Viewing Life and ALS Through a Lou Gehrig Lens

Viewing Life and ALS Through a Lou Gehrig Lens

“For the past two weeks, you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” —Lou Gehrig, July 4, 1939

Lou Gehrig was my father’s favorite baseball player, which for a fair bit of my youth, made him mine. The movie “The Pride of the Yankees,” depicting Gehrig’s story, moved me to tears the first time I saw it. Ironically, it also prompted nocturnal horror, via a recurring dream in which the disease that felled the “Iron Horse” also struck at me.

Gehrig is famous for a plethora of notable baseball exploits. He is remembered equally — if not more so — for his famous speech of 80 years ago. By what logic trail, in the face of an ALS diagnosis, did he judge himself uncommonly blessed?

Gehrig went on to cite the constituent elements of his unmatched luck. He pointed to the dedicated family members who showered him with unconditional love. He paid homage to the world-class teammates who made him better. He praised the astute managerial hierarchy that guided him. He lauded the supportive fans who cheered him on. He applauded the fastidious support staff that ensured that no critical detail was overlooked. He even acknowledged his adversaries who conveyed appreciative respect.

Gehrig concluded that his inventory of blessings trivialized his devastating prognosis. I will attempt a similar comparative exercise.

ALS certainly falls under the category of “bad breaks.” Without argument, it ranks in the upper percentile in terms of severity. But it’s not the worst. Every news broadcast features tales of folks harder hit by calamity. Whenever I mentally canvass my social network, invariably there is someone facing a tribulation more daunting than my own. My circumstance could always be more dire. The fact that it’s not may be termed, among other words, “lucky.”

If I liberally expand Gehrig’s inventory categories, an analogous analysis is possible. Of course, “family” requires no translation, but his “teammates” become my fellow ALS sufferers. My “managerial hierarchy” consists of those guiding my care. “Fans” refers to my friends, “support staff” to the cadre of daily caregivers. “Adversaries” will be people suggesting a course of action that I decide against.

My family, both by birth and by marriage, is my bedrock. They celebrate my meager achievements, downplay my dependence, and always provide shelter from the storm. They ensure that I never feel like furniture. In short, they humanize my inhumanity. I would not be alive today if not for them.

I am constantly in awe of the courage, persistence, resilience, and compassion of the patients who populate the ALS community. The communal “all for one, one for all” attitude is pervasive and palpable. The free exchange of information, conveyance of empathy, and unsolicited guardianship are Utopian. I am a better man because of them.

I cannot tally all of the professionals who have had a hand in directing my care. I can, however, point out some common threads among that multitude. One, they share an absolute disdain for the plague that is ALS. Two, without exception, they strive to ease my burden and improve my quality of life. My lot in life has been enhanced due to their guidance.

My friends have overlooked my shortcomings, seen me through some dark days, and brightened up the rest of them. They donate on my behalf. Their prayers, affection, and frequent contact keep me vital. I draw on them as a wellspring of buoyancy and strength. They encourage, inspire, and enable me to continue fighting the good fight.

My team of caregivers selflessly performs the blocking and tackling tasks that allow me a civilized existence. They meticulously tend to my sustenance and hygiene needs with grace, concern, and aplomb. Their efforts render normalcy. I can approach each day like an unafflicted person, content in the assumption of 24-hour safe passage.

In the course of my struggle with ALS, I have sought input from various and sundry sources. Advice is never withheld. It is thoughtful, well-intended, and based on some evidence of efficacy. I sometimes decide not to integrate a recommendation. When I opt out, there is never rancor, only offers of continued counsel and respect for my choice. As a result, my anti-ALS toolbox is more diverse and powerful, with plenty of implements in reserve.

Applying “Gehrig calculus” to the above factors, I admit that I have been exceedingly lucky. And if I factor in my belief in God’s eternal covenant, I conclude, as Gehrig did, that my luck is unsurpassed.

As Bing Crosby crooned in the movie “White Christmas,” I can even “fall asleep counting my blessings.”

***

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.

11 comments

  1. Cindy Italiano says:

    Spot on Rick. You eloquently expressed what many of us think and feel and need reminding of from time to time. God works on others through us.

  2. fran lancaster says:

    YOU, Mr. Rick, are a HERO to me. Your words are like drops of water in a desert. I relish every word, and look for hidden meaning between the lines. I am so impressed with your outlook and your resiliency and I hold you up in my heart and mind as a shining star to be admired and copied. I pray for you and desperately hope for a complete reversal of your condition, whether by science’s cure or God’s grace. Please don’t stop your thoughtful writings. We need you. I need you.

  3. Dave Reckonin says:

    Good article Rick. Your prose is majestic.
    There is seemingly no end to the admirable human spirit which conveys compassion, practicality, support and love.
    Humans do this wonderful work.
    Human beings make things happen.
    Only the God entity is AWOL. An indifferent deity who has no interest in human suffering brought about by his right-hand licensed and violent henchman, Nature.

    • fran lancaster says:

      Dave, I am sorry that you feel God is out of your reach. He is here daily in my life, and in many others that I know. God is not AWOL. Not an indifferent deity. He is here in all this mess that is human life. He is not a puppet to pluck people out of the disasters, but He promised to be with us spiritually to help us through the disasters. I hope you may see with different eyes, so that you will see that He is indeed all around you, and waiting to be asked by you to have a relationship with Him and that you feel His comfort and peace.

        • Dave Reckonin says:

          Rick, thank you for praying for me. I appreciate you embarking on this serious, caring but fruitless quest.
          Prayers are never answered. (Is anyone listening and if they are why are the prayers ignored?)
          My lovely Catholic friends tell me that prayers are often answered and when I ask them how they were answered they explain things that clearly happened by co-incidence. Co INCIDENCE

          Think of all the billions of prayers that have been offered up by ALS patients and their families over the past 150 years.
          None of them have been answered so why do people keep doing it and proving Einstein correct. He said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
          You are closer to this God entity than most of us, Rick. Can you tell me of anything practical he has done for you?
          Is it simply your belief that he cares for you that makes you feel more at ease ? I believe my team will win the championship. At the end of the season I look at the evidence of matches won lost and drawn, and the clear facts show me that my belief was misplaced.

      • Dave Reckonin says:

        Fran you are profoundly mistaken about me, and I suspect about this God thing you talk about.
        IF IF IF God exists the thought that he ‘is all around you’ is a meaningless glib phrase.It borders on self-delusion.
        If he is all around us, what then is he doing? Nothing. He doesn’t organize Home Care, medicines, research, clinical trials. All these things are done by human beings who are scientific, caring and compassionate. They are doing things, trying things, thinking how to do things differently, and better. God isn’t doing these things but you continue to imagine he is among us. Prove it.
        You cannot, because you simply believe it to be the case.
        I do not seek a Celestial Big Brother like you do. I accept and admire the wonderful and often brutal five Natural Sciences which work and are proved to work, sometimes to our terminal detriment. If God is here among us what is he doing? The only thing he seems to influence, via an old dusty book, is people’s belief that he loves them and cares about them, but the fact that people suffer so much from no fault of their own or of any other human being shows that he cannot be the All-Loving entity that you describe. He has given Nature a huge and unrestricted License to Kill.
        If you had a wonderful magical power to cure someone of a disease which was not their own or anyone else’s fault you would do so, I feel certain.However the All-Loving God does not.
        A creator may well exist somewhere, but… he created everything including ALS. Why would he do that? He cannot be All-Loving if he brutalizes people that way.If I meet this Creator I will have some pretty serious questions to ask, and if he sends me to hell because I did not worship and adore him (‘Thou shalt have No Other God But Me’) then I will have it confirmed on my own torture rack in Hades that he was indeed an unloving vindictive piece of work.
        If you believe that an All-Loving God exists- prove it to us, but beware of falling into the usual didactic trap of stating something along the lines of “I believe it to be true, so therefore it IS true.”

  4. Margaret claffey says:

    Going to visit my sister (who has ALS) this morning. Your article was spot on . She has been incredibly optimistic throughout her illness, seeing goodness in each day. My hero. Thank you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *