Despite having a “fatal illness”, with a little technology and someone to keep an eye on me for the inevitable adjustments, I can live until age draws the final curtain on the story of my life. My quality of life remains high regardless of my current certain physical limitations. There is nothing wrong with my mind: I am still as intellectually productive as ever.
Nothing would please me more than to earn my own keep (and I am not alone in this desire), but people classified as terminally ill don’t appear to be considered viable members of the workforce. So I volunteer my time to raise awareness and try to understand relevant research, sharing what I learn with others (a part of my previous career and the genesis of this blog). I find this work fulfilling and it keeps my opinion of my quality of life quite high, focusing on accomplishment rather than loss. Those close to me can attest that I can get cranky between projects when I have nothing to do so I try to stay busy. As I am quadriplegic I must use a computer system that tracks my eye movement to approximate the use of a mouse. With this computer I write and respond to email and online chat offering technical advice and answering questions from other PALS, scour the Web for research information, create videos to promote awareness, created a website (with coding assistance from a friend far more skilled than I), and play with my home computer network among other projects.
The decision to vent or not is a highly personal one with many factors contributing to the decision. I chose to live on a vent for a few reasons. First, I had finally recently achieved real happiness in life and didn’t want the dream-come-true to end so soon. Second, I saw some hope on the horizon with the state of research into the disease and possible ways to overcome it and I still hold this view more than ever. Last, and important to my perception of quality of life, I still had a contribution to make to the world and I have only grown more intense in that belief. I am simply not done living, with all which that experience entails.
But my every breath now comes at a price. Because I cannot move to assist myself I must have an able-bodied person within hearing distance of any alarms or signals from my equipment. The skill requirements aren’t high and can be taught in a weekend, but nevertheless someone must be alert and on duty 24/7. Family is often preoccupied by the demands of daily living, volunteers are few and far between, and government assistance is non-existent for people in my condition. The one factor which should NOT be involved in deciding whether to live on a vent is the cost of attendants. Medicare will not provide for in-home attendants. There are even very few institutions which will take people on mechanical ventilation and hospice is not an option due to the vent being a life support device. With the enormous wealth floating around our for-profit healthcare system it is astounding that no insurance (not even my high-end corporate policy) will cover the cost of attendants. So my only option, given my desire to live, is to become a beggar on an offramp of the information superhighway. This is terribly humiliating to me.