The Walking Man
A novel based on a true story;
truth being stranger than fiction…
© Wright Forbucks, 2011
All rights reserved.
CHAPTER ONE Pitiful Me
I'm not suggesting everybody should dive head first into the shallow end of a swimming pool, but being a quadriplegic isn't as bad as you might think. Especially if you're fortunate enough to live at Leicester County Hospital, a facility dedicated to the care of the motionless, located in Shyshire, Massachusetts; a town committed to excellence in everything it does.
First of all, in these tough times, you get to live rent free in an air-conditioned building. You're fed three delicious meals each day. Plus, you're cleaned and dressed by nice people who genuinely care about you. Also, if you're lucky, one of Shyshire's many volunteers might read a newspaper to you and inadvertently change your life.
I joined the ranks of the motionless at age sixteen. Unlike many of my stationary brethren, the poor bastards born with horrible birth defects, I had memories of motion: I once rode a bike, tossed a baseball, and chased a 'girlfriend' around a campfire. At my fifteenth birthday party I bowled a two hundred twenty-six; to raise money for breast cancer, I once ran a half marathon, reaching the finish line in ninety-two minutes.
I wish I could tell you my immobility was caused by a motorcycle crash, or even better, a hang-gliding mishap, but unfortunately, unlike many of my paralyzed bedfellows at Leicester County Hospital, violent trauma wasn't the cause of my pathetic condition.
The fact is, long ago, my doctors stopped trying to determine the source of my quadriplegia, leaving me with a medical mystery that's taken me forty years to solve.
4 – 0.
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My original diagnosis was Myasthenia Gravis, a disease that generates antibodies that block muscle-nerve connections and causes mild to severe immobility. Like all autoimmune diseases, Myasthenia Gravis happens when a hyperactive immune system destroys something good because it thinks it's something bad. Accordingly, treatment options for Myasthenia Gravis include the use of one or more immunosuppressant drugs, such as Imuran. These pharmaceuticals limit a body's assault on itself but increase the odds of death due to cancer, or a common cold, a trade off my wise-ass neurologist once called a 'shit-out-of luck proposition'.
In terms of severity, Myasthenia Gravis is the common cold of neurologic diseases. It's rarely fatal and most often attacks the faces of teenage girls.
MG, as the doctors and nurses call it, is most notable because affected muscles often return to a normal state upon rest. This means, after a day of muscle flexing, MG sufferers look just as pathetic as the unfortunates with MS, Parkinson's or ALS. However, after good night's sleep, they look and feel like a young Burt Reynolds, regardless of their gender.
I still clearly remember the day I was semi-diagnosed as having Myasthenia Gravis. It happened at Massachusetts General Hospital, the best place on earth to be if a rare disease is intent on putting you in the ground before your 'time'.
My initial hospital stays took place in 1971, when the city of Boston, in an attempt to address its racist past, began passing 'corrective ordinances' to make sure people with colored skin got their share of whitey pie. This resulted in Boston's many medical institutions having to hire brown and yellow immigrants, regardless of their qualifications.
That being so, the 'technician' who shock-tested my muscles to determine the cause of my increasing immobility appeared to have been recently imported from a Laotian rice paddy. I say this because she looked Southeast Asian, and I could smell dog on her breath.
The test that my newly entitled American administered was called an electromyography. The electro part of the word, as you may have guessed, comes from the Latin word 'electros' meaning to shock the living shit out of a perfectly innocent human being.
An electromyography tests muscle response to stimulus, i.e., high voltage electricity. The test involves a machine that has a big knob with graduations that go up to eleven, lots of wires attached to skin clips, plus an ink jet printer that spits out results in the form of a line graph. Normally, data generated by an electromyography is difficult to interpret. However, if your output graph looks like a plot of the Dow Jones Average circa 2008, Myasthenia Gravis is the likely cause.