Thursday, February 6, 2014

As seen from Paul's eyes...

As seen from Paul's eyes.... 
Copyright 2014 by Paul Willey

I had a MS diagnoses for years and I am technically labeled a tetraplegic (same as quadriplegic) because of partial paralysis of all four limbs, I usually need some assistance but we try to spend as much time as possible living at our off grid camp on Millinocket Lake in T1R8, Maine.

We always knew there was some inherent risk with me staying in here with its snowmobile only access during the winter months; MS isn't my only medical condition.  Neither the dramatic change in both of our lives on that day before Nor’easter Nemo would hit in February 2013.  I found myself trying to help Lori-Ann prepare for the blizzard by trying to hooking the Ranger up to the plow, to her having to use every bit of her strength to get me to into bed, where I would lie unable to move for the next 48 hours....

As shocked, as I was that it happened, only with foresight, did I realize how the warning signs were there all along, especially in the 3-4 years prior.

1.   I was losing my ability to push through things.  Projects or ideas of things I wanted to accomplish around camp were piling up around camp.  It was getting harder and harder for me to get around.  I could no longer fish the stream at all, even on my best days, and my "good" morning time, had faded away.  A time of day when I knew I could always count on being able to get things done.  I relied more and more on Lori-Ann doing things.  We lost a GREAT ice shack due to it freezing in the ice in 2012.  We built the shack back in 2004, but we had to buy a commercial one to replace it as I knew it was beyond my realm of abilities to help Lori-Ann make a new one.  Other projects Lori-Ann wanted me to hire out, because she couldn't do them alone with her back, but I refused because I kept refusing to admit that things were more permanent.

2.   I'd been complaining to the doctors about muscle spasms usually on my left side.  They were increasing over the years, making it more difficult to breathe, reach, and move, and the episodes were increasing and lasting longer and longer.  More muscle relaxers ware the answer, but I rarely took them, because hated the extra drowsiness.  Other pain types increased as well, and the cure for those was a seizure medication that did help.

3.  During this time frame, my cognitive ability had dropped, and it was apparent to us.  We would tell the examiners what was changing with me.  Every year, the VA tests me because MS can affect cognitive ability.  However, normally when I took aptitude test, I always tested very high.  For example, I took the National Teachers Exam when at one point when I was thinking of getting out of the Army despite only having six actual college classes and placed in the 98th percentile.  I would explain to them, I went from being able to always being able to multiply triple digit numbers in my head up until a few years ago to using a calculator for routine math, which is very frustrating for me.  Nevertheless, the testers would say, “Even though you are noticing changes, you are still way ahead of the rest of us".  Those words came to me last in January of 2013.

As if fate or intervention stepped in along the way, we decided that in the spring of 2013 we were going to make a road trip to see our son Joshua in Hollywood and it was time to get a new accessible vehicle as well, so in Oct. 2012 we started that process as well.  The old van was on its last leg, and the ramp was unsafe.  The van came in around the first week of January 2013, and off we headed to camp for another winter.

We finally get to camp and look forward to spending a good two months of winter seclusion before heading on the road trip around the country.  In the mean time I notice the episodes of spasms in my side are getting worse and worse, I am feeling more and more as if I have broken ribs and split open sides after we do anything.  Our days of Ice fishing are relatively short, and I have to spend days recovering.  I cannot remember if we actually went two days in a row, but if we did, the second day was very short.  I was starting to notice my right side starting to get involved more and more.

January 28, 2013 was supposed was supposed to be relatively warm that night, and clear so we decided to sleep out in the ice shack.  It was supposed to be 15 degrees, and like fools, we didn't insulate the bottom of the air mattress from the cold of the Ice.  We checked the traps, but after each hour, they took a LOT of effort to free them from the Ice.  The actual temp back at camp was -6, it was probably much colder out on the open lake.  Both of my sides were in severe spasms and I could barely breathe that night.  Instead of spending another day Ice fishing, we decided to call it quits shortly after sunrise as I was in too much pain.  I had to drive extremely slow back to camp and thought I would never make it back here.

I took the extra muscle relaxers and rested up for a few days as the spasms relaxed.  We made it back ice fishing February 1st and 3rd though.  Before I needed a few more days rest.  Then Nemo was in the forecast for February 9th.

The blizzard was supposed to keep most of its fury south of here, but we wanted to be ready.  So, we started to prepare in the morning of February 8th.  I was already having spasms on both my sides that day from our typical 16-mile loop simple snowmobile ride out to the snowmobile club to meet up with our good friends Bob Hope the evening before for a supper.  

I wasn't thinking quite clear when I went to put the plow on.  It's a simple drive up operation, auto mount.  Just hold a rocker switch and it mounts the on plow.  I crawled into the Ranger.  Drove up to the plow PERFECTLY aligned.  Crawled out and the rocker switch didn't work.  My spasms are increasing, and I'm fighting to breath and move and I am feeling the spasms in my legs now.  I hit the toggle switch, NOTHING... there is no power to the plow.  I look under the hood.  Fuse is good.  I have no I try two more times.  Nothing.  I barely make it back to the camp where Lori-Ann is inside getting something.  I tell her I need her to get me undressed quick and get me to bed because I am not going to be able to move soon.  This is something 100 percent new to me.  I've been stuck in bed, but not because my body is totally seized up.  In the past I was able to go to the bathroom with assistance, but not this time.

 (As a side note, we did still make the road trip, and during it I was thinking about the plow and I told Lori-Ann, I don't think I had the Ranger running when I tried to mount the plow, and yes in fact that was the problem) 

So I take more meds and just try to relax assuming the spasms will subside in a few hours so I can resume our normal lives.  After several hours, I still can't move.  At this point I start taking maximum prescribed dosages of my meds, still no relief.  The next morning.  STILL not one bit of improvement.  Totally immobile.    

My thought process is this.  "Nemo is here and there are other people out in civilization that may need help that could be in a car accident, a house fire, or whatever it may be.  IF Nemo wasn't here I would call for medical help, BUT "I" willingly and knowingly put myself in this situation, knowing my medical condition, knowing I am always at risk needing rescue.  "I" don't want to be responsible for delaying rescue to someone else so I will wait until after the storm is over."

So, I look up online for maximum dosages of my medications, and carefully use them as a treatment guide in hopes of relief.  All I need to be able to do is get out of bed, so I can get on a Snowmobile come Sunday morning.  Nothing…  

I am trying to time calling for a rescue, to include Lori-Ann taking everything out to the truck.
I expect 2 hours.  After all, it is snowmobile only, and whenever we've had to call non-rescue type authorities in here when they could drive in.  The on-scene response time has varied from 2 hours to never in the past.

I can't remember when I called; I think it was around 1PMish.  Lori-Ann did everything she could do at camp, to include draining all the water supplies, shutting off all the power she could for the time being, setting up the extra security, towing in the ice fishing shack by herself from the lake, etc, etc, and was already making her first packing run out to the truck.

Upon her return I heard other voices.  It was just an hour and the rescue squad was already with her!  I was in shock!  When she returned from the truck, they were already at what we call the "4 corners".  They were able to follow her in via snowmobile the rest of the way into camp.

It was Mark and Heidi Evers.  I explained to them why I didn't call the day before was essentially, that with my medical history "I" put myself in a high-risk situation during the storm.  While they didn't scold me in any way, sort, or form.  They both assured me that they don't feel that way and I shouldn't either.  They assured me that they appreciate rescuing someone that's trying to make the best of life despite their struggles.  They had appreciative nods and there was no need to go into any details.  Even though I still don't know if a repeat event happens, if I'd do anything different, the sentiment and true emotion behind what they said still brings a tear to my eye one year later as I type this.  

I don't remember a lot from the actual evacuation and emergency room stay.  I remembered a lot of medications.  They managed to get me on a stretcher, out of the bedroom and out of the camp and into a rescue sled.  I JUST remembered they put my snowmobile helmet on me.  I was packed VERY tightly in the newly acquired rescue sled by Millinocket, and I definitely did not have a room with a view.  It was a smooth trip out and there was a place for Mark to sit as Heidi drove and towed us out.  Lori-Ann stayed behind to finish packing up the second load and finish winterizing the camp, (We thought she'd have time to finish that while we were still waiting for them to show).  I was already in the ER.  When Lori-Ann arrived.  I didn't get a chance to see them, but I remember Hope MacDonald and Nancy Davis stopped by as well, and Lori-Ann had a chance to talk with them.