Beginning in January 2013 I began to slur words. There were certain syllables I couldn’t pronounce–l, g, t. I joked with my high school history students, telling them to not tell their parents, but I drank vodka every morning before school because of the stress of teaching.
My primary care doctor told me it was in my head. She couldn’t hear anything unusual in my speech.
In March 2013 I taught a six-week course for adults in Church history at Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church in Lecanto, FL. Friends who had not seen me for awhile did detect something wrong with my speech.
In June 2013 during one of my daily bike rides I couldn’t keep my head up and I began to walk around with my shoulders stooped and my head down.
I finally convinced my doctor to refer me to a neurologist. The first neurologist was a complete nut case. He wanted to test me for dementia! A second neurologist ran me through tests an ordered an MRI. His conclusion was that I did not have ALS but had two damaged discs in my upper neck. “Before surgery,” he said, “lets try therapy.” After 14 weeks of therapy my head was no longer drooping.
However, by December 2013, I had lost twenty pounds and grew physically weak. I commented to my wife, Ruth, “I’m certain I felt good at some time or other, but I can’t remember when!”
Finally, in January 2014 I was diagnosed with ALS, a disease for which there is no known cure, and which ends with death on an average of two to five years after diagnosis.
After a full day of tests at the North Florida Medical Center—in a room with two nurses, another doctor in training, and my wife—the neurologist said, “I believe you have ALS.” And then explained the seriousness of the diagnosis. When he finished, from inside of me came words that I had not prepared ahead of time, nor rehearsed—because earlier I had been told by another doctor that I did not have ALS!
My mouth simply opened and out came the words, “Thank you. I know that it is difficult for you to have to break that kind of news to people, and today you have done it very well. Thank you. But there are two things about me that I want you to know. First, I am a Christian, so whether I am on this side of the grave or that side of the grave, God is with me, so I have nothing to fear. And second, God has given to me the world’s best care-giver in my wife. So, I’ll be OK.”
About an hour later while we were waiting for our car to drive home, I shared with my wife an unusual experience that I just had seconds before. It was as if a big barrel filled with grace up in heaven just turned over and poured out all over me, from my head to my feet. “That means that I’ll be OK,” I said. “God’s here.”
I wish I could tell you that every day since then has been tremendous. There were days initially of doubts and questions. People my age aren’t supposed to get ALS. Why me? I’ve worked hard my whole life to remain physically fit. Why me? Why not the fat, soft guy living off of welfare who spends hours in front of a TV?
But after a week of readjustment in my spirit and psyche, God’s grace took over and filled me with peace and confidence in His power and in His plan for my life. It has remained so. I sleep like a baby and view ALS as just another chapter in my life’s book.
As the psalmist, David, said:
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.