Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Pet Peeves

If the video does not play for you, go to this link:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

When Spouses Become Caregivers

IMG_1445Keep in mind that it's not only me. It’s Kim too. We’re both suffering from the effects of MS.

Sure, I'm the one who has the disease, the one whose central nervous system is dissolving day by day. I’m the one who can't work, who sits in a wheelchair, and who grows more dependent on others each day. But I'm not the only one suffering. My wife has decided to come along for the ride, and that makes me question her sanity just a little bit.

Make no mistake about it; this is a choice. Many marriages break up in the wake of an MS diagnosis. I prefer to think that MS either accelerates the inevitable, or becomes the last straw, in marriages that are already flawed. In strong marriages like ours, it seems inconceivable (but yet I know it isn’t) that a tragic medical diagnosis would drive a wedge between committed partners. My point is that Kim remains with me by choice, and for that I am grateful. I’m also in this marriage by choice. But let’s be realistic. If I wasn’t happy I wouldn’t exactly have other options. I don’t feel trapped at all, but I’m sure that others in my situation or in Kim’s situation do, and that is a sad thought.

We shouldn’t assume that all MS breakups are about heartless, healthy spouses leaving helpless, sick ones. Those of us with MS need to work hard at being easy to care for. Maybe I’ll ask Kim to author a future post about just what easy entails. I’m guessing I would get a passing grade in that regard, but not an A+, perhaps a B-.

Here are a few practical examples of how Kim's life has been affected by MS:

She no longer spends even a single night away from home. I need help getting into bed. I need help in the middle of the night. I need help getting out of bed. We should formulate a backup plan in case she becomes suddenly ill, unexpectedly injured, or just temporarily misplaced.

Kim is on her own when it comes to maintaining our household. All the chores, all the seasonal activities such as raking leaves and shoveling snow, all the minor repairs, everything that needs to be done to keep our house in good order, is accomplished by her. She is so damned frugal (cheap) that she won't hire anyone to help. She is so damned conscientious (anal) that she won’t do anything half-assed, even if she is exhausted.

In some marriages the opportunity exists for at least one spouse to consider risky, more fulfilling, or even more altruistic career paths at some point. Also, other couples enjoy at least the fantasy of one day picking up and moving to another part of the country or another part of the world and starting over. But none of those options are available to us anymore. We rely so much on Kim’s income and benefits that she is essentially restricted to her current employment situation, or only the most circumspect growth opportunities therein. It’s a good thing that she loves her job.

And here are a few, more intangible examples of how Kim's life has been affected:

She must, on occasion, wonder what my continued progression is going to mean for her. Is she going to be able to handle it? What will be expected of her? What if she falls short of what is required?

I may appear to be well-adjusted and content, and to a large extent I am. My physical needs are being attended to. But Kim must sometimes wonder if I’m not hiding something from her due to pride, shame, or concerns for her happiness (who, me?).

None of us knows what lies ahead in our lives- lightning strikes and cancer diagnoses come to mind- but for the spouse of somebody with a chronic disease like MS, this level of uncertainty is amplified, and so is the level of associated stress.

Disability introduces some interpersonal communications challenges. I'm guessing that Kim has conversations with herself like these:
  • Should I offer to help with what he is struggling to do right now, or should I leave him alone so that he can accomplish it himself? Is this a time to intervene or a time to observe from a distance?
  • If I dare to go out and have fun without him, should I feel guilty for leaving him behind? Is he really okay at home with Phoebe tonight?
  • Mitch is capable of independently accomplishing what he’s asking me to do for him, although it would certainly be easier for me. Is this one of those times when I should push back, or would life just be simpler if I do what he asks? (From my perspective the identical situation might be viewed like this. I know I can probably accomplish this task by myself, but it will take a lot of energy and may cause significant frustration. Should I ask her for help or should I just suck it up and do it myself?)
So, the next time you see a couple where one partner is handicapped, I suggest you reserve as much or even more admiration and compassion for the caregiver as you do for the disabled person. One of them may be stuck inside a bottle, unable to escape. But the other one is peering into that bottle through clouded glass, trying to figure out what the heck is going on in there, and wishing she could slip her hand inside to help.

And how do I feel about this situation? I am so fortunate to have a life partner with as much empathy, energy, patience, courage, and love as Kim. You might think that having my wife become my caregiver would drain the romance out of our marriage, but I prefer to look at it this way. I am head over heels in love with my sexy caregiver, and we are embroiled in a steamy love affair. How cool is that?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Health Impact Fund - An Innovative Approach to Medicine or a Pipe Dream?

Medical Drugs for Pharmacy Health Shop of Medicine
(Photo credit:
“No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. We must learn to see the world anew.” Albert Einstein
Governments, political bureaucracies that they are, simply are incapable of providing most goods and services effectively. That’s why capitalism has been relatively successful and communism hasn’t. I cringe whenever it is suggested that more government involvement is needed in order to solve a problem.

I'm a free-market, small government, minimal regulation guy, but only to the extent that said free-market serves the needs of the populace. The pharmaceutical industry isn’t doing that, not by a long shot.

The failure of the pharmaceutical industry to meet our needs is not due to evil people or evil corporations. It would be so much simpler if it was. It's because of a broken system. The story goes that by maximizing profits and shareholder value pharmaceutical companies provide the most effective, lowest cost drugs, and make them available to the widest number of people. This model works for industries like computer hardware and athletic socks. Does it work for medicines? No.

I’ve railed here before about how our system of developing, testing, pricing, and delivering drugs is an utter failure. But my friend, Wheelchair Kamikaze, says is so much more eloquently. Please give his post a read, but then come back here for more!

Thomas Pogge, of Yale University, recently gave a Ted talk about this dysfunctional model. He does a credible job of describing the failings of the current system, and articulates the goals of a new one. He points out that most drugs are relatively inexpensive to manufacture. The significant income that the pharmaceutical companies generate from their patent protected drugs does make the shareholders wealthy, but it is also wasted on marketing, lobbying, litigation, and other non-value added activities.

Pogge suggests that if we were to redesign the pharmaceutical industry from scratch, we would have the following objectives:
- Patients would have access to important, existing medicines regardless of their country and income.
- Research and development investment would target the innovations that promise the largest health gains, not necessarily the greatest corporate profits.
- The entire system would be cost-effective so that money spent on medicines would achieve as much as possible for human health, as opposed to squandering money on non-value added activities.
The current system does a poor job regarding all three of these objectives. Pogge makes the point that it is unrealistic for us to simply pressure pharmaceutical companies to adopt more altruistic business strategies. They are operating in a free-market system, and have no choice but to meet their fiduciary duty to their stockholders within the constraints of the law. Otherwise they would go bankrupt.

Pogge proposes a solution called the Health Impact Fund. In a nutshell, this would be an endowment financed from tax revenues (can you see me cringing?) which would reward pharmaceutical companies based on the health impact of their drug on the global population. Pharmaceutical companies would sell the drug at cost, and would be rewarded from this fund rather than realizing profits as they currently do. Please watch the video below and visit their website for a more thorough explanation.

I like the theory behind the Health Impact Fund, but I'm afraid that it is fraught with logistical nightmares, too many to go into detail about in this post. But I hope that they prove me wrong, and I commend this group for offering a solution and for actually trying to raise money for a pilot program.

If not this idea, then what? How can we overhaul the pharmaceutical industry so that it serves the needs of the human population, without having it become a bureaucratic nightmare and just another failed government program? I don't think minor tweaks are the answer. I definitely don't endorse socialization of the pharmaceutical industry. I'm sure other proposals have been made on how to repair the pharmaceutical industry. If you know of any, please share them with us in the comments section.

What’s so damned frustrating is that we can’t seem to get out of our own way. We have a clear and urgent need. We have abundant talent in both the public and private sectors. But while we debate, posture, blame, and politicize, incalculable human suffering continues.

Trust me. I know.
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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Losses and Gains 2011

iStock_000002092385XSmall1-399x301As you know, I try to strike a balance here. I don’t sugarcoat my condition, but neither do I wallow in self-pity. As such, it seems appropriate to render an honest assessment of what I’ve gained and lost in the past year, and what changes may await me in the next couple of years.

Note that with my type of MS, the losses are not transient or reversible, but rather constant and permanent. Frankly, I hadn’t realized how rough a year it had been until I compiled the list.

And the gains? They can be fleeting or, with luck, they may last forever.

2011 Losses
  • Driving (click here)
  • Getting into bed unassisted
  • Dressing myself, including footwear
  • Reaching above my head (click here)
  • Almost anything with my left hand (click here)
  • Reading hardcopy books, magazines, newspapers
  • Preparing my own meals and cutting the food in my plate
  • Some washing/grooming tasks
  • Most handwriting tasks
  • Any hope for CCSVI success for me (click here)
2012 - 2013 Potential Losses (I’ll make a progress report in 12 months)
  • Operating zippers
  • The rest of my washing/grooming tasks
  • The rest of my handwriting skills (signing my own name)
  • Sitting up in bed, unassisted
  • Transferring to and from my wheelchair unassisted
  • Feeding myself
  • A few things that I can’t even imagine (the devil you don’t know)
2011 Gains
  • About 10 pounds (5 since Thanksgiving)
  • A much more accessible neighborhood (click here)
  • A wonderful new home (click here)
  • Kindle e-reader (click here)
  • Great vacation to western U.S. (click here)
  • Long term disability benefits secured until age 65 and Medicare for life (click here)
  • More new friends
2012 Potential Gains
  • New power wheelchair for primarily in-house use (delivery this month)
  • Saving the iBot (click here)
  • Trip to Bahamas (February)
  • Still more new friends
  • Entire summer in new, more walkable neighborhood
  • Stabilization of disease progression (unlikely, but possible)
  • A few things that I can’t even imagine (like a Powerball win or an appearance on Ellen?)
  • Another year above ground
emersonRalph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “We do what we must, and call it by the best names.”

So what do we call this? Life, I guess.

It’s still way better than the alternative.