I Had to Make Difficult Business Decisions After My PPMS Diagnosis
While touring the clinic, I saw a person in a wheelchair go into an exam room. I broke down and started to cry. I am a farmer, and farm work is all about one’s physical abilities. How would I handle all of the symptoms of MS?
I’d read that heat can cause symptoms to worsen — another indicator, or “tell,” of the disease. How would I handle the heat while working? Temperatures can rise above 100 degrees inside the greenhouses, and at the height of the first growing turn, it can be over 90 degrees outside. What are my chances of being able to continue doing what I love, I wondered?
At the clinic, my nurse and doctor were empathetic. They told me that everyone is different, so they didn’t know how PPMS would affect me. I’d have to learn what I could tolerate and what I’d be able to do. The doctor ordered four weeks of physical therapy and scheduled my first infusion of Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) for March. My team wished me good luck, and then I was on my way.
I then faced the difficult decision of how to proceed with the upcoming growing season.
My wife said she would support any decision I made, but believed I should move forward with the season. I began a series of intense discussions with family, friends, colleagues, and customers. The spring material had already been ordered, and the planting would need to start shortly. Mother Nature and Father Time do not stop. Most of my contemporaries agreed that I should open for the season, but I decided to wait and see if I benefited from physical therapy.
The first few physical therapy sessions involved basic exercises that didn’t push me. Used to pushing myself to the point of utter exhaustion, I felt frustrated and asked the therapists to make it harder. They laughed and said, “Your body needs to tell you what to do, not your mind.” While I understood that, my job isn’t to sit behind a desk. I needed to know how much I could handle physically.
After much back and forth with the therapists about what type of exercises I should do and how long I should do them, my wish was eventually granted. I did the more challenging exercises every day and found that they helped a little. I realized, to the delight of my wife (“I told you Pilates would help!”), that working on my core and balance was critical to being able to function at the farm. (“Men don’t do the ‘P’ word.” Ha!)
Feeling a little better mentally, I decided to open the farm for the season. Physically, I still struggled, as the fatigue and heat affected me dramatically.
I had always worked alongside my employees; my philosophy is that they work with me, not for me. But I quickly found that I couldn’t perform any of the work myself. My employees understood my physical limitations and were simply amazing. They always had my back, responded with a shoulder to lean on, and took directions while I sat in my air-conditioned truck. Ah, the benefits of air conditioning. It has been a lifesaver for me.
The spring turn was difficult, frustrating, and hot. I spent about two hours in the early morning giving instructions for the day, and then went home to rest. Overall, despite my physical challenges, everyone I interacted with throughout the season was very supportive. I am blessed with an incredible network of family, friends, colleagues, and customers. I am taking this opportunity to thank you all!
The spring turn concluded in July, and I decided not to do another crop for the rest of 2021. The next major decision I faced was whether to try again this year, but I’ll save that for a future column.
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