I haven’t said anything. Probably more because I didn’t want to talk about it than because I didn’t feel like sharing. The last time I went around in circles about my dad, things were tough. I tiptoed around the office. I spent my free time pondering various what-if scenarios. I cried. A lot. I didn’t want to do any of those things this time around. So when he went down to Penn on Tuesday for another round of tests, I stayed mum. And when he left the burbs this morning for a diagnosis, I got on my treadmill and watched an episode of Weeds. Distraction and denial are like red wine and steak, they pair perfectly together.
“I’m getting a refund,” my dad announced when I answered my office phone.
“You got your taxes back from the accountant too? I’m getting a killer refund this year. How much is yours?”
“No, from the MS Society, silly.”
My stomach dropped. Correction, it twisted into a collection of knots and then dropped. To the floor. With a thud.
I knew what he was saying. In fact, it was exactly what I wanted to hear. My dad doesn’t have MS. Twenty-five years of erred diagnosis, flawed treatments and misguided advice. Twenty-five years of trying to figure out why he wasn’t in a wheelchair when his peers were shopping for accessible vans. Twenty-five years of me expecting to wake up one day and find my dad contorted into a sloppy ball of limbs. Unable to maneuver. Unable to find a silver lining. While there’s comfort in knowing he doesn’t have MS, there’s equal discomfort in the unknown. I tossed out a ‘well’ and waited for the words to trickle from his lips.
“I have PLS,” my dad answered.
“Let me get this straight. You had ten thousand dollars worth of scans completed, um, twice for that matter, a top doc with a ridiculous amount of medical training reviewed said scans and you ended up with the same diagnosis I gave you in December? The only science class I took in college was Chemistry and the World Around Us and I’m the only one of us with a keen sense of neurological diseases. Go figure.”
“Pretty much! Just think, PJ, all of that guilt you had about never riding the MS 150? Gone. Erased. Don’t you feel liberated?”
Actually, I do. I’ve seen the way MS causes the body to deteriorate over time. The mother of a kid I long ago babysat for had MS. She was a physical mess which led her to become an emotional mess which led her to take her life two weeks after her son’s Bar Mitzvah. No matter how you twist it, MS is a crummy disease. That’s not to say that PLS is a cakewalk. There might be a new label to my dad’s symptoms but the symptoms are unchanged. He still needs his walker. He still can’t get into a shower without grab bars. And his ability to form words and push them off his tongue is still hindered. But the projected deterioration of PLS is a heck of a lot slower than MS. The bottom line is this new diagnosis has a much more appealing silver lining.
Before hanging up the phone, my dad downshifted to work stuff. There were a few things he needed me to take care of before his afternoon flight for Florida. There was a bill he forgot to pay and a fax he forgot to send. When he finished sharing everything, we said goodbye. I placed the phone in the cradle, looked around my desk, let out a sigh, picked up a pen and got back to work. It wasn’t like there was much else to do. Right? I mean, that’s it. The verdict is in. And life goes on.