Humor Therapy – She Flies Through the Air

Due to their simple vocabularies and lack of sophisticated grammar, young children often hear things incorrectly-song lyrics and so forth. Certain words and sentence structures are not yet in their repertoires, so they substitute whatever makes sense to them, often with amusing results. For instance, I have a friend who, before she learned to read, sang a hymn called “Gladly the Cross I’d Bear” with great enthusiasm as “Glad Lee, the cross-eyed Bear.” A young boy I know, conditioned by catchy advertising jingles, thought the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duet, “Islands in the Stream,” was “Island Industries.” I grew up watching a woman on TV who possessed the absolute coolest name possible. Yes, on weekends at my grandparents, we tuned in not to “The Dinah Shore Show,” but to the “Dinosaur Show.” What five-year-old could not adore a woman named Dinosaur? The daughter of a nurse, I also believed that the daring young man on the flying trapeze was incapacitated by grave illness, and thus I sang. “He flies through the air with the greatest disease…” Little did I know that with a change of pronoun, I was describing my own future trajectory.

Incapacitated by the Multiple Sclerosis symptoms of vertigo, poor balance and spasticity, I have, on occasion, flown through the air myself. Some of these flights follow, ironically, on the heels of an observer’s positive comment. Not long ago I saw my internist. The last time she’d seen me, over a year before, I was using two canes. On this day, however, I was walking unassisted. 1 trailed her down the carpeted hall to her office. “Gee!” she exclaimed over her shoulder, “you’re walking really well!”

“I sure am!” I agreed. My reply was followed by a muffled thump as I measured my length on the car pet behind her.

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Someone suggested that using a cane might have saved me a spill. This is not necessarily the case. One day, I left an appointment with my therapist calling a cheery. “Goodbye!” as I closed her office door behind me and stepped into the (thankfully, as it turns out) empty waiting room. I was using a cane that day, but my spastic foot swung into the cane, and I lost my balance. As I began my descent to the parquet floor, I reached toward one of six bamboo and wicker waiting-room chairs. Too light to take my weight, it joined me in falling with a loud and clattering noise. Another of the chairs, caught by my cane, came along as well. My momentum carried me and these two chairs across the slick wood of the floor and into the chairs on the other side of the room.

I can’t believe this went unheard by my therapist (“There’s that client, acting-out her neediness again!” I imagined her wearily sighing). But I’m grateful she didn’t emerge from her office. It gave me time to untangle myself, put the chairs back in order and make my exit in face-saving privacy.

There was a time earlier in my life with MS when I’d stumble and catch myself. If out in public, I’d look around in embarrassment to see if anyone had noticed my clumsy move. As my reflexes have become less reliable, I no longer simply stumble, nor have I any hope of not being observed. No one in the hotel lobby where I fell during one Christmas season could have avoid ed noticing me. I tripped and, trying to regain my balance, began a staggering lurch across the lobby. In desperation, I reached for the hotel’s Christmas tree as I lumbered past it. With my keys and purse contents spewing and my walking appliance flailing, my eventual fall had only a tad more subtlety (and made only a tad less noise) than the overly deco rated tree would have, had it fallen. I just missed my grab or an empirical comparison might have been possible.

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An old chestnut of philosophy asks us, “What sound does a tree make falling in the forest if no one is there to hear it?” If the tree is anything like me, the sound it makes is, “Oh, s@#%! I’m falling.” Unlike me, the tree gets but one opportunity to say this in its life time. I, with myriad opportunities, usually finish my sentence with “again.” I feel like a tree when I fall these days. I’ve seen a slow-motion tape of trees coming down and in my imagination, I look just like that-the straight trunk going from perpendicular to parallel in its relation to the ground, the bounce as it hits. They say that during an accident, one’s perception of time slows. When I’m on the way down, I seem to have time to notice the surface I’m about to hit. Is it hard? Will it hurt? Will it tear or stain my clothes? I have time to review my daily “To Do” list and decide which tasks I’ll probably have to forego as a result of this fall. If I had my cellular phone, I’d probably have time to call someone and say, “Oh s@#%! I’m falling, again.”

There are ways to fall safely. One of the first things one learns in martial arts classes is how to do this so as not to hurt oneself. Indeed, one must fall, ready to rise again and immediately resume combat. Football and soccer players become adept as well. As a girl riding horses, I was taught to fall without danger. Before my MS became symptomatic, I could tuck and roll as I fell going with the fall, and for the most part, avoiding bodily harm.

With reactions compromised by the disease, however. I can no longer rely on those skills. These days, I risk serious injury when falling, the more so as I age. So. even if I am able to walk, there are now times when discretion dictates, I use a wheelchair or scooter, perhaps when I’m on unfamiliar terrain where falling is more likely and sitting makes more sense. Sometimes I use a chair because I’m dressed well enough that I’d prefer not to chance ruining my outfit or denting my dignity. I don’t mind making a tumble in easily replaced sweats and jeans made for grimy pursuits, but the potential damage is more expensive in a twin set and pearls. In addition, the contrast between a graceful appearance and a graceless fall is distressingly incongruent to me.

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Nevertheless, as long as I am on foot at all, I recognize that my probability of falling is greater than average. On any given day, you may find me stum bling and tumbling onto the wood-chipped path to the barn, trip ping and flopping into the creek, or overbalancing on my shovel and subsiding into the garden loam. Often, it’s taken significant injury, lost teeth, or broken bones to convince many people with MS that walking is more of a liability than it’s worth. The ground is pretty for giving here on Cripple Creek, though, with no cement or concrete surfaces. I’ve grown accustomed to mud and grass stains on my farm clothes and, at this point, I’m pretty much able to relax as I fly through the air with the greatest disease. This I do without a net, reveling in the gasps of amazement from friends and family members. So, I’m not sitting down for good-not just yet.

The above excerpt was taken from Life on Cripple Creek. Essays on Living with Multiple Sclerosis

by Dean Kramer

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