Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My MS Story Chapter 6 – The Things I Learned One Night in Nashville

Nashville, Tennessee
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In the winter of 2003 I was hanging out in downtown Nashville one cold, quiet Tuesday night with a client. If you haven’t been to Nashville in February, you need to know that it is more like Maine than Miami at that time of the year. I learned a couple of lessons that night- one about my MS and one about the Nashville music scene.

Jeff, the client, and I were walking along 2nd Avenue looking for a restaurant, no restaurant in particular, just a decent one, when I was introduced to a new MS symptom. Without any warning my legs suddenly became as stiff as boards. I had read about leg spasticity with MS, but had not had the pleasure of experiencing it yet. In our extremities we all have opposing pairs of muscles, flexors and extensors, which usually operate in a coordinated fashion. When spasticity occurs both muscle groups fire simultaneously, and the involved extremity becomes rigid. For me, this condition passes in five or ten seconds, and can be triggered by any number of factors, such as cold air. I often experience spasticity at the most inconvenient times, like when I’m trying to squeeze into the seat of a car, or when I need to get my feet into my wheelchair foot holders so that I can start going wherever I’m supposed to be going. Imagine trying to force a life sized Mitch cardboard cutout into a wheelchair, without breaking it. There are varying degrees of spasticity. That evening in Nashville I experienced mild spasticity. Even now I only suffer moderate spasticity symptoms in my legs.

However, many people with MS or other neurological diseases and injuries have severe spasticity that is both painful and debilitating. There are drugs you can take to loosen up the spastic muscles. They help your spasticity problem, but at the price of making the rest of your muscles, even the well behaved ones, weaker. These drugs can also leave you drowsy and listless at times. I tried oral Baclofen a few years ago, but didn’t stay on it for very long. I’ll take my moderate spasticity thank you.

My mother, who was a quadriplegic due to an accident when she was 35 years old, had severe spasticity. Although she had no conscious control of the muscles below her trunk, her legs would routinely decide on their own that all muscles, flexors and extensors, are going to fire, and they are going to fire right now, and they are going to fire for a long time. Leg spasticity became very problematic for her in her later years. In fact, by the time she passed away at the age of 74 (ripe old age for a quadriplegic) she had lived for a year with a pump surgically implanted in her abdomen, supplying her spinal cord with Baclofen- straight up, no chaser.

Back in Nashville…after dinner Jeff and I set out by foot in search of some exciting Nashville nightlife. Just as the cold air began to threaten me with another spasticity event, we happened upon a dive bar, and we dove right in. After bellying up we noticed a couple of features that you just don’t see in, well, nice bars. First, the surface of the bar top was made of plywood, and wasn’t exactly finished or even sanded I think. Second, there was a display of cowboy boots on the wall behind the bar, at about the same height where top shelf liquors are stored in finer establishments. What makes Nashville think it can pull off the whole Cowboy thing anyway? This was not Dallas or Cheyenne. Nashville, are you a somewhat northern Southern City or are you a considerably eastern Western City? Is it “how y’all doing today” or is it “howdy pardner”? Come on Nashville; make up your mind already.

We ordered two Budweisers, in a weak attempt to just blend in. While surveying the bar for more little treasures, I observed that a small band had set up in the corner closest to the entrance, but there were no musicians in sight. I looked at my watch and noticed that it was only seven o'clock, so we didn't “reckon” that we would get to see the band.

A few minutes later, when we were maybe half done with that quick beer, and were almost warm enough to venture back out in the city to resume our search for some real Nashville nightlife, four men in Western duds materialized from nowhere. They mounted their instruments as smoothly as a cowboy mounts his trusty old steed. Giddyup. The quartet surveyed the huge crowd of maybe seven patrons and one bartender, and started playing. Wow, what a treat! In most cities we would not have had front row seats for this quality of music without paying a cover charge or maybe even purchasing tickets. I'm not a country music fan, but I always appreciate good, live music of any genre. And these people were exceptional. I remember being mesmerized by the electric fiddler as he played the obligatory “Devil Went Down to Georgia” riffs. We stayed and had a couple more beers.

There couldn't have been a lower budget venue than this bar in the whole city. But because it was Nashville these four outstanding musicians were willing to play for two businessmen and five locals, on the off chance that somebody important in the music industry might just drop by and discover them. So right then and there I concluded that there is no bad music in Nashville. This is a statement I still make with authority today whenever the subject of Nashville comes up in conversation.

“My company’s corporate headquarters is in Nashville.”
“You know, there is no bad music in Nashville.”

“My great aunt Eunice lives in Nashville.”
“Are you aware that there is no bad music in Nashville?”

“I adopted this stray dog that was picked up on the streets of Nashville, and flown all the way to Maine by a charity. His fur is so soft, and white, and fluffy. I think I'll name him Snowball. Go ahead, pat him.”
“Sure, whatever… did you know that there is no bad music in Nashville?”

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  1. Mitch--great story as usual...and thanks for the explanation of spacticity--I am frequently trying to explain it to people when it occurs --not very successfully. Flexors and extensors firing simultaneously is simple and clear. Too bad the answer to treating it isn't quite as simple. I love discovering the undiscovered gems of a town--thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks Meredy, glad you like it. For me spasticity is a nuisance, but not really affecting my quality of life too much yet.

    Ya, if you only hit the touristy highlights of a new city, you often miss out on these little diamonds in the rough.