ALS and My Medical History

by Patty Blake on Thu, 2014-01-23 16:44

You know, it occurs to me that this whole thing could have been avoided. That’s right. Had I been born 100 years earlier than I was, it’s extremely likely that I never would have reached 55, the age at which I received my ALS diagnosis. Looking back, there are at least six or seven instances that I am aware of which could have resulted in my death.

Patty Blake

At age 5, before the existence of the vaccine, I came down with the measles, a disease which has been known to decimate populations. I remember that half of my kindergarten class was out sick at the same time, then the other half. My case was bad but my brother’s was worse. Fortunately we both survived. Our grandfather’s little sister, however, died of measles. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 160,000 people died in 2011 from measles. Sadly, it is still one of the leading causes of vaccine-preventable childhood mortality.

During high school, I was a diehard football and basketball fan. During my junior year, shortly before my 16th birthday, my friends and I were in the stands at a cold, drizzly, miserable football game. Can’t remember if we won or lost. But I came down with a bad respiratory illness, later determined to be influenza. I was sick in bed for a couple of weeks before it turned into pneumonia. I spent a few days in the hospital and still have scar tissue on a lung. Without antibiotics, it is conceivable that I might have died, given how weak I was. But I recovered completely.

Mortality rates for women giving birth have plummeted in the last hundred years or so. I gave birth to our first child at age 23. Had it been 1880 instead of 1980, who knows if I would have made it? Rising blood pressure a few weeks before my due date had my doctor concerned. The delivery was more or less routine, so chances are pretty good that I would have survived. But, three years later, as we prepared to welcome daughter No. 2, things were different. She was a breech presentation, and it was decided that a cesarean section would be the safest method of delivery. I am very glad it was 1983 and not 1883. Surgery back then was not as safe or routine. I might have died at age 26. As it was, both of us survived relatively unscathed.

Later that same year, I had another health scare. I was in the minority in that I did not contract chickenpox during my childhood. Instead, shortly after my 27th birthday, with a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old, I came down with chickenpox. It’s much tougher on adults. I was miserable. Fever, headache, itching and PAIN. My head felt like it was covered with marbles as I laid down to rest. Complications are much more common in adults or infants with chickenpox. It can even cause death. But I did recover ... in time to care for my two sick babies. Yes, their mother gave them chickenpox, I’m sorry to say.

Appendicitis is not considered too terribly deadly these days. But people used to die from it. Without surgery and antibiotics back in 2000, I would very likely not have survived my ruptured appendix. I was 44. It would be nine years before the appearance of the very first symptoms of what would later be determined to be amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Had I died from appendicitis, we never would have had this diagnosis.

It’s a strange way of looking at it, I know. But whenever we are talking about how it seems more and more people are being diagnosed with ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and various cancers, we have to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that people just did not live long enough to contract some of these diseases. I may be completely wrong, but it’s just one way of looking at it.

So, on that cheery note (!) let me give you the latest update. This week, I have actually seen improvement in talking! It seems that when I bit my tongue last week, it took several days for the swelling to go down. The swelling really interfered with articulation. So it’s nice to be able to communicate a bit easier right now. Swallowing is still not a problem ... so far, at least. Everything else is about the same.

Writing this blog is one of my greatest pleasures these days. It gives me a chance to voice some of the thoughts swirling around in my head. And I enjoy the opportunity to connect with people all over the world! WordPress provides a “stats” page for its bloggers where we can see where our visitors come from. For those of you who do not speak English, my apologies. I sincerely hope Google translate is able to decipher my particular use of the language! I would like to say publicly THANK YOU to everyone who reads this. You may not realize it, but you brighten my days!

Thought for the day from Albert Schweitzer: “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

I am indeed thankful for each and every one of you.

This blog was posted originally on Jan. 22, 2014.

About the Author

Hi. I’m Patty, and I’m a wife and mom to two grown daughters, and I'm in my 50s, dealing with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or motor neuron disease). This blog is my journey through uncharted waters. People ask me constantly how I’m doing. The short answer is “OK.” I add “so far” in my head most times. So that’s what I’m calling this little corner of the interwebz, OK, So Far. So if you’re up for it, come along on this roller coaster ride known as my life. I can’t promise much in the way of entertainment, but I’ll try not to be too boring! Thanks for stopping by.

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