I hear the train a comin ’round the bend
I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when
Well I’m stuck in Folsom Prison and time keeps dragging on
While a train keeps a rollin’ on down to San Antone
Well when I was just a baby my mama told me son
Always be a good boy don’t ever play with guns
Well I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowin’ I hang my head and I cry
Well I’ll bet there’s rich folks eatin’ in some fancy dining car
Probably drinkin’ coffee and smokin’ big cigars
Well I know I had it comin’ I know I can’t be free
But those people keep a movin’ that’s what tortures me
On Saturday we met our friend Paul for lunch in Folsom, California. After a Mexican lunch, we decided to tour the Folsom Prison Museum. When I googled the lyrics for Johnny Cash’s famous Folsom Prison Blues, the analogy to ALS struck me. “But those people keep moving and that’s what tortures me.” For ALS patients their own bodies become prisons while their minds keep working. Sort of like prisoners. The museum had a large section of crafts made by the prisoners – they had time and their minds still worked. This large Ferris Wheel made of toothpicks took a long time to build.
Well if they freed me from this prison if that railroad train was mine
Bet I’d move it on a little farther down the line
Far from Folsom Prison that’s where I long to stay
Then I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away
For ALS patients, to be freed from our ALS prisons we would gladly hop on that train and let that lonesome whistle blow our blues away.
Those of you who know Paul and Stan and know how their minds work together will see the humourous mild irony in this picture of them in front of Folsom Prison.
Like the prisoners enjoying Johnny Cash’s concerts, ALS patients can continue to enjoy music too, because hearing is not affected. On Tuesday we enjoyed Andy’s Reno Philharmonic Youth Orchestra concert with my dad and Anita and Stan’s cousin Lisa. It was amazing to hear the quality of sound coming from the students in the three orchestras. The students range in age from 7th to 12th grade. Andy’s orchestra even had ballet dancers for Aaron Copeland’s Rodeo which was written as a ballet.
On Friday I had my salivary gland Botox injections and my ALS clinic appointment at UCSF. My takeaways:
Botox – we had a long talk with the doctor about my mucous problem and drooling when the Botox wears off and he adjusted the dose and made my next appointment in ten weeks instead of twelve
Nutrition – I am maintaining steady weight which is good. It was recommended that I add Senna once a day to try to regulate my bowels.
Neurologist – she verified my slow progression and referred me to an Ear, Throat, and Nose Specialist for my allergies.
Speech – I told her that I never want to be unable to communicate. She gave me a low tech letter board like the one my mom had but this one has a laser pointer that can clip to glasses or a visor and it has commonly used words on it. My mom’s only had letters and we had to point to each letter until she nodded. I now realize how much mom had to say but she could not. I remember when she wanted to tell me something and she spelled out I love you. I have enough trouble saying all I want with my electronic text to speech.
Social Worker – we discussed upcoming travel and she facilitated a letter for the airlines and TSA so I can carry my medical equipment on the plane with me. I had all of my equipment with me so the letter contains all the serial numbers.
Respiratory – we did not attempt the forced vital capacity or other normal measurements because of my vocal chord involvement in my breathing. But she did measure my normal breathing CO2 output because I have been a little more breathless doing housework, and ordered overnight pulse oximeter study, and increased my Bipap pressures because I somtimes wake up with headaches.
Research Project – we had participated in a blood draw research study at the last clinic visit where I was the patient and Stan was the control. This time we each had to fill out a questionnaire.
Blood work – it was nice to be able to go downstairs and get it done
We are blessed to have a wonderful relative to stay with – Stan’s dad’s cousin Julie. We love her and she lives close to UCSF.
I am on the slow train to the ALS prison. I don’t know why my progression is slow. But I am a patient fellow for the ALS/MND International Symposium in Boston starting Friday and I will represent all ALS patients. Please send me your questions and comments for researchers and I will try to get answers. You can comment on this blog or on Facebook or on Twitter.
I will not write a blog next Monday. But I plan two Boston blogs: one from the patient fellow perspective and one from the visiting family perspective. I will be visiting my aunt and uncle the first night and my godmother the last two nights including a lunch with my mom’s cousin, with the conference in between.
The second line of this song states the obvious: My Bulbar onset ALS has taken away my ability to speak. But the first line is approriate for the last week too, as you will see.
On Friday last week Stan and I drove to San Francisco for my 11:30 A.M. Botox appointment at the UCSF Movement Clinic on Divisadero. Google maps sent us across the San Rafael Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge, so we avoided the ever present traffic jam in Berkeley. On the way down we were listening to KQED public radio about the planned white supremacist rally at Chrissy Field the next day. And then we heard about all the counter protests planned, so there would be lots of places to avoid on Saturday.
This time I had a higher dose of Botox in my parotid glands, top and bottom. Then for the first time, I had injections in my maxillary glands, under my jaw. The injections really sting when they go in. As I write this, it seems I can finally discontinue my Robinul, which takes water out of your saliva and other places in your body too. I have really disliked the effect on my eyes – either too dry or too teary. I hope my eyes go back to normal. I am trying to get used to this new saliva situation – a little maxillary dribble, the rest of my mouth dry, and post nasal drip that collects in the back of my mouth.
We moved on to my 1 P.M. appointment at the ALS clinic on Parnassus. This was another appointment with no real changes. I got some suggestions such as probiotics to control the diarrhea that often comes with tube feeding. I also got a prescription for a liquid mucous reducer because mucous collects in the back of my mouth and then I can’t breathe through my mouth, which is ok as long as my nose is clear. But my nose is not always clear. So far that new med works well with my cough assist machine and suction. I don’t want to carry those around with me but I might have to. We did get nabbed for a research blood draw, where Stan would be my control. We were happy to participate. I don’t know why I am still walking and moving with no limb involvement even after a year. It is a rare form of ALS I am told. I can only attribute it to luck but I will do my best to help find a cure while I am able to be active.
After finishing after 5 pm, as usual, we headed to cousin Julie’s in Outer Sunset near the southwest corner of Golden Gate Park.
Her house is the most beautiful in the neighborhood.
We watched the news about the rally being cancelled. In my opinion it was all a publicity stunt.
On Saturday we had a lazy morning and then stayed in Julie’s neighborhood anyway, with a walk through the park. I had never been through that part of the park before and it was cool. Julie is a horticulturalist, so she could tell us about many of the plants and trees.
We saw bison, which was a surprise for me. Then we saw the fly casting ponds, another surprise.
My allergies were bad walking through the park but I still enjoyed it immensely.
We had an early dinner at the favorite Thang Long Vietnamese Roast Crab restaurant 3 blocks away and had a leisurely walk home.
When we got back to Julie’s she shared some photo albums with photos of Stan’s great grandparents and her grandmother (Stan’s great grandfathers sister), plus photos of Stan’s grandfather and his siblings.
There was also a photo pamphlet of the exhibition for which the Palace of Fine Arts and several other palaces were built. This was interesting to me because we had learned about the exhibition when we visited the Palace of Fine Arts on Segways a few weeks before.
Sunday brought another lazy morning.
Stan picked out all the leftover crab to use in a beautiful breakfast of crab benedict that smelled good.
In the afternoon. we walked in another part of the park I had not seen before. Since I moved to Reno in 1985, I have been to San Francisco hundreds of times, and it’s cool that there are still so many hidden pockets that I can explore for the first time.
After dinner at Julie’s, we moved to a hotel closer to my Monday through Wednesday research appointments.
I participated in a number of studies at the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, all related to the C9ORF72 gene mutation I have that can cause ALS, Frontal Temporal Dementia, or both.
On Monday I was scheduled to have an MRI. When I had my brain MRI pre diagnosis, my claustrophobia caused me to bail out of the MRI as soon as they put the cage on my head. I then had a rescheduled MRI under anesthesia. When we began looking at research and clinical trials, I made a promise to get over my MRI claustrophobia if I participated in any that required MRI.
First I had to sign a lot of consent forms. Shoshana was our study coordinater, and she was wonderful to work with. While I was signing consent forms, Dr. Nick Olney came in with his own consent form. He is researching nuerofilament-light and a cervical spine imaging method called phase sensitive inversion recovery as ALS biomarkers. Dr. Catherine Lomen-Hoerth, the director of the UCSF ALS Clinic, had told him that I was coming for research and with my unusual ALS, limited to the Bulbar region, he was interested in my spine. His dad, Richard K. Olney, MD, was the former director of the UCSF ALS Clinic and a renowned ALS researcher who developed ALS himself and died in 2012. So the younger Dr. Olney is highly motivated by his dad. He was very understanding of my claustrophobia, claiming to have it himself. He suggested I try Atavan, which we could pick up at Walgreens at lunchtime. I had my brain MRI scheduled for 1 P.M. and Dr. Olney had scheduled his for 5 P.M. So, it was a great day to overcome my phobia, with two opportnities.
I had blood drawn after the consent forms and then we went off to Walgreens and lunch.
For the first MRI I requested meditative music. I closed my eyes and didn’t watch the cage being placed over my head or myself being pushed into the tube. When I did open my eyes, I could see the MRI tecnician and Stan in the mirror. I meditated using the body scan method we had learned at the Mindfulness Course we took at St. Mary’s Health and Fitness Center. The technician checked in with me between each scan, asking for a thumbs up if I was ready to go on. I only came out once to wipe out my mouth. I pushed through the rest if it with my omnipresent napkin in my mouth. Stan was asked to do his Caregiver Interview while I was being scanned. He was able to get on the microphone and say goodbye and flash our ASL “I love you”, which I was able to return.
After the MRI, I had the first part of a neurological exam, and then it was time for MRI number 2.
This MRI was a little different because the table was moved between scans and even shaken at one point. They were good about telling me how long each scan would be and made sure I was good to go. They told me I actually fell asleep toward the end. We finished after 6 P.M. and were about the last to leave the building. It shows the dedication of these researchers to help people with ALS even if it means working late. And I was successful at overcoming my claustrophobia, which I consider a victory.
We met our friend Roy at our hotel. Stan used to work with him and he is now working in San Francisco.
On Tuesday, first I completed the neurologic testing with Dr. Dana McDermott. Dr. Olney came in and did his own assessment. Then I had cognitive testing; we had a family history meeting with Joanne, the genetics counselor; more cognitive testing; then a Family Conference, with about about 15 people around a big table. Dr. Adam Boxer led the meeting. Everyone introduced themselves and it was an international group. He explained that I was participating in several studies, specifically
ARTFL (Advancing Research & Treatment for Frontotempemporal Lobar Degeneration) program based at UCSF.
Frontotemporal Dementia: Genes, Images, and Emotion
My C9ORF72 repeat expansion genetic mutation has resulted in ALS. For many of my ancestors, it resulted in FTD. One of the things they are trying to figure out is why the there is a such a difference in gene expression even in the same family. I will not receive any information from this study, although I did find the cognitive testing to be easy. I will come back in a year for follow up.
After the family conference we were free to leave (5 P.M.) When we got back to the hotel, I went to the pool and did my aqua fitness. It was really nice to be exercising.
On Wednesday, we completed the research with a Lumbar Puncture or spinal tap, which sounds worse than it is. You can decide yourself after you see the photos. They put on music for me and this time it was Jackson Browne and the first song was These Days. Of course the second line stuck with me: I don’t do much talking these days, because it’s true. The first line also stuck with me because I am blessed to still be walking. So now you see one of the random ways my mind comes up with themes for this blog.
But now, time for the lumbar puncture. They had me sit with my head on a pillow on a table.
First she numbed my skin, then the layers below, and then stuck the needle in. I felt shooting pain in my left sciatic nerve, and when I reacted she asked if that was what is was. When I nodded she said she would move over a little. I didn’t feel anything else.
After the spinal tap, Dr. McDermott asked if i would do it again and I said yes. It really was not bad at all. This is good because the antisense drug therapy that will go into safety testing soon will be administered directly to my cerebral spinal fluid. After the spinal tap, I got to rest and my awesome sweet husband fed me my breakfast.
Then we had a language test that was made fun by Ariane, a speech pathologist from Australia.
She looked in my mouth with her torch, I mean flashlight. I told her that we had been to New Zealand, so we were used to the language differences, and that Stan’s grandfather was born there. She said to him, “oh you have kiwi blood, that explains a lot”. And my jokester husband teased her about escaping from the penal colony. I said that we called flashlights flashlights when we were in New Zealand. There was a Serbian intern observing and I asked her how to say flashlight in Serbian and she couldn’t remember so she Googled it. Another funny part was when Ariane sounded out words phonetically to see if I could understand that context. She tried to do P O T but with her Aussie accent I had no idea what word she was saying. She asked Stan to read it and I got it easily. She said that sound is really hard for her to say the American way. There were other laughs but to describe them would give away too much of the study.
Then we got information about donating my brain, which we opted to look over later. Then we were done and we had lunch and drove home.
I am passionate about helping to find a cure for this genetic mutation, as well as a cure for all types of ALS, so I am doing all that I can.