Tonight (Wed. Dec. 30th) I returned home after visiting my dear friend, Albert, for perhaps the last time. Only six months ago doctors were running tests on him to find out why his speech was slurring. Friends and co-workers joked with him about his “drinking problem”. Then last July Al was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). He knew it by the fourth of July when we played our last round of golf together. It meant he had to sell his business and prepare for his inevitable demise in this world.
Al remained philosophical about the rotten hand he was dealt and was thankful for the wonderful times, adventures and friends he had through his life. But he wasn’t that old, he had a thriving business, loving family and lots of friends. He said, if success in life is measured by how many friends you have, then he has been truly blessed with a great life. That’s true. As July wore on, his speech began deteriorating to the point that he needed to communicate with the aid of a computer speech program or writing on paper. I know this frustrated him immensely. He was such a verbal and animated communicator. He would say something to me and I would nod my had trying to understand, but not know how to respond because I couldn’t understand him. UGH! Still we smiled, laughed, drank and ate. He loved music…especially Tom Lehrer songs such as “The Old Dope Peddler”, “Be Prepared” and “Irish Ballad”.
A benefit, “Alapaloosa”, was held in October. It was a grand party with lots of food and drink. Everybody wore specially made T-shirts. I sat in with the band and we played some great blues. Al remained sharp, enjoyed the festivities and responded with a beautifully choreographed speech performed, melodiously, through his PC. They were his words, but I missed hearing his impulsive witticism coming from his own gravelly voice. Family and friends were all there to send him own his way. It was a happy moment.
Then November came. His health deteriorated. Weakness and back pain began to take over. By December he needed more ’round-the-clock care than his saintly wife could manage, so he was admitted to a hospice care facility. I brought him a chocolate milkshake, which I knew he loved. He was okay but dealing with some anxiety. By now he needed assistance for everything from moving around to eating and drinking. He needed oxygen. Sucking his drink through a straw seemed like a monumental task now. Yet his mind was still as sharp as ever. The computer was now too heavy to move about, so he resorted to a clipboard and paper to express his thoughts. He would laboriously write out words and phrases. It was frustrating but we had good moments where we could laugh and reminisce about our times together.
Now just a week later, in the palliative care unit at Buffalo’s Veterans Hospital, doctors refer to his time left in days and hours rather than in weeks and months. How quickly he is going. Heavily sedated, he sleeps. He can’t swallow, eat or even open his eyes, really. But he knows we are there loving him and caring for him. We would talk to him and he’d let us know he is still there for us.
I just wish someone would invent the “outternet” so we could surf the “OSW” (Other Side Web) with our computers.