“In my own words” – PatientsLikeMe member Steve writes about his journey with ALS

Posted July 16th, 2014 by

For those of you who don’t know Steve, you should! For years he worked as a successful landscape architect designing urban public spaces. In 2006, he was overlooking the design of the historic Boston Common when he was diagnosed with ALS. Steve retired from that career path and quickly started another – creating the Steve Saling ALS Residence, the world’s first fully automated, vent-ready, skilled service residence specifically designed for people with ALS (co-founder Ben Heywood and marketing team member Jenna Tobey went to visit him at the residence not too long ago).

Steve hasn’t stopped with just one residence – his ALS Residence Initiative (ALSRI) provides an environment where people with ALS and other debilitating conditions can live productive and independent lives. As Steven Hawking said, it demonstrates “the roles of technology empowering the lives of those who would otherwise depend entirely on the care of others. I look forward to living centers such as this becoming a standard for the world.” And Steve is on his way to making that a reality – the ALSRI has opened a new house in New Orleans and is currently building another one in Georgia.

Steve recently shared a story on Facebook about an accident that happened while he was on his way to meet up with friends and generously agreed to share it on the PatientsLikeMe blog, too. He put it all in perspective by talking about the challenges of being unable to communicate with medical staff, and how emergency personnel should be better trained to interact with people who have ALS to avoid potentially life-threatening mistakes. Check out what he had to share below.

A tale of friends, beer and ambulances…

I have always enjoyed drinking beer with friends, and ALS did nothing to change that. All spring and summer, my friends and I get together monthly for beer night. Unfortunately, one time I stood them up.

I had parked the van and was almost to Cambridge Brewing Company. I had to cross Portland Street and had to go down a wicked steep curb ramp, and it flipped my wheelchair on its side. It was really no big deal, but the ensuing ambulance ride could have killed me dead.

I appreciate that it must have been quite a sight as a bunch of people rushed over to help me and my mom. I just wanted them to put me back on my wheels so I could go drink beer, but it seemed like the ambulance got there in seconds. They were super nice, but they are paid to be cautious, and I was away from my computer and my grunting protests could not convince anyone not to take me to the hospital.

That is where things got dangerous. Everyone knew I have ALS, but they strapped me flat on my back on a hard board for the trip to the hospital. They were concerned about my spine, but I am already paralyzed and am more concerned about maintaining an open airway, but I had no way to communicate that. If my breathing had been more compromised, I would have suffocated on the way.

Fortunately, my breathing is without difficulty, even flat on my back. My burden with ALS is drooling. I can drool a gallon a day, and I expected to drown on my own spit on the ride to the hospital. One of the few words I can say is “up,” but everyone thought I was complaining about being uncomfortable and off I went. Miraculously, my body recognized the danger, and I realized I had severe dry mouth so I calmed down and made it to the hospital with my mom bringing my chair and more importantly my computer in the van behind the ambulance. I have to say that they were very nice at Massachusetts General Hospital, and my nurses and doctors were hot as balls. It would be tragic if they had killed me by trying to help me. They wanted to do a CAT scan, but I refused and was out within the hour. The whole experience reinforced my fear of going to the hospital when not able to speak. Hospital ERs and EMTs just don’t know enough about ALS to provide appropriate care. This needs to change.

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