Messy Drawers, Cassette Tapes & Vladimir Putin

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There’s no right or wrong time to clean out a messy drawer, or that one cabinet that hasn’t been touched since audio cassette tapes were still a thing that people actually used. Don’t mistake this as a diss on cassettes— nothing could be further than the truth. I used to love to rock out to Michael Jackson’s Thriller album on my mint green boom box. In fact, I eventually wore the cassette tape out and had to use some of my piggy bank money to buy a fresh copy at the mall. This was a time when you had to actually drive to the store to buy music— so it was a serious commitment. You had to really want something if you were willing to make your mom drive you 40 minutes to the Vintage Faire Mall to get it. After all, in the 1980’s, the only thing you could download from a Cloud was some rain.

Cleaning out an old drawer or shelf can be a therapeutic experience. I know I always feel better, lighter, and calmer when I can de-clutter something. That’s a fact. Unloading possessions is deeply cathartic. While I know that some people get the same feeling from yoga and meditation, I suspect Vladimir Putin gets a similar zing of excitement when he invades Ukraine and polishes his knife collection.

Sorting through old stuff can yield surprising results, too. Once I found a $20 bill in a nylon fanny pack at the bottom of my dresser. Remember fanny packs? Yeah, I wish I didn’t, either. Aside from being horrified that I actually wore the damn thing, I instantly felt like I had won a prize by discovering the twenty bucks inside. It didn’t seem to matter that it was actually my own money, I was still a Powerball winner in my mind.

A few days ago, I cleaned out an old drawer in my bathroom. Inside, next to a crusty bottle of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder, and in front of a curling iron that hadn’t been used in over a decade, I found a little box. Inside? My high school class ring! I hadn’t seen the ring in years, in fact, I had forgotten all about it. But, alas, here it was in my hand, smelling slightly of old talc, yet none the worse for wear. It was like finding a $20 bill, only way better. Vladimir Putin probably gets the same feeling when he imprisons dissidents and runs around the Kremlin naked.

So, the moral of the story is this: don’t wait to clean out that one messy drawer in your house. While you may only find old buttons, some matchbooks, and a few dried-up pens, there’s a chance you could discover something awesome. Like a $20 bill, your high school class ring, or— if you’re Vladimir Putin—your secret stash of Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

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If only everyone could be so lucky.

Netflix, Stones & Scones

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When I get bored, or if I’m a little sad, I like watching documentaries on my laptop about old, historical things— like English castles, Russian tsars and evil Nazis dickheads. It’s calming and therapeutic… yet, cheaper than Xanax.

Today, I stumbled upon a documentary about Westminster Abbey on Netflix. You know that big, old Gothic church that Prince William and his wife, Kate, got married a few years ago? Yeah, that building. It’s been around for nearly a thousand years… and it’s THE place to get buried if you are super cool and accomplished. There are kings, queens, princes, dukes and even scientists— like Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. There are scads of writers, too, including Aphra Behn— who, in the mid-1600s was the first woman to make a living as a novelist, playwright and poet. #oldtimeygirlpower

Westminster Abbey is also the place where the kings and queens of England are crowned. During the ceremony, the monarch sits on this really old wooden chair that was built in 1296. The chair still exists today. It’s survived generations of termites, vandals, and the really fat ass of King George IV, who in the mid-1800s spent most of his time eating large amounts of food and shagging women— all while being addicted to opium. He was a real winner. #momoneymoproblems

The chair was designed to house a special slab of stone beneath the seat. This slab is called the Stone of Scone. It’s important to note that the name has nothing to do with actual breakfast scones, much to George IV’s utter disappointment. Rather, the stone was the seat upon which hundreds of years of Scottish kings were crowned a really long time ago. In 1296, though, King Edward I of England took the stone from the Scots so that it could become the coronation seat for his many future, royal, and sometimes tubby, descendants.

As you may guess, this did not sit well with the Scottish. It didn’t take much to inflame their ire during this time, but stealing their favorite old rock was an easy way to do it. In between eating haggis, playing bagpipes, and drinking whiskey, the Scots stewed about this horrendous act for hundreds of years— even after the two nations joined together under one monarch. The English refused their many requests to have the stone returned— unwilling to compromise with the plaid-wearin’, brogue-talkin’ heathens to the north.

Fast forward 700 years. (I didn’t promise this would be a short story.) On Christmas Day in 1950, four Scottish students broke into Westminster Abbey with a crowbar and snatched the Stone of Scone from beneath the seat of the coronation chair. Okay, snatched might not be the best word for something that weighs 336 pounds. Rather, they dragged the stone out of the Abbey on an old winter coat and managed to secret the slab of rock across the border to an eager, and joyous Scotland.

British police vigorously searched for the stone for three months before the Scots finally relinquished the stone in time for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation months later. The boys that took the stone were pardoned and details of the investigation were plastered all over the newspapers. Yet, each side still claimed ownership of the Stone of Scone and its history. Eventually a deal was reached so that Scotland could keep the stone for most of the time, except during coronations… every other Christmas, and the 2nd Tuesday of the month. Like a divorced couple’s joint custody arrangement of their 336 pound baby. It was all very complicated.

Strike that. No… no, it wasn’t complicated. It’s actually very simple. England and Scotland, two very advanced nations and pioneers in the development of representative democracy, were fighting over a FUCKING ROCK. A piece of goddamn stone that you can find in any riverbed, on any hillside… hell, even in someone’s weedy backyard.

See, this is why history is so awesome. And this is why I watch historical documentaries to make myself feel better. Because even if I’m having a bad day, a sad day, or I’m depressed about what’s on the 5 o’clock news, I know that we humans have done stupid stuff all throughout our history. The dates and years on the calendar may change, but our stupidity does not.

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Don’t you think?

Summer, Flip Flops, and Tony Danza

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Ugh. As I sit here typing this, the thermometer is registering 95°F. It’s barely May and only 4 days ago I still had flannel sheets on my bed. And now I’m sweating and my jeans are sticking to my ass. Why couldn’t the summer heat arrive gently? Like the slow bloom of a flower… or water dribbling down a clogged drain. Why, instead, does it have to be so blunt and nasty? Like a bull, or Steve Bannon, in a china shop?

I HATE SUMMER! There, I said it. I don’t like the heat, the sun, or even the clothes. I much prefer the styles of the cooler months— my cabinet full of scarves is a testament to that. Plus, I can’t wear most summer clothes, like shorts, because I sunburn in mere minutes. This isn’t dramatic hyperbole. One time I got a sunburned in the time it took to go from the front doors of the shopping mall to my handicapped parking space— which was IN THE FRONT. Yes, I really am that white.

Now that we’re on the subject of summer attire, I also don’t understand flip-flops. They seem unnatural and highly dangerous. Why would you want to walk around on something so unstable? It’s a shoe that’s barely attached to your body. You are one thin plastic strap away from disaster. It’s a good thing that I can’t walk, because if I had to wear flip-flops in the summer, it wouldn’t end well for me. First I’d get a bad sunburn on the top of my foot, then I’d fall and break my nose on the nearest object, like a ficus plant. It would be like an episode of The Three Stooges, only less funny and less Jewish.

If all that weren’t enough, the slapping sound flip-flops make is also decidedly unappealing. Do you intentionally want to sound like a walrus flapping their hands together? Because, I hate to be the one to say it, but you really do sound like that.

Anyway, thankfully I have air conditioning to help me during these trying times. It’s currently humming in a soothing way that reminds me of those noise-canceling machines that they used to sell at Bed, Bath & Beyond next to the display of soda-making kits that NO one ever buys. The same ones that have been on sale since 2005. If you are thinking of buying one, you might want to reconsider; I’m sure those flavored syrup pods expired back during the days when Bush Jr. lived in the White House.

Those were simpler times, though, weren’t they? We didn’t have a president with orange skin and hair… and Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston were still alive— so we could listen to their music without the sad pang of nostalgia. Those also were the days before the word taxi had been replaced by Uber. Before long the nerdy folks at Oxford will just drop that word from their dictionary entirely… and a hundred years from now little children won’t even know what a taxi is, let alone that it was yellow and usually driven by strange foreign men with accents— or Tony Danza.

IMG_3914It’s only May, though, so I better get used to this heat. If you need me, you can find me sitting in front of the fan, grumbling… and not wearing flip-flops.

Shoes, Spiders and The Perks of Being Me

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While it may not seem like it from the outside, there are definite benefits to being me. There are the obvious ones— preferred parking spaces, event seating in the front (should the venue be equipped for it), and being able to get away with first-degree murder because no one will believe that the perky girl in the wheelchair could possibly poison anyone with arsenic.

Aside from these obvious benefits, there are the not-so-obvious ones, too. Like my shoe budget. I rarely have to buy new shoes because each pair I buy will last a ridiculously long time. This is what happens when you don’t go walking around in your shoes. While Nancy Sinatra may have sung “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” she clearly wasn’t talking about me. My boots are made for sitting in my wheelchair while I do things like try not to stain them with dribbled spaghetti sauce. (This is a serious concern. My wardrobe is more susceptible to food-spillage than actual wear-and-tear.)

I’m not ashamed to admit that I still have two pairs of shoes from the 8th grade. I am not kidding. As I know that fashion is cyclical, I’m just biding my time until 90’s chunky heels are all the rage again. If acid-washed jeans can make a comeback, so will my Payless black leather loafers.IMG_3794

If you don’t believe me, I’ve taken this picture of my shoe closet. The average age of a pair of shoes in this closet is 9.7 years.

Anyway, being me is not all sunshine and rainbows. It can be challenging when you get an itch you can’t reach or drop something on the floor and you have to wait for someone to pick it up. Patience becomes a daily practice, an endeavor. It’s not an obscure or unknowable concept — like what the hell is really going on with Trump’s hair.

Yesterday, I had such a challenge. While I was on the phone with my aunt, I felt something weird on my neck. Thinking it was just my hair tickling me, I ignored it. A few minutes later, I felt it again. I looked in the mirror and I saw a spider crawling around on my clavicle… like it owned the place.

To say I freaked out would be an understatement. I hate bugs with a deeper passion than I feel for anything else on this Earth. And that is saying a lot because I really hate manbuns.

Nearly dropping the phone, I went to my dad and shrieked, “THEREISASPIDERONMYNECK! GETITOFFNOW!” With exasperated amusement, he flicked off the spider and it smashed on the knee of my pant leg— leaving a stain on the jeans that would be a reminder for the rest of the day of my traumatizing experience.

In his accented voice, my dad then scoffed, “Bah, eet was juust a leetle bug.

This was a total lie to try to make me feel better. But, I was the one that had it crawling around on my neck like a fucking Land Rover on safari. In my mind’s eye, heavily colored by my assorted anxieties, the spider was NOT little. And it never, ever will be.

I guess being me isn’t all fun and games…

A Breath of Fresh Air

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For a person with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), like me, respiratory care is a key component to our well-being. The muscles closest to our spines are most effected— while the severity of muscle weakness lessens the further you move out to the tips of the extremities. Therefore, to say that the muscles that control my respiratory system are not great would be a vast understatement. It would be like saying that King Henry VIII only had a slight problem not killing his wives.

You know the satisfaction you get from hocking a really big loogie? Yeah, that’s not so easy for someone with SMA. I would love to easily hock a loogie when the occasion warrants. It’s definitely on my all-time wish list of things to do— which includes marrying George Clooney and traveling back in time to buy stock in Apple when they were still making computers in Steve Jobs’ crappy garage.

As a result of my muscle weakness, I also have scoliosis— which further impairs my respiratory function. In fact, my right lung is so squished that it really doesn’t do much. Despite that, I’m quite surprisingly fond of it anyway. It’s decorative and ornamental— like Melania Trump.

Therefore, keeping colds, viruses and flus at bay are essential. A minor cold that would just make you snuffly for a few days can knock me out for a week or two. And, the specter of pneumonia is always hovering over my shoulder— waiting, watching and listening. Just like Vladimir Putin.

Like many with SMA, I use a BiPAP respirator machine at night while I sleep. While I wear a mask similar to those with sleep apnea, this machine instead ebbs and flows with the rhythm of my breathing— like the tides of the ocean or a politician’s approval rating.

However, this machine is not as soothing as it sounds. It bears no resemblance to the nature-sound CDs that they used to sell at Bed, Bath & Beyond for $9.99. It took me over a year to get used to this damn thing. You know a hurricane? Imagine that in your face while you are trying to sleep. For nearly a year, I vacillated between wanting to throw in the towel and return the BiPAP to the doctor… to getting my dad to run over the f$&@ing machine with a John Deere tractor.

Along with my respiratory gadgets, like my BiPAP, I have an assortment of techniques that I’ve developed over the years to prevent infections:

  • STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM ANYONE I THINK MAY POTENTIALLY BE SICK. This policy is effective, but it causes me to turn into a veritable hermit from November to March… I can make Howard Hughes seem like a contender for Miss Congeniality.
  • IF I MUST BE AROUND SOMEONE SICK, I FORCE THEM TO WASH THEIR HANDS SO OFTEN THAT THE SKIN ON THEIR PALMS SHRIVELS UP AND FALLS OFF. I am not kidding about this. Sometimes I even make them wear a mask. While this may seem excessive, if you were me, you’d do the same. All’s fair in love, war, and microbes.
  • I GARGLE, CHEW AND DRINK EVERY FOLKLORIC REMEDY I CAN FIND ONLINE. Listerine mouthwash gargle? Yes. Apple cider vinegar? Duh, of course. Chew raw garlic cloves until your mouth gets blistered? Definitely. And do these work? I am not certain, but my anxiety likes to think they do.

A few days ago, I headed back to Stanford to see the pulmonary specialist and to finish up the loose ends of my Spinraza evaluation. While there, I saw a kiosk at the entrance of the neuroscience building. It had an automatic hand sanitizer dispenser, tissues, and masks— all in one display case. It was amazing. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning— if that kid was a raging hypochondriac. Since I couldn’t feasibly steal the whole display, like I wanted to do, I took a photo by it instead…

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Here’s to a cootie-free Spring!

Driven To Laziness

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As a species, I suspect we humans are getting lazier with each passing year. While I love technology as much as the next person— in fact, I probably love it more— I think it has caused our brains to shrivel into the size of a bar of soap. Not the regular kind, mind you, but the cheap travel-sized ones you buy at Dollar Tree.

We can’t be bothered to do the simplest things anymore— like memorize phone numbers and learn how to read a map. Instead, we have our smartphones do this for us. Last week, I used Waze, the navigational phone app, for the first time.  It’s pretty great, but it takes away any need to think. All you have to do is trust the Waze system and blindly follow its directions. It’s like living in North Korea and watching their state television. If you do what they say without question, you won’t end up dead in a ditch outside Pyongyang.

Waze constantly updates the driving route based on current traffic conditions. It even gives live alerts for upcoming stalled vehicles, CHPs, road construction, and where to find the best tacos within a 2-mile radius. Okay, I might have made that last one up. But, if the Waze people are as smart as I think they are, they should do that, too.

Yet, I fear we rely on these navigational apps, like Waze, too much. In fact, we probably couldn’t even find our way home if they suddenly stopped functioning. I’m not kidding. There’s a good chance that many of us would end up lost— wandering for 40 years in the desert like Moses.

And, I don’t know about you, but I’m not built for that kind of hardship. I get burned within minutes of being in the sun and I freak-out at the sight of an insect. I would not have lasted long in the desert with the Israelites.

As a society, we are also good at trying to make things more convenient that really don’t need to be made any easier. At the store yesterday, I saw a bin of russet potatoes priced at 98 cents a pound. Next to those, were a small pile of russet potatoes that were individually wrapped in plastic. These potatoes were 98 cents, each, and were labeled “microwaveable potato.”

All potatoes are microwaveable. And they already have a handy feature called a “skin” that acts as a natural covering. Are we that lazy that we can’t wash a regular potato, poke some holes in it with a fork, and stick it in the microwave? Or, if we’re not crunched for time, rub some olive oil on it and bake it in the oven?

This makes me a little sad for all of us. If Moses were around, he’d probably stroke his beard and remark in dismay:

“Oy vey!”

The DNA Don’t Lie

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It’s been a whirlwind few weeks since the announcement of the FDA approval of Spinraza— the first-ever treatment for Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

Considering I had never heard of Spinraza until a few weeks ago, it’s amazing how fast a new word can enter a person’s vocabulary. It’s like when we were introduced to the expression “hanging chad” during the 2000 Presidential Election. No one had heard of a hanging chad before, and suddenly it became the most important thing in determining how to count votes in Florida— which in turn would decide who would become the President of the United States. It was all anyone could talk about— like that one time when Janet Jackson flashed her boob at the Super Bowl.

In case you are wondering what a “hanging chad” is, it’s what happens when a person voting using a punch-out ballot doesn’t push the little circle all the way out of the paper.

It’s not surprising the 2000 election kerfuffle happened in Florida. Everything weird happens in Florida. Those people are so chronically dehydrated from their ridiculous humidity that they don’t have the strength or clarity of mind to do much at all— let alone punch out a ballot correctly. I know I can’t even remember my own damn name if the temperature climbs too high.

Anyway, it’s rather remarkable that Spinraza, a word I’ve never uttered until recently, I now say at least three or four times a day. That’s nearly the number of times I utter the word f#%$. So, yeah, that’s a lot.

As I’ve documented on this blog, previously, I’ve begun the process to get Spinraza. And, “process” is definitely a way to describe it. They aren’t just giving this stuff away— like it’s a free donut at Krispy Kreme or a cabinet position in the Trump administration. No, they want me to earn it.

Today, I’m one step closer to achieving this goal. To qualify, a big component is having a DNA test on file showing my SMA gene configuration and my number of SMN2 copies. This is required because Spinraza may only work for those who meet certain parameters.

While a DNA test has been the standard way to diagnose SMA in recent years, I had never had this done before. I was diagnosed by muscle biopsy as a toddler, instead. I still have a two-inch white scar on my left thigh as a memento of the occasion. Good times.

Even if I had wanted it, DNA screening wasn’t around when I was diagnosed in the 80s. Yet, we did have lots of other things worthy of note that decade— like Cabbage Patch Kids… the Berlin Wall… and Bill Cosby before we found out he was such a pervert.

But, today, I’m one step closer to achieving my goal. I just got my DNA results and… *drumroll please* … It’s official, I do have Spinal Muscular Atrophy! And 3 copies of the SMN2 gene!

I know that may sound anticlimactic. But, I suppose it’s good to know I just haven’t been faking this for the last 35 years. I really am disabled. Yay, me!

Now that this hurdle has been cleared, I move on to the next step… getting insurance approval. Given the revolutionary nature of this treatment, and the limited folks that can use it, it comes with a hefty price tag— $750,000 for the first year… $375,000 per year, thereafter.

Yes, you read those numbers right. It’s not a typo.

My doctor at Stanford expects insurances to fall into line, but there’s no guarantee. So, keep your fingers crossed for me. I’m gonna need it.
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XOXO