Sharing wellness and motivation for persons living with ALS, MND (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) their caregivers, family and friends! Because - - You CAN be WELL while living with ALS.
The other day a friend complimented me on my positive
attitude and asked how I managed to ‘find the funny’ in everyday things.
My reply? “I don’t go looking for it - - it finds me!
To help you understand, I’ll share a couple of stories from some of my past medical visits to the ALS Clinic. It’s run by a group of
wonderful people who all have the best of intentions towards their patients.
It’s just that… well… Oh, read on.
The first stop is always the weigh-in and I’m in a good
mood right off the bat. Why? Because a little known consequence of having ALS is
that we are encouraged to gain weight! Did you know, research has shown that ALS patients who
are a few pounds overweight can slow the disease progression and live longer than those
who are underweight?
For someone like me, who’s spent most of her life in a
leotard and leggings, being given the freedom to plump up a little was music to
my ears! True, I’m still a healthy eater and don’t go overboard at the buffet
table. But all in all, it sure makes a bowl of chocolate-chip ice cream taste
even better - - knowing it’s under doctor’s orders!
Speaking of doctors, my neurologist is an excellent, compassionate
physician whose specialty is ALS and related conditions. Her days are spent meeting with patient after
patient, listening to their list of symptoms and trying to meet their
expectations of a solution. So, usually when I show up, full of quips and
conveying no problems to speak of, I tend to throw her rhythm off.
“I’ve been feeling really good lately Doctor,” I recently
reported. “These past couple months I’ve felt happy and even find myself
laughing a lot.”
Raising an eyebrow she asks, “Laughing?” Continuing on - - now in
full doctor-mode. “Are you laughing too much or at inappropriate times?”
GULP! - - I knew where she was heading. Bulbar ALS is a serious
condition that can affect some patients; it’s recognized by uncontrolled bouts
of laughter and/or crying plus the inability to control one’s emotions.
I answer carefully, “Well, I do tend to perceive
situations differently now and am able to re-channel how I react. Rather than
getting frustrated and angry…I try to find the humor in Life’s twists and turns and
laugh it off.”
She presses on, “How about crying?”
“No, I don’t cry easily. Unless you count sad movies on
the Hallmark Channel or those awful animal rescue TV commercials; those can
make me tear up. But that’s all appropriate isn’t it? I can always hold it back
when I need to.”
Actually, I’ve found a workable method, especially when the people
around me wouldn't appreciate the fact that they are the ones contributing to
my outburst. I follow the old adage - - to stop a sneeze, think of a purple cow
- - but in my case, I stifle a laugh by thinking of wet farm animals. Yup, wet,
miserable, standing in the rain farm animals; works every time.
Thankfully, the doctor agrees that sad animal TV commercials have
the same affect on her, and I’m OK. But, she
ends our visit with, “If you find you can’t control your laughter anymore, we
Medication? To not laugh so much? The mere thought that something as
fun, healthy and stress-relieving as laughter has an edge and... if, you fall off
I make a mental note to remain calm and in control for the remainder of
the afternoon’s clinic.
Suddenly the Speech Therapist is at the door. Smiling
broadly she enters the exam room with a hearty, “How’s everyone today?” At her
heels are two students-in-training; full of effervescent energy, clip-boards in
hand and exuding happiness.
I always enjoy my sessions with this Speech Therapist. We
found we share a propensity for wearing colorful, crazy socks. So our tradition
is that at the very start of the session, before anything else, we show-off our
socks. Seems her two students have picked up on the sock fetish as well, so in
unison we all pull up our trouser legs and spend the next few minutes oohing, ahhing
and giggling at our collection of designs. Over in the corner, my husband rolls
What follows can best be described as a language lesson
in jungle noise. With their stop-watches in hand, the format is for me to
imitate the exact sound they emit. Together we make low, soft monkey calls.
Then louder chirps and trills as if we’re parrots. Finally, I’m urged to yell
as loud as I can, followed by several attempts at singing short songs. Once,
when the phrase was: oo-ee-oo-ah-ah…my husband proudly chimed in from the
corner with a, “Ting-tang-walla-walla-bing-bang!”
The entire room cracks up!
Remembering my recent encounter with the doctor, I focused on a
barnyard full of wet farm animals. Ahh…calm again.
They finish up with a few more questions and bubble out
of the room.
The afternoon proceeds along with more visits; the Physical
Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Dietitian, and representatives from the ALS
and MDA associations. All are incredibly happy people who obviously love their
jobs and helping others. More than once, I'm forced to invoke images of wet,
The last test of the day is a pulmonary function or,
breathing test; administered by the Respiratory Therapist. He comes in
and unpacks his equipment which consists of a hand held computer, a jumble of
wires and a “device” that looks like a small hair dryer. I’m supposed to blow
into the nozzle end. Small disposable cardboard tubes fit into the nozzle and keep
everything sanitary from one patient to the next.
By now, my poor husband has reached Level Orange on the
husband-patience scale. For the uninitiated, that’s the same as “sitting on the
husband bench at the mall while waiting for your wife who is in the department
store, hesitating over choosing the perfect shade of red lipstick.” You know… that level!
To combat boredom, my husband begins a light-hearted
banter with the therapist, jokingly he states that the hospital could save a whole lot
of money by using empty toilet paper tubes for this test rather than buying the
pre-packaged ones. We are the therapist’s last appointment of the day…he’s
obviously ready to go home too, so he relaxes and riffs right along adding that
the tubes have two ends so why not simply turn them around between patients and
double their usage. There’s more said, but it finally escalates to something
along the lines of, “Why not just use the same tube for everyone? It’ll only be
bad for the last patient of the day, who will have to put up with a soggy, wet
While they’re carrying along and chuckling I’m trying to
stay calm and prepare for a deep breathing test.
Finally, it’s my turn - - I take the hair-dryer into my
hands, place my mouth around the tube and give a mighty exhalation. I get a thumbs-up signal from the therapist.
“Do it again,” he says dryly.
Once more, I breathe in, tube in mouth…and while exhaling
I hear my husband snicker. Completing the second test - - I glare at the voice
in the corner.
“One last time,” I hear the therapist command.
OK...I take a deep breath, pull myself up tall in the
chair, hold my breath, place the cardboard tube in my mouth and.… hear my husband’s
voice, “Hey, you’re the last patient… did you get the soggy tube?”
Amid the spittle, coughs and laughs I completely lost it.
The three of us shared several minutes of light-hearted laughing.
Sinking back into the chair and still giggling, I look to the
therapist for help.
My brain in overload now. Where, oh where, are those darn wet farm
animals? I couldn’t conjure up even one!
“I don’t think I can manage a third try,” I gasp.
“Forget it,” he chuckles. “Your first two were at a
hundred percent anyway. Let’s call it a day and go home.”
So ends my example of finding the funny.
Just to ease any worries among my friends (especially
those whose life-time career has been devoted to making others laugh), I won’t
be seeking the “anti-happiness” medication anytime soon. Rather, I’ll just keep on letting the funny find me - - and continue writing about it, to share with you!