifts would increase labor costs and lead to more injuries and lawsuits, despite the evidence that the opposite is true.

I am trying to determine why there is such opposition. I’m also trying to learn if the problem is as widespread as I believe. Today I heard from a facility that is part of one of the largest chins in the country. According to the person I spoke with, the decision came from their risk management people. (Unsure whether it is an in-house department or a separate risk management company.)

I need your help. Please comment on this post or my Facebook entry that I have linked to this post and let me know anything you have observed on the subject. I plan to publish the first article around the beginning of next week.

Topics will include:

An overview of the issue.
The types of modern overhead lifts available and how they work.
The myths and truths about overhead lifts.
Examples of the use of overhead lifts in other countries.
Exposing either the ignorance or the lack of concern for patients and caregivers that hinders their use in assisted living facilities in the United States.

If it turns out to be obstruction by either risk management or insurance companies I will address that subject as well.

I will deeply appreciate any help you can give me.

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.