By this time I was hoping that something would be found to be wrong with me. It was surprisingly unbearable to witness the dive in athletic performance I had witnessed over the last few months. I and my team had won the U.S. points championship one year and the annual U.S. championship race another. We joyfully put a lot of our own identity into our training and our sport. I also poured a tremendous amount of identity into my work, which involved ladders and scaffolding. However, I was not worrying myself with this doctors’ visit. ‘ALS is a 1 in 30,000 chance’ I thought to myself. I’ve played dice games long enough to know that just a 1 in 6 odds makes you fairly safe, what do I have to worry about 1 in 30,000? The first test is a nerve conductivity test, where they stick electrodes into various motor neurons and give it a pulse. I jumped around involuntarily, and felt like I might bounce off the table. It’s was almost comical. The two doctors then read out the results and said “these values look pretty normal. Now we have to figure out why you are here?” ‘See, I told you so, 1 in….’ I thought. The next test was where they again stick needle electrodes into those motor neurons, but this time they listen. They listen to what the neurons are doing. If you are lying still, they shouldn’t be doing a thing, as expected. When you use a muscle, the nerves fire in little clicks. It sounds like a Geiger counter. The harder you flex that muscle, the more rapid fire the clicking gets, until, at a hard effort, it all turns into a hissing noise. They didn’t explain this to me, but how it worked became very obvious, very quickly. When they came to the muscles that I was having the most trouble with, there was a slightly fainter hiss, all the time, even when I was completely still. Even I knew this might be trouble. The Doctors were not good poker players. I could read the cards they were picking up in their faces. They were good people. How do good people put an ending on an appointment like that?
We were on the ninth floor of a very large and busy building. Mary pushed the down button as a crowd slowly formed. One by one, I kept thinking about the things that were over, done, never again. Sunday training runs in the woods with the Sona’s – not for long; adventure racing – gone; mountain biking flowy trails – only at half speed, and not for long; skiing – never again; hiking the grand canyon – forget about it, you’re a Japanese tourist now; making any future adventurous plans with Mary – get over it dude, you’re done. I stood there, upright and trying my best to act completely normal, except that bouts of sobbing kept coming out of my face with each ‘never to be again’ activity that kept marching past my eyes. There were a lot of them. Just when I would get it back together again, the next activity trotted by. The elevator ride took forever. Why the hell did it have to be so damn crowded? The thing that was not foremost in my mind was death. I don’t remember where that one was, but it was pretty far back there. Did this mean I had a good life? Is having a good life in the least bit helpful when you are about to lose it? Am I not afraid of death, or am I simply avoiding? I think that I’m simply avoiding, that’s the smart answer, but honestly, I can’t tell. Isn’t that odd? When will be the day that I become afraid? I have no idea.
Mary and I get to our cars in the parking garage. We had driven separately from our respective jobs, planning to return after a ‘routine’ test. There just isn’t much to say, so we go back to work. No matter how big something is, sometimes there just isn’t much to say.
Shortly after rejoining my coworker, a rather large dude that’s good to have around on a construction site when you need some brawn, we break for lunch. We both order our healthy burger and fries at the burger joint near the plate glass job we are doing. I am his boss/foreman and have always had his respect. Our work can be pretty blue collar at times. As I am sitting across the table from him, I’m not really there. I am doing my best to pretend that I am there. Nothing seems to matter in any way. Everything seems a worthless diversion with no meaning. Suddenly, I’m brought back by a familiar deep voice, “Dude, you OK?” I look across the McDonald’s table at my employee and bust out crying with a sobbing “no”. That does not fix anything, but letting others in on it is at least a little bit helpful. With the people that you are close with, it is very helpful.