March 6, 2019, by Kristin Neva
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” That truth, which the church is called to consider on Ash Wednesday, is set before those with ALS every day.
Each time a muscle cramps on its way to burning out. Every time there is a new loss of function. When car keys are surrendered. When a wheelchair is ordered. When basic needs require assistance. When choking on dinner becomes the new normal. Living every day with the knowledge that you or your loved one may be one respiratory virus away from death.
Today, on this Ash Wednesday, both Todd and Sara have a bad bug. It started a couple days ago with chills, a fever, aches, and a cough. Sara’s cough is deep and painful, but it’s productive. Todd can’t cough as deeply, and he can only cough a few minutes until his diaphragm is too tired. We’re using medication to loosen and thin the secretions, cough assist devices, and a technique that looks like the Heimlich.
At 5:30 this morning, the night caregiver woke me to help Todd. I could hear the fluid in his lungs as he said, “Stacked breathing!”
With my hands clasped and placed under his sternum, I counted “1, 2, 3” — and he took short breaths on each count — and when I said “cough,” he exhaled. He swallowed the mucus and said, “Again.” We repeated that until he could breathe freely.
“Do you think this is it?” I asked him, anxiety building within me.
“I think I’ll make it through this one,” he reassured me.
Lent reminds us to consider the tenuous nature of life. We’re all on a dusty road to death. Leading up to Easter, Christ’s followers watch the object of hope and adoration go to the cross.