writing

Recovering the Parts That MS Stole From Me

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that is the great puzzle.” — “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” by Lewis Carrol Jan. 9 was my 31st birthday. I remember looking outside, watching the low January sun glisten on the frosty ground as its orange haze thawed the earth. I liken this…

This Week, MS Takes a Back Seat

The vagaries of multiple sclerosis are always present, but this week, my waking hours have been consumed by something far more important. I say waking hours, but we have to discount much of that time, because I’m put to bed at the early hour of 10 p.m. and spend several…

No Wasted Moments

A friend of mine recently recommended a book to me by the multitalented Brian Doyle called “One Long River of Song.” Doyle, a devout Catholic (though I don’t think you need to be a Christian to appreciate his writing), was an award-winning essayist, poet, and novelist with more than…

It’s Just One of Those MS ‘Snow Days’

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” Dylan Thomas wrote in his famous poem about us humans fighting, against all odds, the inevitable moment of death. Oh, yes, I went there. I’m starting with the dark and seeing if I can pull it back with a swath of…

Just Put One Foot in Front of the Other

I’ve been working on my health this last year or so, trying everything from a vegetarian diet to visiting an acupuncturist to help with muscle tension and headaches. All of it has been just wonderful. But the elephant in the room — the thing I still needed to…

Relapse, Relapse, Relapse, Profanity, Relapse

Maybe I should have called this one “Short and Sharp 2.” Yes, I’ve had another relapse, following my last one in May. I can no longer clean my own tail, and the present regime is literally to “s**t the bed!” I’m using a lot of exclamation points here,…

What Will We Do?

I recently started writer David Sedaris’ MasterClass, and one piece of advice he keeps reiterating is the importance of keeping a diary, a daily record of your doings and dealings in this world. It’s a habit I’ve fallen out of, so I bought a stack of Moleskine cahier journals…

This Story Has Legs — One Leg, At Least!

This is the story of how I became a patient columnist. Three years ago, I was still walking. Shambling, anyway. I could get up and down stairs but had to rest before reaching my ordinary car with fitted hand controls. To go somewhere on my own, I needed someone to…

Downbeat, but Upbeat

Most weeks with MS are downbeat. That’s hardly a way to capture a reader’s attention — all of us struggle. What we need is light to blow away the shade. Last night as I climbed the stairs to bed, my legs gave out with three stairs to go. Luckily,…

Chained to My Desk

The tinkling laughter of tiny children filters through the windows of my bedroom. It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon. In years past, I would be sitting in the garden watching my grandnieces play. Undoubtedly with a large jug of Pimm’s that I would have concocted for the assembled adults. We’re…

Write On: Let Your Voice Do the Typing with Voice-to-Text Technology

“O-cree-VUS,” I said, clearly and naturally into the headset. I had recently purchased the device for use with the voice-to-text software I need to type (MS, right-hand weakness, loss of finger dexterity and motor skills). “Okra bus” slowly appeared on my computer screen. It was late March, and I was working on my first column for Multiple Sclerosis News Today. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had just approved Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) for use in the United States, making it the only drug to receive the agency's blessing for treating primary progressive multiple sclerosis. It was a big deal — so big that even my friends and family were aware of the announcement. Naturally, I wanted to write about it. I tried again. “Oh-CREV-us,” I repeated. Clearly, yet naturally. I use Dragon for Mac speech-recognition software to write \. “Clearly and naturally” is part of the software’s mantra. “O Christmas.” “Ohhhh-creeee-VUUUS,” I said. Very. Clearly. Very. Naturally. “Okra vest.” The weakness in my right foot that led to foot drop began in the early 2000s. The weakness in my right hand didn’t present itself until late 2015. At first, I tried using Apple’s Scribe feature, largely because it was already installed on the Mac I had purchased that year, and also because Mac and Apple products are easy to use and intuitive … most of the time. Scribe seemed clunky, and the lag time between saying a word and Microsoft Word recognizing it and “typing” it was significant. At one time, I had written 5,000-word feature stories, time-consuming projects that demanded long hours of composition, editing, typing, and writing. I’ve written for so long that writing and typing and my fingers were woven together, a symbiotic relationship that I couldn’t fathom ending. Yet, it became clear that this was going to be a new hurdle (foolishly, one I hadn’t anticipated) and would require a different way of thinking about writing, of what I “do” in life, and in that way, of who I was versus who I am. By spring of 2016, it was obvious that my typing days were coming to an end, and I began using Dragon for Mac. (Full transparency: The folks at Dragon provided a review copy for me to try for free.) But I didn’t want to read the instructions for using Dragon. And I didn’t want to practice. I just wanted it to work, and I just wanted to be the “me” I remembered. As long as I was only writing short emails and could live with sketchy grammar, it was awesome. Drunk from my regained capacity, I began writing and sending emails to everyone for everything. The sobering reality that came with writing anything of substance or craft — hands-free — was equally spectacular. Slowly, I came to understand that Dragon (and all such software and, frankly, all such assistance for better managing my MS and helping myself) was no better than the effort I put into making it work. The people at Dragon asked if I’d write a review of the product, which you’ll find here. The short story is that Dragon is a dictation “robot.” It can format, and cut and paste, and carry out so many of the functions that we take for granted, or at least, once did. With time, commitment, and effort, Dragon learns users’ voices, and within reason, can get the job done even for longer, more complex composition. It even offers a “custom word bank” in which users may add frequently used words, like Ocrevus or ocrelizumab. But I hadn’t made the effort. “Oh-KRA-liz-ooh-MAB” I said, switching it up and hoping Dragon would finally recognize the word. “Oak Grove Missoula lab.” My deadline was looming and I could hear the clock ticking. Clearly and naturally, I screamed “OCREVUS!” into the headset. “Oh crap this.” At that moment I realized how valuable the software was and is. No, it didn’t get the spelling correct, but it did help make that first column possible and it did help me hang on to something I still find very valuable. And, in its own way, Dragon seemed to understand not just the word but also the context. “Oh crap this indeed,” I thought, smiling. And then Dragon and I finished my column.