2019-02-03

Misadventures in MS



You would have been sooo proud of me. See, this past fall, I was out using my off-road wheelchair exploring the trails near my house. Dirt trails. Clogged with leaves. And tree roots. And precipitous drop-offs on either side. Technically not quite cliffs or chasms—only four or five feet at most—but for someone using a wheelchair it was basically SKIRTING DEATH. And I was doing it with aplomb, with little assist from Laura. Until we reached a crossroads. OF DEATH.

To the right, a gorge (aka, small ditch). To the left, a steep ravine (aka, small sloped drop-off). And across the path lay an impassable impediment (aka, large tree root). To advance, the only choice was to skirt the tree root OF DEATH to the left, placing my wheelchair dangerously off-camber on the lip of the ravine OF DEATH to avoid the gorge OF DEATH on the right. Given my history, we know how this would ordinarily play out. But I was a changed man.

I was newly older (50) and presumably newly wiser (jesus, I made it to 50). Plus, I was flush with new-found knowledge that some followers of ActiveMSers subscribe to the WWDD (What Would Dave Do) mantra. I certainly did not want to encourage my virtual friends to do anything moronic that could result in an unplanned ER visit. So I did the unthinkable. I turned to Laura to tell her that it was time to turn around. That maybe we should exercise caution. Me.

“Oh hells yeah, we totally got this” was all I was able to make out from Laura as my wheelchair lurched forward like it was a football sled being propelled by the front four of the ’85 Chicago Bears… being chased by bees. Before I could fully express my uncertainty about this rash, Dave-like decision, we were already at Mach 2 and fully committed. What could possibly go wrong?

Now I’m always one to explore possibilities. I’m just a curious dude. But the bottom of a ravine OF DEATH is not an area that ranks highly on areas I’d like to explore. And yet, as I was looking up admiring the trees—as I was sliding down into the ravine OF DEATH on my back—it dawned on me that I shouldn’t prejudge. Once I took stock of my new surroundings, I was relieved to discover how wrong I was. It was just a regular ravine, as I was still alive. And apparently, unbelievably, uninjured. No bones sticking out, gashes in flesh, internal injuries that would require a helicopter evacuation and immediate surgery. Nothing. Just that I was now at the bottom of a ravine. On my back.

I was relieved. Oh wait, bad choice of words. Because panicking when one has multiple sclerosis can conjure up the need to relieve oneself. So naturally I now had to pee. And poop. And I was at the bottom of a ravine. On my back.

Thankfully, by the grace of all that is holy, a jogger came by at that moment. We were saved! He looked down at the woman tending to her disabled husband and his tipped over wheelchair, paused briefly, then realized either a) he was dropping out of the cardio zone or b) the frozen pizza he was cooking in the oven back at home was going to burn and light the house on fire. He jogged on. Meanwhile, I was still at the bottom of a ravine. Still on my back. And frustratingly out of my cardio zone.

Then Barbara, a neighbor, happened to stroll up, or stroll down as the case may be.

“Looks like you could use some help.” She was keenly observant. The wheelchair was quickly righted. With Barbara pushing, Laura pulling, and me cranking, we crested the ravine on the first try. It was almost too easy. Even my bathroom issues had dissipated.

“Again!” I hollered. The women were not amused. Is there a lesson in all of this, other than watching your purported caregiver—who predicts 99.9% of your moves correctly—like a hawk? I mean, other than to avoid ravines, both ravines OF DEATH or pedestrian ravines. Absolutely.

When you are managing a challenging disease or disability, there are undoubtedly going to be times when you are going to end up at a bottom of a ravine. On your back. Spoiler alert: that’s going to suck. (And you might have to pee.) But instead of bemoaning your fate, take a moment between curses to enjoy the unplanned view. And take stock of all the good in your life. Then dust yourself off and make your way out of that ravine—however slowly. You can do this. You can so do this.