Today I visited a friend of mine who works at my alma mater.
I found out last week that he has ALS and is moving away to live with his brother.
Today was his last day at work, so I packed up Bubbers and drove down to see him and say goodbye.
I hadn’t seen him in a couple years, but I figured he wouldn’t have changed much, since he hadn’t had ALS very long and he was still working.
As I was driving into the city, I reviewed what I knew of ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s disease).
In graduate school, I had written a paper on ALS. It’s a degenerative neurological disease that attacks the motor neurons of your body.
Basically, over time you lose all control of your muscles while your cognition remains active.
As a speech-language pathologist, I had observed people with ALS before. We help them learn alternative ways to communicate as they progressively lose their ability to talk.
These things were running through my mind as I parked next to the university.
Old feelings of being a student washed over me and I thought how strange it was that now I was changing my son’s diaper blow out in the front seat of my car instead of studying and waiting for my commuter bus home. Amazing how time changes everything…
Anyhow, I walked into my old department building and saw my friend.
I wasn’t prepared for how advanced his ALS was.
I hadn’t told him I was coming, because I wanted to surprise him. I introduced him to Bubbers and gave him a card.
His movements and facial expressions were very limited and he had to type on a special computer (we SLP’s call them AAC devices), because his speech was difficult to understand. Despite all of that, his positive, upbeat personality was still there.
He looked at Bubbers and then typed, “He is adorable.”
I smiled, “Thank you!”
We chatted for a little bit and then I said goodbye. There were other people waiting in the hall to say goodbye to him, too.
He reached out his arm and I gave him a hug.
I told him we loved him and would miss him.
“Thank you!” he said.
I walked out of his office, full of feelings I couldn’t identify.
As a clinician, I’d been surrounded by people with disabilities. But they were never people I knew personally beforehand.
Our relationships were professional. A small boundary was always present so I didn’t lose objectivity and my ability to provide appropriate therapy.
But this was different. He was my friend.
Not someone else’s. Mine.
And he had ALS. And he was losing the ability to talk and walk and move.
But what did he choose to say to me during our short time together?
“He is adorable.”
Thank you, my friend.