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.

Jul 192014
 

Lately I’ve been getting less joy out of my wheelchair joystick.

As my upper body strength has declined, I have found it more and more difficult to control my wheelchair using a conventional joystick. I am able to maneuver the chair okay but when I first take hold of the joystick I need to sling my arm up and around and let it drop onto the knob. Frequently that results in me jerking the joystick in one direction or another and running my feet into a wall or backing the chair into furniture. A few months ago, my physiatrist at the MDA clinic recommended I be evaluated for an alternative control system. After trying several of them, I decided that my only hope was to try to design one myself. Before I show you my concept, let me explain what I found wrong with all of the others that were available.

The first idea was a micro joystick that would require much less strength to operate. However it had a very short “excursion” in other words the distance from zero movement to full speed was something like 1/10 of an inch. Also, it was designed to be moved with a finger. Those of you with IBM will immediately see the flaws there as our fingers are among the first parts of our bodies to lose strength. I could barely get the wheelchair through the door out of my room to try it out. Even when I tried to use my thumb, the amount of fine motor control needed far exceeded my capabilities.

The next experiment was a device that would be controlled by my chin. Once again my weakness got in the way. If I reclined the chair at all, my head collapsed back into the headrest and I no longer could even reach the chin control, let alone operate it. However this control did have a longer excursion and therefore I was able to at least get the chair out the door but I found it extremely difficult to keep it going in a straight line. Furthermore any distraction to either side that caused me to turn my head also turned the chair. Picture that happening while you’re going down a sidewalk with a steep curb!

There is another type of control that is similar to the chin control and that is a head array. We determined that it would have the same failings as the chin control for me.

There are other, more extreme types of alternative controls such as the sip and puff which uses your breath for control (another of my weaknesses). One that sounded fascinating was a trackpad system which would be very similar to using the mouse on a computer. Hwever it relies on being able to control your fingers which I can’t.

In this proposed control, my thumb rests on a miniaturized joystick. My remaining shoulder muscles would slide my hand forward and back for controlling wheelchair speed while my thumb muscle (the only one left in my hand) would control the direction left and right.

In this proposed control, my thumb rests on a miniaturized joystick. My remaining shoulder muscles would slide my hand forward and back for controlling wheelchair speed while my thumb muscle (the only one left in my hand) would control the direction left and right.

So now we get to my proposed solution. I need a flat panel to rest my hand on when I first reach for the control. I have the most strength in my thumb, so it would be ideal if the joystick were waiting for me near, but slightly forward, of where my thumb would normally rest on the flat panel. I could then make a motion quite similar to the same one I use when I am controlling the mouse on my computer. I have become skilled with those motions out of necessity.

Access Medical sent my design to a company that specializes in making alternative wheelchair controls and I will let you know if they are able to come up with something for me.

Apr 182014
 
"Up against the wall and don't move!"

“Up against the wall and don’t move!”

Life with inclusion body myositis presents some difficult choices. My latest circumstances found me spending lots of time at the local hospital wound care center, buying illegal drugs, and facing long periods of solitary confinement in a 3 foot by 7 foot space. Okay, so I’m exaggerating a little, but we have to make this interesting don’t we?

I’ve been in a wheelchair since 1999 and for the past several years I have not been able to get out of it other than to go to bed or visit the toilet. This means that I am sitting in one position for about 15 hours a day. That is never a good idea even for healthy skin, and my skin is far from healthy. Recently a large area of the region where I sit has lost several layers of skin. The wound care doctor said it was excoriated. This is a fancy word for saying that the skin has been scraped off. It doesn’t feel good, and in fact was at one time a favored form of punishment. The doctor also said the only way to prevent my wound from getting much worse, which could result in surgery and a lengthy hospitalization, was to go straight to bed and stay there. Two hours on one side and then two hours on the other.

This Peruvian skin ointment was the focus of a federal lawsuit.

This Peruvian skin ointment was the focus of a federal lawsuit.

The doctor also recommended I use a prescription ointment called Xenaderm. It works very well, much better than any of the other ointments or creams I had tried. But when I got the bill from my pharmacy I discovered it is not covered by insurance and costs $31 per tube. A little investigation revealed that the ointment is a Peruvian concoction not approved by the FDA and in fact was the subject of a major lawsuit in Florida. On the other hand, all three wound care physicians recommended it, it works, so I’m using it.

I have been following the bed rest instructions, up to a point, and I’m happy to report my skin is doing much better. However those who know me will guess that I’m not taking this lying down (sorry, couldn’t resist). I am working with my wheelchair provider, MDA doctor and a physical therapist to try to improve my wheelchair seating so I can resume a reasonably normal lifestyle. Right now I am sitting on a custom Ride cushion that cost several thousand dollars and is no longer comfortable. I think that as I have grown weaker my body shape has changed. My weight is still the same, but more of it seems concentrated in the worst possible place. I will record my progress with a new cushion on this blog in the weeks ahead.

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.

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.

Dec 192013
 

What if you liked to drive fast? And what if you couldn’t drive at all? What if the most exciting part of any trip was when you tried to negotiate your power chair onto the EZ-LOK system on the floor of your van?

Well, that’s basically my situation. But I do have a few advantages. I have a power wheelchair. It doesn’t go really fast, but I usually can catch up to most of the pedestrians on the sidewalk. More importantly, I have a GoPro camera that I can strap to my head or mount on the chair. And I have A brand-new iMac with Logic Pro X for manipulating sound and creating music plus Final Cut Pro X for editing video. Put it altogether, and what might be the result?

You are about to find out, provided you click on the video link below. It only lasts a minute and half, but it might give you a whole new idea of what life in an assisted living community could be like.

I call it Huntington Raceway Lap. You will see why.

Enjoy.

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.