In the movie Annie Hall, Woody Allen states that love is like the joke about the man who goes to a psychiatrist’s office and tells him his brother thinks he’s a chicken.
“How long has he been this way?” the doctor asked.
“Ten years,” he responds.
“Ten years??” the psychiatrist incredulously responds. “Why did you wait so long?”
“We needed the eggs.”
Allen went on to explain that love, like the set up to this joke, is this rather surreal and silly concept, but the bottomline is we need it to survive. When dealing with ALS, love, without question, is integral to longer survival, but the inane element that is also important is laughter.
As my body continues to weaken, it becomes paramount to seek mirthful diversions, and whether you realize it or not, circumstances surrounding ALS can be damn funny at times. Potty jokes abound along with prat falls, allusions to intoxication, and lighthearted flirtations with death (“Running with scissors? Oh what the hell; I’ve got ALS.”) .
The other night, Katie was helping me with my nightly voiding ritual, which entails helping me to stand, pulling down my drawers, easing me down on the commode, and spreading my knees apart so I can tuck my “giblets” between my legs and point my “johnson” down the belly of the bowl. With my task completed, she began looking for one of my slippers. “They were both here a moment ago…” she murmured with a puzzled look. Suddenly, she darted from the bathroom. Moments later, I heard her yell, “Ruby!” Our devious basset hound had stealthily nabbed one slipper and retreated to the living room. Once the missing footwear was returned, Katie and I dissolved into laughter.
Once afternoon, Kathi came over to offer assistance. With a massage appointment later that afternoon, Kathi offered an assurance,”Before I go, I’ll take you potty,” a comment more fitting for a canine or an incontinent child. I looked at her in mild surprise and suddenly doubled over in laughter. Picking up on the absurdity and frivolity of that moment, Kathi and I embraced with tears streaming down our cheeks. Then she took me potty.
Getting me in and out of bed is a cross between an Olympic deadlift and a Laurel & Hardy short. My legs don’t do much more than hold my pants up, and I can’t rely on my arms for stability and support like I use to. Fortunately, I’ve people like my friend Lee, who is visiting from Oklahoma, around to perform the duties. To get me out of bed, my legs are draped over the side to get me into a sitting position. From there, I’m lifted bodily upward, pivoted with an artless dopey dance step, and deposited into an awaiting wheelchair. Once I came down a little hard on the chair. Subsequently, Lee lost his balance and fell on top of me. “Jesus, Lee,” I said, “If I knew I was getting a lap dance, I would’ve had a dollar ready.”
As I shuffle down this stony path that only gets more treacherous with each step, I’m learning that a sense of humor is the best barrier separating optimism from despair. And though some folks might look at dark humor as an unorthodox and peculiar coping mechanism for a terminal illness, to them I simply nod in agreement and say, “Maybe so, but I need the eggs.”