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.

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:

Nov 182013
 
Read more about my drinking problem below.

Read more about my drinking problem below.

It is time for my annual update of “Chronicles of Disability.” However rather than simply cover the changes that have happened this year, I have decided to add some new content. This is partially due to my work on a new book I am writing which will tell the story of the journey (or should I say forced march) that my wife and I traveled through the jungles of disability. My own struggle with inclusion body myositis began in 1985, 11 years before I was formally diagnosed, and it continues to this day.

Part of the new content is a gallery of photographs, some new, some from earlier posts on this blog. My goal is to eventually put the entire visual record of my attempts to adapt to inclusion body myositis in one place, organized in chronological order.

This past year has been very difficult. It began with grieving for my wife who lost her battle with myotonic muscular dystrophy October 11, 2012. That grieving process will probably never end although it does change and has become less intrusive on my daily life. During that time I have also experienced the worst decline of physical function of any previous year. Most of that physical loss has been focused on my shoulders, arms and hands. I can no longer hold a Beefeater on the rocks, a Johnny Walker Black with a twist of lemon, a Cadillac Margarita, or even a glass of Petite Syrah. I also can’t hold a glass of water, but that seems to be a minor inconvenience by comparison. Dressing myself is now completely out of the question as is holding a camera or picking anything up from the table, bed or floor. Eating has been reduced to a process resembling a scene from a Monty Python movie. Getting anything from a plate to my mouth involves a slinging motion that frequently sends food flying in unexpected directions.


Now before this pity party gets out of control, I should point out that I continue to find ways to adapt. For example, there is a terrific acrylic beverage cup on Amazon that I use for coffee, whiskey, and wine. It is lightweight, has a handle that fits my hand perfectly and is relatively inexpensive. I can sling it through the air, provided it is only half-full, and generally get it pretty close to my mouth. (There is a slightly larger mug that I use for water.) As to the photography, that problem was solved when I purchased my GoPro and installed the iPhone app to control it. (See an earlier post.) Eating remains an unresolved challenge although I would rather put up with a messy aftermath then resort to being fed. I can only imagine how the pressure to eat quickly and my swallowing problem would combine, with serious consequences no doubt.


Voice recognition continues to get better with each iteration. Now my new iMac with its Mavericks operating system has built-in voice recognition that is almost as good as Dragon Dictate but has the advantage of being launched immediately by simply pushing the function key twice. I still use Dragon Dictate for the longer projects such as this post.

Sep 232013
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See what I mean?

A two minute sample of garden meditation.

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.

Jun 082011
 

Mike in a ceiling lift hovering above his bed.

Mike in a ceiling lift hovering above his bed.

Now that I am too weak for sliding transfers, the only option is for someone or something to pick me up. I chose the latter – a ceiling lift. I had previously installed two, one in the bedroom and one in the bath, so now it was time to put them to use. This video shows the process I go through each morning and night.

Important update: when I lived at home, these lifts were attached to the ceiling. Now that I am in assisted living that is no longer a desirable solution. There are new types of systems that require only unobtrusive pieces attached to walls on opposite sides of the room–they don’t even need to be attached to studs as all of the weight is absorbed at the base.

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.

Nov 082010
 

Ability Center Logo

My personal lifeline for wheelchairs, vans, and repairs.

Last night I had to write a very difficult e-mail message to the manager of the San Diego office of Ability Center in San Diego. My wife’s wheelchair had suddenly stopped working at the worst possible time as we were beginning a six week session of daily radiation treatments for her breast cancer. I explained to the manager that my daughter would be dropping off the wheelchair in front of their facility at eight in the morning and asked if there was any way they could fit in a quick repair. I was very lucky that they had a technician available and were able to do a temporary fix that put the wheelchair back in business the same day.

I have been dealing with this company since 1998, shortly after I was first diagnosed with inclusion body myositis. They sold me my first scooter, and my first van with a lift in the back for picking up the scooter and taking it with me. Since then, I have purchased two wheelchairs for me and a scooter for my wife and two more vans with ramps. Not to mention numerous other mobility aids such as walkers, crutches, sliding boards, and cupholders.

Here is the point I am trying to make: if you have an illness that is compromising your mobility, you really need to develop a relationship with a local company that sells the kinds of equipment that you will be needing. Yes, you can probably buy the same piece of equipment for less through a discount Internet retailer, but where will they be when you have a crisis? And believe me, you will have a crisis. What’s more, a professional mobility specialist will be able to help you get reimbursement through your insurance company or (in the case of my wife and me) an organization such as Muscular Dystrophy Association. They will (or should) also have experts who can make sure your wheelchair or scooter meets your lifestyle needs.

I have not been paid for this endorsement nor was it requested. I simply believe that good people and good companies should be recognized.

Oct 202010
 

Mike and Beth outside Michael Talbart Advertising in San Diego.

My wife and I were photographed by my business partner, Tal Smith, before we closed Michael Talbart Advertising. Those who know me might recognize the changes Inclusion Body Myositis had made in my appearance.

The last two years of the 20th century also marked the end of my ability to function physically well enough to earn a living. Since my diagnosis in 1996, I had been getting along pretty well by using braces and forearm crutches. However in 1999, it became obvious that I needed to “graduate” to a scooter or wheelchair. I have always been of the philosophy that I should take advantage of any technology available, so I wound up with one of each – a Pride Legend Scooter and a Jazzy Wheelchair, both with elevating seats. I also purchased a van with a lift in the rear that would swing out and pick up my scooter and deposit it in the back. Then I would walk around to the front, hanging onto the van, and get into the driver seat. But as time went by, this process became more and more precarious, and I took some pretty bad falls in parking lots.

I also noticed that my advertising clients were evidencing discomfort when I would show up for meetings, as I was very limited in my mobility and they had to make considerable accommodations. The last straw was when a client had to lift me from my seat at lunch and then pick me up again when I fell in the restaurant parking lot (no martinis involved). I think that up until this point I had felt that my inclusion body myositis was just going to be a distraction and not a truly life-changing illness. But now I could see that it was going to continue to take away my ability to get around and to carry out the normal activities of daily living. I was also finding it more difficult to write, since my fingers were rapidly weakening. So, I reluctantly informed my business partner that we were going to need to close the business and that I was going to retire on disability.

My wife and I decided that we should travel as much as possible while I was still able. That turned out to be a very good decision since today I am unable to travel outside of San Diego County because I can’t be far from my custom bathroom and hospital bed. (Of course, if you’re going to be “stuck” somewhere, San Diego is a pretty nice place to be.)

Our travels introduced us to the difficulties facing those who rely on scooters or wheelchairs for mobility when they travel. We would reserve hotel rooms and request that they be handicap accessible only to learn that the room had been given to able-bodied people instead. If we complained, they would try to ship us off to another hotel in a much less convenient location simply to comply with the ADA regulations. More often than not, we would just rearrange the furniture in the non-accessible room and install a portable elevated toilet seat in the bathroom. Perhaps the worst offender was the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. First they refused to help us get our luggage from the front entrance to the lobby, causing me to break my foot when I tried to do it myself. Then they put us in a room for hearing impaired and said that that was the only kind of “handicap” room available in their hotel. We haven’t been back to Las Vegas since.

I’m happy to report that San Diego is blessed with scores of accessible hotels, restaurants, attractions and transportation. I’ll be reporting on many of these in the future.

Oct 042010
 

When your legs are weak or paralyzed and you try to stand or walk, gravity is your enemy. But when you are using a wheelchair or scooter, gravity can become your friend. One of the ways I have maintained my independence despite being unable to stand or walk is by using gravity. I have a wheelchair with an elevating seat. In addition, I have a hospital bed that elevates (the Invacare “full electric” model).

Warning! Rant ahead: Despite the fact that an elevating seat can make it possible for an otherwise immobilized person to independently transfer into and out of bed, on and off the toilet, and on and off a shower seat, Medicare continues to say that an elevating seat or elevating hospital bed is a “convenience” item and they will not pay for it. Fortunately, many manufacturers recognize the need for elevating seats and include them as standard equipment. You will need to find a mobility supplier who knows how to work with you to get what you need.

Transferring from Chair to Bed

With an elevating seat, gravity does most of the work of getting you into the bed.

Once you have an elevating seat, you need to make sure that each place that you want to transfer to is of a height that is about half way between the lowest and highest positions of your scooter or wheelchair seat. For example, if you have a wheelchair that is 20 inches high at its lowest seat position and 26 inches high at its highest position, you would be wanting a bed, toilet seat, and shower seat that are about 23 inches high. This would allow you to slide from your elevated chair to the bed and then slide from the bed onto the lowered chair when you are ready. (See the diagrams I provided with this article.)
Transferring from Bed to Chair

Lowering the chair seat lets you slide out of bed more easily.

The other item of equipment you will need is a transfer board. I strongly recommend the “UltraSlick” board. You can buy the 30 inch version over Amazon, or your own mobility supplier may have it in different sizes if that is not convenient. Important: if you are trying to slide on the board when you are not dressed, be sure to wedge a towel part way under so that you can have it between you and the board. Bare skin, especially wet bare skin, on an UltraSlick board will probably stick like glue and you may need help getting free.