Welcome to the third installment of our new blog series featuring patient bloggers. Last week, we introduced you to Parkinson’s blogger Steve, and today, we’d like you to meet Rachael, a three-star member who has been a part of PatientsLikeMe’s flagship ALS community since the very beginning. In fact, she joined PatientsLikeMe in May 2006, just two months after being diagnosed with this progressive neurological disorder (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). Her blog is called “Notes to Self,” and it’s a candid and charming journal of the full life she leads, despite her condition.
1. What role does your blog play in your life?
As the title suggests, my blog is [filled with] “Notes to Self.” I use it as an aide memoir and an excuse to be verbose as my voice fails me. It is useful to direct people who ask about events in my life when repetition of the story would be tiring. I also find that it helps me to work through my often complicated emotions in dealing with the disease and its incumbent challenges.
2. Tell us about using an eye gaze system to write your blog posts and more.
As I have blogged on many occasions, the Eye Gaze System [a communication system directed by eye movements] is invaluable to me. I was fortunate enough to get the system before my voice and keyboard dexterity gave up entirely. I have become used to using it, and the transition has been less traumatic than it otherwise might have been. Low-tech communication is all very well in an emergency but cannot compensate for speech.
The Eye Gaze allows me to converse on an almost level footing, conveying thoughts and observations, expressing myself in my own style with all its complexities and idiosyncrasies. The Eye Gaze also allows me to indulge my “inner geek” and access the Internet and Skype to communicate with far flung friends and family.
3. You’re a big user of the InstantMe tool at PatientsLikeMe. Why?
I have always been quite an obsessive character. I am possibly overworking the PatientsLikeMe facility. I find it of immeasurable help to have a diarized record of my progression as it relates to my daily life. I tend to ramble, so I find the strict regimen of 140 characters helpful.
A while back, I worried about my memory loss. I had a test done, and it showed no signs of the frontal lobe dementia that terrified me. My consultant reassured me that my short term memory loss was within “normal” parameters. To me it was still unacceptable. Because I have so many small things to remember that people without this condition would find insignificant, something has to give. Having a log helps my recollection. It is also useful for caregivers to reference and saves me effort and energy that I often do not have. It makes my clinical review a whole lot easier and accurate.
4. In your last post, you talk about reconnecting with friends you’d pulled away from. Tell us about that.
When I was first diagnosed, I was given the usual prognosis “18 months to live”. Some friends ran away but I realize now that I also withdrew from many people in my struggle to come to terms with the disease. 18 months has come and gone a number of times. Over time I had to re-evaluate my response. Instead of planning for dying I needed to plan for living. Part of this included giving people the opportunity to be involved in my life.
It is, on reflection, a patronizing thing to withdraw friendship without at least offering the choice. Life with ALS is difficult, but the challenges are not insurmountable. I thoroughly enjoy my life and my friends both old and new. Anyone reading my “InstantMe” [history] will know that I have an active social life and a busy home.