Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A minority sickness seeks attention

Our world spends so much of its energy and talent on wars and prisons that overcoming the numerous destructive diseases gets a low priority. God gave us this beautiful planet, and all we do is squeeze it.

 About the time I was starting kindergarten, President Calvin Coolidge was telling the nation that “the business of America is business.” His term ended in 1929, which one of his successors might have described as a year that will live in business infamy.

 In the years that followed, the disease that placed Franklin D. Roosevelt in a wheelchair was overcome. A heart was transplanted, and thousands of transplant surgeries followed. Medical nightmares yielded, slowly, to medical science, and science is just getting started.

 Calvin Coolidge today might say that the business of America is divided between health care and the military. “Civilization and profits,” he once said, “go hand in hand.” Someone else might have said that civilization and prophets go hand in hand.

 Health care has changed as radically as travel. The era of horse manure in the streets has phased into the era of oil spills and global warming, even as penicillin and 21st century microsurgery have extended life. What has not changed is the science of economics, or the will to apply it, from one depression to the next.

 When my neurologist made it official that there was a respectable reason for my dizziness, and that the reason was a first cousin of parkinson’s once removed, called parkinsonism, I became an instant advocate of research to heal olivopontocerebellar atrophy/multiple systems atrophy (OPCA/MSA).

 This is a minority disease, its victims numbered in the tens of thousands while millions are stricken by cancer or AIDS. Even so, some highly dedicated medical professionals and their equally dedicated lay supporters are searching for a way to treat OPCA/MSA.  There is no cure.

 The disease is so peculiar that it is not easily recognized. My diagnosis was made nearly a decade ago, after more than a year of examinations and tests. That’s not uncommon, nor is the likelihood that the disease was becoming active long before that. Doctors call it progressive. It is on the move, and I began following with a walking stick, then a cane, eventually a rollator and now a power chair.

 At first there was dizziness, which became more vigorous, along with other symptoms. Some of them are especially bemusing. For example, after I write an article I proof it methodically in order to insert dozens of missing a’s. OPCA/MSA has taken custody of the little finger on my left hand.

 It even blacks out wonderful sentences which I haven’t  written yet. Sometimes I begin typing a thoughtful sentence but never finish, because the process of punching keys erases my thoughts before I can write them down. As a reader, you may have noticed that.

 I always have had, and still have, a lot to say. It takes much longer to say it than it did when I was a rewrite man on a Hearst newspaper in a three-paper town. I’ve forgotten what year that was, but one of my assignments was to write about the campaign to nominate Douglas MacArthur for president.

 When my 87th birthday arrives in March I expect to be at this same keyboard, even if it takes longer to punch each key, something like learning to set type by hand in the 1930s.

 God is classier than Calvin Coolidge in describing the nature of civilization and profits. “For what will it profit a man,” asks Christ Jesus, “if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” And the letter of James asks “if a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?”

Eighty-plus years is a quick flick in the timeline of God’s universe. Cures, profits and wonders are alive in that universe, awaiting discovery, even as  evolution awaited discovery. I’ll write more words, but the Word itself goes on and on without a period.

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