CHARLOTTE, NC, December 25, 2016 – Before being diagnosed with ALS, I never imagined that getting dressed would one day become a form of physical therapy.
Though the process only takes five or ten minutes more than it used to, it is also tedious, as well as physically and mentally exhausting.
Everyday things we all take for granted have become a chore: brushing my teeth, combing my hair, closing a car door, shaving or calling in a fast food order at a drive-in.
As each day progresses, I have gradually learned little tricks to help adjust to my lack of dexterity. Unfortunately, things often change gradually from day to day until soon the trick that worked on Monday is no longer practical for the person you have become on Friday.
That is probably where most of the mental anguish occurs because I was so accustomed to doing everything for myself and now I am keenly aware that there are many things I can no longer accomplish easily.
There is a television commercial which many people used to laugh about when it came on, including myself. It opened with a scene of a senior woman laying on the floor saying “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.”
Now after falling out of bed on several occasions where it literally took fifteen to thirty minutes to get back on my feet, I can readily empathize with that elderly woman. Needless to say, the commercial is no longer as humorous to me as it once was.
I am still an early riser, but today I find myself wanting to fall back into bed and sleep a little longer before challenging the day.
When bedtime comes I find comfort in curling up into a fetal position and almost pretending I to be back in the womb until sleep overtakes me.
Among the gimmicks I have devised in the process of tackling the task of getting on with life, I have begun using an electric toothbrush. The result is not the same as with a manual brush. I often feel I have missed places, but I am consoled by the fact that I no longer have to attempt to move my hands and arms rapidly back and forth. That process is difficult to perform in my present condition.
As for dressing, one thing I have figured out is leaving my left shoulder slightly damp after drying off after a shower. By doing that, I can put my left arm into the sleeve of my shirt and lay the collar and top of the shirt on my shoulder. The dampness keeps the shirt from falling on the floor.
Then I bend over and use my right arm to locate the other sleeve and, depending on whether it is a bad day or a good day, gradually lift the shirt into position.
On a bad day, I often put a good deal of tension on the back of the shirt which has resulted in a few tears here and there. The worst part, however, is that I have to start over.
Sometimes the collar also likes to tuck itself under, which means that someone else needs to straighten it into position because I am unable to reach back to get it.
Socks are yet another hazard with a different set of problems. Every morning when I attempt to put my socks on, I picture Cary Grant in “To Catch a Thief” or “North by Northwest” or “Charade” stretching as far as he could to keep someone from falling to their death.
It also occurs to me that Grant had considerably more of those types of scenes than any actor I can remember.
Putting on socks is quite similar to Cary Grant’s life-saving efforts except that there is no threat of imminent death in doing so. It’s the stretching aspect of the procedure to which I am referring because it is necessary to reach my toes with my fingertips in order to loop my sock over them so I can pull them up.
Though I don’t believe my legs have become longer with this affliction, my toes do seem to be getting increasingly farther from my fingertips.
One other helpful hint for the “sock exercise” is keeping my toenails trimmed. Not only does it aid not putting holes in the toes of the sock, it also prevents snagging my toenails with the cloth which then makes the project twice as difficult.
Though I have yet to experience a fall from my chair while leaning over to get my socks on my feet, I am always aware that I could slide out of the chair onto the floor thereby sending me back into the tenuous process of getting up.
Of course, I have also begun more traditional forms of PT and, truthfully, it is a lot more fun and far less dangerous than the alternatives.
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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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