Surviving the Threat of a Bomb With a Dose of Aplomb

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by Rick Jobus |

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“All our times have come

Here but now they’re gone

Seasons don’t fear the reaper

Nor do the wind, the sun, or the rain

We can be like they are.”

I was 18 years old when the band Blue Oyster Cult released the song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” Coinciding with bicentennial celebrations in the U.S. and the summer Olympic games in Montreal, it seemingly had a more durable resonance than either.

By the time I commenced my freshman year of college that fall, whether on the radio or someone’s turntable, the tune was ubiquitously present. So much so, that one Friday afternoon, while walking from my last class of the week to my residence hall, I heard it loudly being played out of windows from the five dormitories my trek ran tangential to.

At that point in my life, I didn’t need the advice the hit espoused. Death was an abstract concept to me. It was more of an academic construct — verified by news footage and a grandfather’s passing — than anything to fret over. On my “pay no mind list,” the reaper occupied an upper echelon spot.

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During the ensuing years, mortality would intersect enough with my life that it couldn’t be ignored. A philosophical metaphor became my perspective. From the moment of conception, each of us has a bomb strapped to our back. Inevitably, it will explode. Whether by impact, component failure, hostile environment, or timing device, the end will come.

I maintained that emotional detachment through the death of loved ones, and dangerous scrapes and health scares of my own. Although I couldn’t deny the reaper’s existence, I didn’t take it personally. That is, until the detonator on my time bomb was triggered by ALS.

Bedside manners and ALS seem to be mutually exclusive. At the conclusion of the communication of my diagnosis, I was handed a book about what to expect. Being impatient, I skipped to the end of my copy of “ALS for Dummies.” It described the most probable scenario concerning my demise. It read like waterboarding on steroids.

From that moment on, the reaper has been lurking. Whenever someone I know dies, it sneers at me. It was certainly in the ICU, mocking me, during my hospitalization with pneumonia. But despite the closing proximity, the reaper — while clearly imminent — had not felt immediate. Until it did.

I have struggled with my swallowing, courtesy of ALS, for many years. Despite a restricted diet and loads of precaution, a choking episode can arise. The worst of them have resulted in partial airway blockage for multiple hours. Eventually, the blockage is either coughed up, or descends via peristalsis.

Last week, I experienced a severe one. In its 11th hour, I suddenly lost all ability to take in any amount of air. Panic-stricken, I thought, “This is it,” before losing consciousness. When I came to, an epiphany awaited me.

In the aftermath of my blackout I remembered pastor Francis Schaeffer’s concept of the “mannishness” of man. Although interwoven with his thoughts on theology, Schaeffer’s notion transcends religion. It speaks to a “blessing and a curse” duality. Man is special — for example, we are aware of our eventual demise — and man has an obligation — because humans are culpable for their actions.

While my own death had never felt so near, it was the culpability that horrified me. As a Christian, my primary responsibility is to love God and others. Failing that, I am to confess, seek forgiveness, forgive, and repent. In each, I fall woefully short.

There is irony in the reaper cast in an ALS role. Lamenting over physical deterioration opens one up to even more damaging blows to the psyche. I’ve justified bad behavior, impure thoughts, bitterness, and resentment on account of the “unfair” hand dealt me.

In that regard, I am guilty of intentional sin. I know it’s wrong (because man is “special”), yet I don’t hold up my end of atonement (man is “obligated”). The choking shock incident serves as a stark reminder to always have my spiritual house in order.

Moving forward, I will strive to be brutally honest with myself. Wrong is wrong. A sin is a sin. Having ALS doesn’t obfuscate my accountability. I will heed the words of the Apostle John: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

I will also draw from Schaeffer’s axiom. I’ll regard myself as a “special,” though obviously flawed, stone. My “obligation” is to examine the raw product, under increasing magnification, and refine and polish continuously.

The good news is the bomb didn’t go off. The better news is I am better prepared for when it does.

The reaper may be tightening its hold on me, but its grip on my life is weakening.


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.


Linda Nolan avatar

Linda Nolan

Inspiring article, as always.?


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