Evaluating wellness

Shortly after I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis I began to detest the question “How are you?”

“I’m fine” is not a proper answer, for one thing, hair is fine, not people. I might be pushing everything I have to appear I am operating within normal parameters, but I would never reveal this truth. If I have to tell you how hard I’m trying to stand up, then just standing up wasn’t good enough. I am almost certain the person asking does not really want to know all the things I am doing to look “fine” in the hopes no one will ask me how I am.

Today, almost thirty years later, the question is as difficult as ever.

After three decades of disguising myself as healthy, I don’t know what else to do. I have been fortunate in many ways, I do not appear to have aged, and I have played the part of reasonably healthy younger man well. I have not needed to adjust my act, and became emboldened by success. Then, like the roller coaster at the end of the ride, there was an immediate change of velocity. As one friend said of his experience “I woke up one morning and I was old.”

I woke up in the hospital and I was old.

This is the part I have found troubling, referring to it “like the roller coaster at the end of the ride,” feeling a sense of conclusion. Stuff happens, I have known this for thirty years at least. I have friends with Multiple Sclerosis who have lost the ability to walk, and have had to make a multitude of adjustments in life. I have known many people who were simply struck by ill fortune. I have known others who have not survived. I am, as I knew, fortunate. For some reason this has not made the adjustments any easier.

As I begin to recover from my “accident,” I am finding my recovery will not be as complete as I might have hoped. I will not be one hundred percent of what I was, but I will be closer to one hundred percent of the average fifty seven year old white male. Well, not in mass, but in many other ways. Even now, as I push my recovery, I am told I am doing too much.

I try to take this all seriously, because I am not certain about my mental facilities. What if they are right, and I really shouldn’t be trying so hard?

I gave driving a great deal of thought, determined to examine all the variables. I can turn the key, and although it takes both hands to move the gear shift, I only need to do that at slow speeds, such as parking. I have always driven with one (my left) hand. I can manipulate all the controls and see all around me. I do feel fatigued more quickly, driving a little more than an hour each way is all I care to try at this point. My doctor still feels it is a bad idea, not exactly chastising me for driving to an appointment the other day, but making his disappointment known. I knew I wasn’t ready to hit my old haunts (and their additional impairments), but now I feel the need to back off a little more, be a little safer.

I start physical therapy next Friday for my elbow, I’ve already been advised it will not be functioning as well as the other. I’ve been told a number of things about my body over the years and prefer to just see what happens, knowing the range of motion is expected to be reduced gives me a goal to exceed. My fingers are already moving fluidly, I’ll be making music as soon as I can figure out how to hold the guitar. Drumming is out for now, until extending my arm doesn’t make a sound of its own. I also begin “cognitive therapy,” which will be interesting and probably fun. Unless someone determines I have suffered excessive brain damage, which is bound to throw my confidence into a black hole.

My eyes, and the bones which hold them in place, are the subjects of Monday’s appointment. Something must be physically wrong for my vision to change the way it does, focus shifting as I stare forward. I just need everything to stabilize before getting another prescription for lenses. And there I go, assuming everything will stabilize. I spent my life making things work, I’ll hold my eyes in place with duct tape if I have to.

Wednesday we’ll be investigating why I can’t hear through my right ear. It had been getting a little weak, but since the accident the hearing on that side is gone, and although I was in a haze in the hospital, I do recall hearing one of the doctors saying he thought something was wrong which could be adjusted during the skull surgery (which didn’t take place because I kept healing).

The following week I begin catching up with all the health issues I’ve let go since Emma died. My new general practitioner was amazed I wasn’t reduced to dust in the fall, my osteoporosis has been untreated for seven years. So a new Dexa Scan and rheumatologist for treatment are in order. A new Neurologist seems an obvious choice, so an MRI is expected. The doc wrote prescriptions for my antidepressants, but a shrink is certainly on my horizon, there are a number of issues which need to be addressed; I am not the man I was 31 December, I know this for certain as my emotions have flat-lined. And of course there are still follow ups with the neurosurgeon to determine what physical damage to my brain still exists.

So, with my usual duality (good sign), my evaluation of wellness is I am better off this happened, it steers me towards treatments, but the happening itself has been awful. I have lost independence and ability, I feel “old.” I am not ready to feel old. I have a certain presence, a style which may need to be adjusted to fit an old man. It may be a mostly temporary situation, but the rest of me is not getting any younger. This is happening all at once, rather than complain I failed to prepare, I will try to rejoice I have been so healthy so long.

These are just the physical and emotional issues I am dealing with, a subset of the emotional issues are affected by the financial state of being unable to earn a living. I have never had to ask for help before; if you have not already, please stop by the GoFundMe page set up by a friend to help carry me through these difficult times. Even if you cannot help financially (maybe see it as supporting a suffering author?) perhaps you can use the “poster” button near the bottom of the page and print out a copy to share with friends. Great conversation possibilities there, and perhaps I’ll gain a reader through your good deed.

I once met Buddy Rich, his advice on drum solos was “take something simple and make it look hard, or take something hard and make it look simple.” This is hard for me, I hope I am making it look simple.

How am I doing?

Oh, and being able to shave would be nice

Oh, and being able to shave would be nice


6 comments on “Evaluating wellness

  1. Mike R says:

    Without meaning to lessen the real challenge of your current disabilities, it would seem that you are doing far better than the average person after such an accident. Or so says I who has seen a few people recovering. And so say I who is sharing your “feeling old” experience and is struggling with health issues. Is it that the long experience with MS has given you skills and perspectives that I have yet to acquire? I don’t like the training! Who signed me up for this course? Thank you for giving some hope to others, like myself, who have shared the path of illness to the point of not being able to work, and finding life to be much more of a challenge than when I had good health.

    As I read through your writing, I could not help but think that your rolodex is becoming populated by people whose name starts with doctor. And you accommodate it all with your unflappable sense of humor, and perspective.

    My own illness has the effect of making a 60-years-old man suddenly live the life of someone much older, leaving room, of course, for the exception we sometimes see in people with many years on a very healthy frame. And being slowed down leaves a lot of time for self-reflection, which too easily turns into self-pity and despondency. Yet when I compare our lots, you have endured far more than I, Blake, and do so in a way that has me taking notes for self-application.

    In that my former career was spent in rehabilitation of the upper extremity, I would imagine that your challenge, if it is like most of cases, will be gaining the extension or straightening of your elbow more than the flexion or bending of your elbow. At least that is the typical problem. I don’t know the exact components of your fracture, but the appearance of the particular brace would seem to be designed to partly limit your motion so that further healing can occur. Then there is the issue of turning the palm up or down. Playing the drums will at some point be excellent therapy, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kblakecash says:

      I can tell that from the beginning, still in the hospital, I have been doing better than was expected. Part was when they delayed the elbow surgery because they were waiting on parts (which sounds fairly weird), then when the surgery took place they didn’t need all of the parts they had ordered, some healing had already taken place. Another was the decision to skip cranial surgery, although I think that may have been a mistake.

      One “skill” three decades with MS has provided, or at least cultivated, is the ability to keep pushing through adverse situations. At one point I was falling on a regular basis, and during my routine visit to my neurologist I mentioned concern. He asked how often I was falling (at least once a day) and he said “That is too often for an adult.” I had just been rolling with it, literally using it as practice for how to fall softly, but he told me to start using a cane, that I should call it a “swagger stick” and consider myself suave. I was impressed I could get through security at the airport easier and be seated first on the plane. Emma gave me a beautiful carbon fibre cane adorned with flames which draws compliments.

      I try, not always successfully, to see every set back in a positive light. The set backs have been for the most part slow in manifesting themselves, I had time to put a solution together before they interrupted my flow. Too much too fast too many affected systems this time. I can’t help but think I’m taking too long to heal, so I try to remember how very close I was to not surviving; I’m in great shape for a guy who has been dead for six weeks.

      It is the extension of my arm the doc said I should not anticipate, that last thirty degrees is not guaranteed, but so little of what I’ve done has been under warranty. It gives me one more thing to do they did not expect, one more reason for them to expect more from their patients in the future. Otherwise I’m going to have to re-choreograph my dance moves.


      • Mike R says:

        You could make a blog post from your replies, Blake! I delight in your ability write.

        Extension of the elbow can be difficult to regain, depending on the bones that were broken. If the joint involving the humerus and ulna is involved and is not perfectly congruous it can be a problem. It does impact standing and walking a bit, in that the arm tends to lean in to the body a bit more, with the shoulder rooting inward. I will say, though, that I have seen people work around it remarkably well. But if you can still regain enough flexion to bring your hand to your mouth, and get back all but 30 degrees of extension, you will probably be very satisfied with the quality of your life. Just rearrange your drums there is no need to stretch out the left arm and you will probably be back to your Buddy Rich emulations.

        Knowing your history and how you have accommodated your MS tells me that you will likely be the one who turns this lemon into lemonade. I am so grateful for your example, although I would never wish you had to endure what you have endured to make it so. As I struggle with my own new disability, I find hope in your message.

        Today I stumbled across a video that immediately brought you to mind, Blake.

        The one-string guitar. I thought of you, thinking, “Blake keeps losing strings on his guitar (as do I), but he just changes his style and keeps playing music.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Mari Collier says:

    You are doing great! As for suddenly turning old, it happens. I had no wrinkles until I hit 60 and suddenly they were there and everything in my body shifted southward. Weird. I was fortunate, the broken leg (at age 71) healed well enough that I didn’t need physical therapy or a cane. I still can’t run though. At least I can lift a decent amount of weight again as being in bed and just sitting with one’s leg up means the muscular strength goes away. I did use weights to get my arms back in shape, but I never had the worries you have. By the way, most of the populace would love to be able to express themselves with the clarity that you do. I do advise you to forget the driving until your vision settles down. I don’t want to hear about another accident.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes- this will be harder then your’e used to because you’ve always been able to sorta fake your way through it. I get it. Attitude is A LOT. But- you don’t want to make anything more challenging by causing an accident that could not only make your recovery more difficult but might hurt others. If you cant see well enough to drive- don’t drive. I’m channeling your mother I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mike R says:

    BTW, I found comfort, not fear, in your response to falling once per day. That would mortify someone like myself, yet you took it in stride (forgive the pun). What an incredible attitude you have, Blake. So wishing some it will rub off on me!

    Liked by 1 person

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