Be Alert to Other Monsters

I have an uncanny knack of hurting myself in bizarre ways. A month ago I dorked it up and broke my pinky toe on a closet doorjamb rushing to get a bathrobe so I wouldn’t have to answer the doorbell naked. That got me wondering… What could I do to top that? I pride myself on being an overachiever, going the extra mile. When I do something, I do it right. So the other day, at 4:21 a.m. (give or take), I rolled over to my wife, who was sound asleep like an angel resting on a bed of clouds, and cooed into her ear something to the effect of “Honey, there is a chance I am having a heart attack.”

That’s perhaps the last thing you want to say to your spouse at 4:21 in the morning. Those heavenly sleepy clouds dissipated in a hurry and my angel was now propped up in bed with frazzled hair, big eyes and a suspicious crooked eyebrow. But I felt I really didn’t have a choice. I woke up ten minutes earlier with uncomfortable chest pain and difficulty breathing. It didn’t feel like an MS hug and it couldn’t be a heart attack, could it? I mean, I exercise vigorously every day, I’m only 44, and there is no family history. So naturally I did the first thing one always does in a potential medical crisis. I Googled it. And what did Google tell me? Stop Googling, you idiot, and call 911.

Our house is less than five minutes away from the nearest hospital—we could drive there quicker than most ambulances could even get to our home. So the two of us hustled to get dressed (I carefully avoided doorjambs) and soon we were in the ER surrounded by doctors and nurses. It’s amazing how fast the medical staff works when you complain of chest pains. And my first doc didn’t dim my concerns. “I’ve had a few cases like yours where I would have bet the house there was no heart attack, but the tests came back shockingly positive. Or it could be gas.”

Did I wake up Laura at 4:21 a.m. and have her drive me to the emergency room because of some digestive issues? Now I was doubly scared. But when some liquid concoction I swallowed didn’t help matters, an overactive colon seemed unlikely. We were stuck waiting for the required six hours before a blood test could rule out a mild heart attack. Another doctor had other suspicions.

“What did you do yesterday?” I just exercised, I told him. Tried some new stuff. Lots of twisting with heavy weights. “Hmm. You strained your chest. When the test comes back negative you can go home. Take it easy for the next few days.” The paper he handed me described my issue perfectly. “A strain of the chest is due to stretching and tearing of the muscle fibers between the ribs. This may occur as a result of strenuous lifting or twisting injuries of the upper back. This usually causes increased pain with movement or deep breathing.”

Mission accomplished! I dorked it up to an entirely new level, surprising even myself. But seriously, there is a lesson to be learned here. When you have multiple sclerosis, it’s easy to attribute every symptom to your disease… and then ignore it or push past it. The reality, though, is that we are not immune to life’s other maladies. Don’t ignore or overlook symptoms. It could mean life or death—catching a cancer early or a stroke before it does permanent damage. Or it could just be some mad gas or a textbook case of dorkness.


Finishing DFL in a 5K MS walk

On a September weekend in 2008 I participated in a 5K Fit Walk to help raise money for multiple sclerosis. I got to wear a number, start off with a massive crowd, the whole bit where it seems you are taking part in the Boston Marathon. Only it was Albuquerque. And it wasn’t a marathon or even a race, it was a walk. A noncompetitive walk. And yet a walk that saw me cross the finishing line after an hour and 20 minutes to cheering crowds chanting my name. “Go Dave!” “Woo-hoo Dave, you rock!” ”Dave! Dave! Dave!” All for finishing DFL. Dead F#cking Last.

How did they know my name? Probably because the volunteer course sweepers had to radio in to the finish about some guy and his wife still on the course. And people were probably cheering because they could finally go home now that the final two stragglers had finished, but I digress. Every volunteer I passed, I thanked. And told them I wanted to make sure they earned their volunteer dollars—no getting out of their posts early. When I went past water stations, I requested they hand me the water as if I was screaming by. I’d grab the Pixie cup, take a swig, toss the rest on my face, and huck the cup to the side just like the pros! Only every time I tried to drink, it went down the wrong pipe, and I’d start hacking and gacking. Walking and drinking is not in my repertoire. How the hell do you drink out of a cup when you are running?

Now I do have to admit my performance wasn’t truly DFL worthy. Because the event was so popular, we had to park 1K away (so I ultimately did a 7K walk). I was getting over a miserable cold that had left me blind and stiff as a board just a couple days earlier. And stopping to talk to a number of friends along the way let the pack get away from me. I thought I could make up the ground, but my legs decided to stop participating at about the the 2K mark! Still, with the immense help of trekking poles, I managed to drag my stupid body the full 5K so I could bask in all that is DFL glory. Also know that I DFLed for MSers worldwide. Because the next time you participate in any sport, in any event, you can rest assured that you can do no worse than yours truly. Woo-hoo, go Dave!

Originally published September 30, 2008. Edited for clarity. Photo taken two months earlier, but I looked equally toasted.