And We All Fall Down

I did something the other day my wife thought was impossible: hurt myself while sleeping. In the nearly 20 years we’ve been married, we’ve slept in hundreds upon hundreds of different beds around the world. (One might say we sleep around, but let’s not.) We’ve slept in mammoth beds the size of entire bedrooms and on barely padded floors in Buddhist monasteries. We’ve slept on planks in China, with bedbugs in India, and in the wilds of Kenya’s outback. We’ve slept on beds in tree houses, beds in caves, beds in former palaces, beds in deserts, beds in castles, beds in haunted hotels. And not once have I ever fallen out of one, even in roller-coasterish 30-foot seas or in tippy riverboat hammocks. Well, there’s a first time for everything.

Falling is a fact of life with multiple sclerosis. Indeed it is a fact of life, period. You will fall. It will hurt. You will curse. And I try, usually successfully, to avoid kissing the pavement, hugging the rug, smooching the linoleum, and mowing the grass with my teeth. I am not shy about using aids, especially after my broken leg experience a few years ago. Canes, trekking poles, forearm crutches, walkers, and wheelchairs are all in my arsenal. But these aids, I discovered, are relatively useless when you are sound asleep. On a cot. That is listing.

Rule #1: Don’t sleep in a listing cot. Rule #2: If you violate Rule #1 and fall out of bed, do not try to stop your fall by putting all of your weight on your right big toe. That hurts and you will curse. Which is what I did at 5 in the morning, waking up my angel of a wife with a start for the second time in as many months. Worse, I didn’t even get to finish my dream, in which I was probably running around chasing stuff and humping legs like a spazzy dog that had just lapped up a bowl of Red Bull.

The pain radiated up my leg with every step, and eventually the toe turned an appetizing shade of spoiled blueberries. At least I wasn’t on some romantic trip to the Grand Canyon, celebrating getting engaged at the world wonder exactly 20 years ago. Oh, wait… I was. Ah, but all was not lost. We managed to deal—as we all have to do with multiple sclerosis, patient and caregiver alike. We couldn’t quite find the ledge where I proposed—and it was most definitely a ledge as I wanted to have an easy out if she said no (kidding)—but it didn’t matter. Bum toe and all we were living life as best we could.

As everyone with this disease knows, despite our most determined efforts, some setbacks are unavoidable. (Like hurting yourself when you are sound asleep!) We dust ourselves off and keep living. And yes, we’ll fall again. And we’ll dust ourselves off again. And keep living….

Hamstrung with Hamstrings

Two years ago, on December 29, 2010 at approximately 1:26 p.m., I entered a state disbelief. Total befuddlement. See, I was doing my daily stretches, working on my famously tighter-than-a pair-of jeans-three-sizes-too-small hamstrings, when I accidentally grabbed my toes. I know, MY TOES. Huh? What the hell was going on!? Gymnasts grab their toes. Yogi masters grab their toes. Chinese acrobats who specialize in contortionism grab their toes. People with MS don’t grab their toes. I have the flexibility of Melba toast. Reaching my kneecaps and maybe—maybe— touching my shins (if I cheated and bent my knees) was my elasticity Everest. Seriously, the last time I touched my toes was back in seventh grade as a yellow belt in Taekwondo. And I did that only because my instructor was a 7th degree black belt championship fighter with a short fuse for kids who weren’t limber. But there I was, at the age of 42 with multiple sclerosis-induced spasticity my daily enemy, wrapping my hands around my feet. Either I had just torn my hamstring off my femur necessitating urgent surgery and months of rehab… or my 15- to 30-minute daily stretching routine was actually working. I’ll be danged, it was the latter.

While stretching has always been a part of my regular exercise, rarely was it a focus. That all changed when in 2009 my spasticity went into a higher gear. So for months I had been far more faithful about getting in at least one stretching session per day in the hopes that maybe I would be able to hold off taking Baclofen and other anti-spasticity drugs. Heck, I’d been preaching the benefits of stretching for years on ActiveMSers as the single most important exercise you can do for your MS. It was about time I got off my pulpit and practiced. The gains were at first imperceptible. I never noticed that I could reach my shins without cheating. Then my ankles. While my painful spasticity had faded, I never put two-and-two together. And then… and then, I touched my toes.
Originally published December 29th, 2010. Edited for clarity.