One Father's Extraordinary Journal of Living Longer with ALS
A New Voice is Coming to Town

A few weeks ago, I wrote to you about how difficult it has become for people to interpret my ALS accent, and the difficulties it presents for both me and those trying to understand. Recently, we discovered a device that may provide at least a partial solution. It is a small computer made by a company called DynaVox (DynaVox Mayer-Johnson | AAC Communication Products & Services). This device will attach to my wheelchair, and is activated by the movement of my eyes. By moving my eyes across various screens, I can scan a keyboard or lists of words and phrases, and when I find the one desired, a simple blink of the eyes selects it. After composing something to say, another blink signals the computer to speak it for me. It can be programmed with custom words and phrases. It can also be programmed to answer my phone and operate my TV.

Although it can take some time to blink in words and phrases in the moment, it will restore a good deal of my verbal independence, and enable friends to communicate with me again. For someone in the advanced stages of living with ALS, this machine is a God send! It will return freedoms, like changing the TV channel, for which I have had to depend on others for some time. It will also eliminate a good deal of frustration and energy drain on my part and those trying to communicate with me by reducing the need for constant repetition of what I am trying to say. Having recently lost my ability to safely taste most of my food, the restoration of these freedoms will be particularly sweet! Hopefully, the device will arrive within the next few weeks. We are looking forward to it with great anticipation and excitement.

The old saying, “when one door closes, another opens” comes to mind. What experiences have you had that remind you of this phrase?

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Having my swallowing deteriorate to the point of needing a feeding tube has caused me a great deal of reflection and contemplation. Given my intention for fully recovering from ALS, having to get a feeding tube was a huge disappointment. Thinking about changes in my behavior over the past year or so, I realized that I have stopped doing breathing exercises, meditation, taking mental trips to the gym, and visualizing myself in a fully healthy and mobile state. I have gotten complacent. As a result, my breathing has declined to its lowest level ever, my voice clarity and volume are so poor that most people can’t understand me, I have lost significant weight, navigating my wheelchair has become more difficult, and swallowing has eroded to the point of requiring a feeding tube. The tube, for me, has been a startling wake up call.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, two other events have dovetailed with my reawakening. One was the reading of my friend, Howard Guttman’s, latest book, ”Coach Yourself to Win” In it, Howard quotes from my manuscript words that serve as a powerful reminder of where I have strayed from:

“…it takes a while to get past the surrealism, to really get it that your time may be limited, and how you are spending your time right now is how you are choosing to spend what is left of your life…. It finally hit me that holding on to my typical patterns wasn’t going to do anything but burn me out and cause me to fade away with no additional contribution to myself or anyone else…. Once I got it that things had to change, I started to shift my priorities. My work was no longer as a management consultant. My work was now to demonstrate how to take responsibility for my own survival and live with intention to find a way to beat an unbeatable disease.”

While my consulting days ended years ago, reading my own words in Howard’s book made me realize that I have let too many other activities interfere with living out my intention. It made me realize that it is time to refocus my priorities. A second quote from my manuscript reminded me dramatically of what was at stake:

” I have pretty consistently held to the notion throughout this ordeal that recovery (at some level) is a possibility. The flaw in this way of thinking is that, if reversing this disease is a “possibility”, then the opposite is also a “possibility”. ALS is a neurological disorder, and the brain is the center of the nervous system. If my brain is sending out messages to the rest of the system that recovery is only an “option”, then my potential for recovery has been compromised. So my strategy going forward is to convince myself that recovery is a certainty, and that it has already begun.”

Such convincing requires a great deal of meditation and visualization. Giving up such activities results in too many unwanted possibilities. The stakes with ALS are simply too high to risk with unintentional behavior.

The other event that coincided with my reawakening was joining Dr Craig Oester’s Healers of ALS (HALS) group Over the past several months Dr. Craig has become one of my heroes. He has been living with ALS for seventeen years. After approaching death as a hospice patient, he finally began to turn his health around, improving enough to get thrown out of hospice. Craig and I share the belief that the key to healing from ALS lies in managing one’s thoughts and beliefs. As a psychologist, who has successfully used this basic premise to reverse his own symptoms, he is now inviting other PALS (people with ALS) to join him in an effort to see if his results in recovering from ALS are reproducible. His determination and strength of focus have inspired me and redirected my attention to behave in alignment with my intention with greater fervor.

What experiences have you had with getting off track from an intention and recovering your focus? What helped you to get back on track?

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