Awaiting the ‘Hope Begets Hope’ Aria
“Just what makes that little old ant
Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant can’t
Move a rubber tree plant
But he’s got high hopes …”
— Frank Sinatra, “High Hopes”
Recently, I watched the movie “A Hole in the Head” for the first time since my ALS diagnosis. The film stars Frank Sinatra, so, no surprise, it puts his crooning skills on display. I found one of the songs, “High Hopes,” particularly relevant to the many predicaments that ALS has put me in.
More than a few times I’ve found myself up fecal creek without a paddle. When stranded in those daunting currents, I endeavor to remain positive. Like the underdog ant that Sinatra sings about, I am optimistic that an idea for a makeshift oar will come to me — perhaps I’ll even fashion one from an unlikely source, like a figurative rubber tree plant.
During my dance with ALS, no potential countermeasure has been considered, at first blush, to be too outside the box, kooky, or ill-advised. Admittedly, my zeal to remain viable in ALS’ perverse modification of Chutes and Ladders has led me to race past some ladders of modest height, only to encounter a long, injurious chute. That said, I’ve had enough reprieves during my day-to-day struggles that hope, while not always high, at the very least has a pulse.
With the Shakespearean quotation “What’s past is prologue” as a backdrop, I steadied myself to resolve a recent dilemma ushered in by ALS. Additional context was that the challenge occurred on the back end of an uncharacteristic blue period for me. In terms of resources, I was beyond spent.
Admittedly, the source of my vexation would be microscopically trivial to deal with for anyone with a modicum of normal bodily function. Given that I now possess the fine motor skills of a rusty, unlubricated Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz,” no nearby object is safe when I reach for anything. Such was the case when my quest for a beverage caused the television remote and a stack of paper towels to fall to the floor.
For an ordinary person, the retrieval of both would be an occurrence taken for granted. Likewise, the absence of either, particularly the paper towels, would not be an over-the-top deprivation. But the ALS existence is hardly ordinary.
These days, just extending my arm down to the floor, much less with any directional precision, is a feat of Olympian accomplishment. Beginning with a whisper and ending in a shout, my joints and muscles plead, “Please don’t try to stretch us.” If not for the critical utility provided by “the quicker picker upper,” I’d have acquiesced.
The paper towels are a necessary impediment to my shirt becoming an amateurish, low-brow Jackson Pollock knockoff. ALS has diminished my swallowing to the point that “stuff” — saliva, other secretions, and bits of food and beverage — often sit in limbo on the back of my throat. When the accumulation becomes sufficiently large or ticklish to activate a choking-like cough response, a bolus ends up in my mouth. “Bounty” then martyrs itself, becoming the substitute canvas for the mucous-based abstract.
The motivation to regain ready access to the paper towels prompted me to engage in an exercise resembling a solitaire variation of the parlor game Twister. Just like in the Hasbro classic, my best strategy was a careful consideration of alternative appendage placements, including subsequent repositioning options.
For me, there are two mission-critical imperatives. The first is don’t extend too much torso over my center of gravity. Given my next to nil core strength, I may end up stuck in place, dangling helplessly over my chair’s arm. The second is to maintain sufficient contact with my head pillow, so it doesn’t tumble to the floor. Without it, the most able muscle group of my body — that of my neck — is liable to be seriously sprained.
After fits, starts, cursing, and timeouts, my version of the arcade claw machine was finally overcome. Will power, deliberation, a feeble body, and a shred of hope had triumphed. The paper towels were again by my side. I was as euphoric as I can remember ever being.
Sinatra’s song was later parlayed into a campaign jingle for John F. Kennedy during the 1960 presidential election. “High hopes,” aided by the bankroll of his exceedingly wealthy father, prevailed.
High hopes, plus money, will defeat ALS as well. It will happen.
The song also contained a verse about a ram knocking out “a billion kilowatt dam.” A popular sports adage — “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” — suggests that even the unlikeliest of outcomes can be hoped for and waited on, and they sometimes happen.
In a similar vein, I anticipate an opera, in which a person of generous proportions musically proclaims the destruction of my one billion kilowatt dam(n) — ALS.
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