Today I take my elderly (compared to me; he’s 75) friend, Bill, for his follow-up appointment with the Neurologist. I took him to his first appointment about 3 weeks ago. Surprisingly, the doctor invited me in then to “hear the news”. It wasn’t good news. He said, “I don’t have good news for you, Bill. In fact it’s very bad news. You have ALS, Bill”. Bill looked confused. “I thought I had Sciatica?” was all he could sputter, surely, amidst his overwhelming clouds of emotion, with a very confused, searching type of look on his face Meanwhile, I’m trying to remember what the fuck ALS is. I should have asked the doctor. I thought Bill might know. I’d ask him when we leave. He didn’t know. We had to Google it, right there in the bloody elevator as we were going down….
The doc said he wanted to run some tests to rule out “other things” that can mask as ALS, like AIDS. AIDS??? Bill??? Hardly!!! Then the doc said he was going on vacation for 6 weeks and wouldn’t be able to see Bill again until June 7th. That’s today. Meanwhile, two days after that appointment, Bill’s back feels better. He calls to tell me “good news”. No back pain, to Bill, means he doesn’t really has ALS. It’s Sciatica afterall! “Oh that’s great, Bill”. “Ya,” he says with childish delight. Post-script: I can still hear his desperately hopeful voice saying that to me now as I re-read this. (Feb 2018).
I know all the “Stages of Grief“. I first learned all that when I was a cop, then later at university in the plethora of Psychology and Sociology courses I took. Bill classically launched into the “Denial” stage, and has stayed there for the last three weeks. At least he has been able to relax and have some hope for the last three weeks…
I think I’m more nervous this morning than Bill is. Assuming the doctor asks me in again, I know what I’m going to hear. The doctor didn’t say that Bill “might” have ALS a few weeks ago. He said, most definitively that he “HAS” ALS, but wanted to run those other tests, you know, to “rule out AIDS” and the like.
In the meantime I gotta say I’ve been struggling with my own mortality. ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) usually strikes people in their prime. Think Lou Gehrig or Stephen Hawking. Bill’s actually lucky to be getting it so late in life. Once diagnosed, you have a 2 to 5 year lifespan left. There is no cure and sweet all medications to help with it. Not that I’m assuming that I will get it, or God knows what else. There are a host of diseases running around out there. But hey, I’m 57 and very healthy these days–since my near-death experience at 50. But seeing all this happen with my friend Bill really isn’t easy, for Bill especially, of course. I’m ok. At 11:30 this morning Bill isn’t going to be ok. I’ll take him for lunch afterwards to his favourite spot. They serve good beer there too, which I’m sure he will be far more interested in today than the food…
I realized this morning that I’ve lived a very sheltered life. Nevermind that I saw a boat-load of life for the short time that I was in the police department. Since then, I really have been insulated. I don’t know why. Well, our society seems to be built that way. We hide all of the nasty stuff, in sanitoriums or hospitals or rest homes. And I think the police department may have shocked me so much that I unconsciously insulated myself and closed my eyes to many of life’s vagaries and vicissitudes. Surprisingly, I think, in some weird sense, I’ve been missing something important. Time to open my eyes again me thinks, look-see, and write about it, starting this morning with Bill.
Post-script: Bill died in November 2017.