Bearing Down With Equine Intent
“Welcome to my nightmare, whoa,
“Welcome to my breakdown,
“I hope I didn’t scare you …”
If there were a “Welcome Wagon” function in the ALS community — whereby incumbent residents indoctrinated new arrivals — surely the introduction would resemble those lyrics from Alice Cooper. Grim statistics and personal recountings of escalating debilitation would be shared. Extreme caution would be advised, and steadfast support pledged.
A divulgence of the exorbitant, and steadily rising, cost of living would follow. The counterintuitive irony concerning a deepening investment yielding a shrinking quality of life would be explained.
The fact that the membership is nonnegotiable and lasts for the remainder of a truncated life would be stressed. Once in, it’s like the Hotel California — you can never leave. Even the brilliant mind of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking couldn’t outsmart ALS.
A profile of the inadequacies of the support infrastructure would be offered. As fellow ALS News Today columnist Kristin Neva points out, Medicare — think a homeowners association — falls woefully short in fulfilling its mandated maintenance assistance responsibilities. The ALS Association — akin to a neighborhood watch group — has been ineffectual in limiting community member victimization.
The final admittance criteria is maddeningly secretive, but at least it’s fair. It’s an example of equal housing opportunity. No matter one’s gender, race, ethnicity, age, education level, religious stance, sexual orientation, income, or political party affiliation, everyone is a candidate. Not even the famous are excluded from the mysterious vetting process.
In that light, I extend a melancholy ALS village greeting to Steve McMichael. At the end of April he announced his diagnosis, acknowledging that the disease was the reason behind his recent departure from the public eye.
McMichael is well known to NFL fans in general, and in particular to Chicagoans of a certain age. McMichael was instrumental in the Bears’ success during the 1980s, and helped them win the 1985 Super Bowl — their only such triumph. He played for the team for 13 years. He holds the 101-year-old franchise record for durability, playing in 191 consecutive games.
In response to the news, McMichael has received an outpouring of support, both emotional and financial. Former teammates journeyed from as far away as California and Florida to participate in a Chicago fundraiser on behalf of McMichael and his family. Legends from other sports also attended.
In addition to whatever proceeds that event produced, a GoFundMe page has generated over $200,000. A shirt company has contributed nearly $35,000. The Chicago Bears’ organization purchased McMichael a power wheelchair. A benefit concert for him was held on June 5, in a suburb of Chicago.
I am not surprised by the throng of people rallying behind McMichael. I lived in the Chicago area during the Bears’ heyday. I remember the affection that many people, myself included, showered upon the team, particularly the high-profile members.
Beyond his performance on the field, McMichael is compelling in person. I had the chance to briefly meet him at an event in 2001. While being physically imposing, he displayed a heart of gold, sincerity, and kindness to all, regardless of station in life.
By all accounts, McMichael was an exemplary teammate. From a fan’s perspective, his physical skills always seemed to be matched by his tenacity and love of the game. No matter the opposition, he was a disruptive force who refused to yield ground.
Those traits will serve him well as he grapples with ALS. The multitude in his corner will bolster him as well. I agree with his former teammate Jimbo Covert’s assessment. “You have to be a tough person to deal with what he’s dealing with, and I think he’s going to be able to handle this as well as anybody could handle it.”
I only hope that the passion McMichael’s news engendered doesn’t dissolve. Instead, perhaps it can be increased and redirected to the larger tragedy: ALS itself.
Just as the NFL holds a draft where a scant few are selected out of many, ALS chooses its victims out of an enormous pool. The fact is that McMichael, myself, and all affected by ALS are now on the same team. We line up, side by side, in the trenches, against an unbeaten adversary.
Ideally, teamwork results in the whole being dramatically greater than the individual parts. Each member contributes the best from their uniquely gifted area. McMichael brings celebrity, among other assets, to the ALS team.
Celebrity fuels awareness. Awareness is a paramount factor in regulatory overhaul and funding for research. Both are of the utmost importance for our team to win.
McMichael’s nickname is “Mongo,” taken from Alex Karras’ character in “Blazing Saddles.” In the movie, Mongo punches a horse, rendering it unconscious. McMichael’s sad announcement is a reminder. As a team, we need to continually swing mightily at ALS. One day we’ll knock it out, and the horse it rode in on.
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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.