This is a gross understatement, but there are a lot of Ice Bucket Challenges circulating the internet right now. From innumerable athletes enduring the cold, to celebrities like Chris Pratt taking multiple buckets from their laughing wives, to that girl from elementary school you forgot you were Facebook friends with until you saw her screaming and racing circles around a yard for charity. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a veritable epidemic of good Samaritanism, and while I applaud these brave souls drenching themselves to support ALS patients, some critics note that because the trending sensation focuses primarily on the dousing and successive nominations, many participants may not know much about the cause they’re freezing for.
That’s why, when my mom sent a nomination my way, I decided that in order to steer clear of the desensitization taking place for many internet acolytes who merely scroll past the deluge of watery videos filling their newsfeeds, I’d have to conduct my own IBC very differently. With a humanitarian fire lit beneath me, I set to work learning all I could about the cause itself, researching ALS on various medical forums, catching up on Pete Frates biopics, and looking into the history of chilling challenges in general. It was and continues to be important to me that both those happy to take a bucket to the head and those quick to roll their eyes at “yet another viral campaign” understand why it’s important to keep spreading the word about ALS.
Also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease for the New York Yankees’ Iron Horse whose career ended with his diagnosis in 1939, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease that impedes the brain’s motor neurons from sending impulses through the spinal cord to the subject’s muscle fibers. This neurological disease gradually atrophies, or decreases the size and in turn strength of the muscles that engender limb movement, swallowing, speech, and even breathing. There is not yet a cure for ALS, but aids and therapies exist to maintain degrees of independence and prolong survival.
As for the Ice Bucket Challenge itself, its inspiration Pete Frates began his crusade against ALS by calling for more attention and action on the Food and Drug Administration’s behalf in the ongoing search for a cure. Once team captain and outfielder for Boston College, Frates’ recession into immobility has necessitated the aid of a full time nurse, a feeding tube, and a computer for communication.
While the Team Frate Train helped skyrocket the Ice Bucket Challenge to this year’s biggest viral sensation and catalyzed a hugely successful fundraiser for ALS research, shivering for charity has been an altruistic tool for numerous awareness campaigns. Since 1904, people have been plunging into icy waters for polar bears, dousing themselves for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, laying in freezing tubs to garner fundraising for Madi Rogers, a victim of severe juvenile diabetes, and participating in Cold Water Challenges to induce philanthropic action for clean water, hospitals, and housing in Liberia.
Armed with this new knowledge, I set about dusting off my speech writing skills and spent an entire day crafting and then trying to memorize a four minute soliloquy that I hoped might educate viewers on ALS and the challenge taken in support of its victims. As the light of day waned into early evening, I tore around the house looking for ways to actualize my message. The only place I could conduct the challenge without damaging the downstairs neighbors’ ceiling was in the shower; I no longer have a tripod so I’d have to stack packing boxes on top of a mini fridge to support the video camera; I’d need not one but two buckets to achieve my vision; and in case I forgot anything from my speech, I needed my laptop to serve as an amateur teleprompter and my boyfriend’s assistance to operate it.
Finally ready, I called action, started my speech, and began to pour. What I hadn’t anticipated was that four straight minutes of slowly dousing your skull with ice negatively impacts your memory the way the pretty lifeguard affected Squints in The Sandlot. Not to mention the fact that ice in your eyes makes it impossible to recover your forgotten material from the faux teleprompter that wavers between blurriness and brief clarity in the distance. I was able to get a lot of my speech out, but the moments where I had to stop and start over or spit out a watery word resulted in an editors nightmare, and I would never subject my Final Cut-savvy boyfriend to that torture. So I ended up having to scrap the project and conceptualize anew, devising a different approach to filming my speech that I looked forward to completing in a couple days’ time.
Two days later, I woke up with the fingers of the common cold drumming at my throat. No stranger to sore esophagi after enduring them for eight years before realizing I was allergic to my mom’s cats, I spent the rest of the day self-medicating with colloidal silver, cup after cup of tea, and day-long parades to bathroom. Regardless of my efforts, I drove to work the next morning sick as a dog, and despite my boss’ repeated instructions to keep drinking water, I left unable to ingest anything without feeling like I was going to keel over and face plant my already fragile laptop. It was official: I had the flu.
I spent 48 hours being sicker than I’d been since last Valentine’s Day when ol’ influenza decided it wanted to attend the surprise getaway my boyfriend had planned. This time around, I ended up missing a day of work and had to conduct the next from home to keep my contagions to myself. DayQuil and NyQuil became my new best friends and the food I usually admire for its incredible versatility and piquancy was deemed an enemy. The heat of the Los Angeles summer made sleeping in bed with a high fever akin to sleeping in a muggy, half-filled kiddy pool. And bed-time became an ambiguous, all day affair.
When the flu finally began to subside and the virus returned to my throat–bringing along an inflatable bouncy house based on the scale of my swollen glands–I thought the end was in sight. Usually, my ailments start in the throat, escalate according to the virus I’ve contracted, and culminate in a day’s worth of coughing. That’s why when the coughing began and I traded my various Quils for Halls and vitamin C, I could have praised Allah: finally I’d be myself again in one last 24 hour cycle of hell!
But the weekend saw to it that I wouldn’t get off the hook that easy, and as the days passed the cough increased until I was hacking up phlegm in a performance art homage to my fifteen year old do-si-do with pneumonia. At fifteen I held out against a trip to the doctor until I’d been afflicted with the illness for three months simply because my family believed more in vitamins and orange juice than professional care and pharmaceuticals. This time around I kept naysaying my boyfriend’s wise suggestions that a medical opinion was warranted because I knew my Obama-ordered Oregon health insurance wasn’t applicable in my new state of residence and copays are steep enough as it is.
On the morning when my coughs tried suffocating me awake, blood poured faucet-like from my nose, a very bizarre rash broke out all around my neck, and I’d somehow contracted pink eye on top of everything else, I gave in: it was absolutely time to visit Dr. Stranger. Per usual, the doctor was incredibly nonchalant about all of my symptoms, causing unnerving flashbacks to the time my consistently incompetent pediatrician misdiagnosed my bout of flesh eating bacteria as a temporary skin irritation (thank God for the Urgent Care doctor who thought to actually perform a biopsy). According to Dr. Stranger, my illness had started out as a run-of-the-mill viral infection contracted when a good friend’s cold and my boss’ fever of a week before combined to create my Super Flu. With my immune system weakened, bronchial bacteria had easily hopped on board to join the party and now I’d have to fill an antibacterial prescription to rid myself of bronchitis by the end of yet another week. The rash, he said, was totally unrelated and most likely an allergic reaction to… something. For this he prescribed Benadryl and Hydrocortisone and sent me off with the promise that I could come back for a real checkup should the rash persist or spread.
So here I sit three days after diagnosis and almost two weeks after those precursory inklings of a sore throat, my bedside table weighed down by a water-filled Tervis Tumbler, tissues, cough drops, multiple Vicks cold and flu remedies, Sovereign Silver, allergy medicine, anti-rash cream, Azithromycin that I pray will kick in soon, and floss. I myself am weighed down by phlegm and the regret that by failing miserably at my attempt to complete an educational version of the Ice Bucket Challenge, I’m letting down my mother, Pete Frates, and Chris Pratt.
That’s why I’m glad there are still hundreds of people out there bolstering the internet’s incredible ability to spread awareness and simultaneously proving that philanthropy is alive and well. While my personal icy contribution has been delayed, I hope that other participants go beyond the bucket to educate themselves and others about both the fight against ALS and all the charitable movements that people have been freezing for over the decades. Spreading not only nominations but new knowledge will add a whole new element of significance to the thousands of pounds of ice that have been dumped since Frates’ recently deceased friend Corey Griffin first took up the challenge in Pete’s name. Even if bronchitis or another ailment is keeping you from joining the soaking phenomenon, take a minute to find a new, creative way to support the research for ALS and other diseases that have yet to behold a cure.
Several weeks ago, I’d nearly forgotten that this month marked the one year anniversary of an accumulated facet of my persona that goes unnoticed by the general populace but serves as a daily perturbation to myself. This facet doesn’t require much in the ways of explanation, but warrants a story via its sheer unexpected endurance.
I was one year younger, one year more invulnerable amidst a customarily stressful summer of juggling two jobs within an 80 hour work week, and one year toothier, with four wisdom teeth completing their emergence in my jaw. Having hosted those four budding molars for years without any professional indication that they needed to be extracted, the “wisest” of incisors would have been welcome to set up permanent residence in my dental cul-de-sac if they hadn’t been pushing together the gap between my front teeth. An iconic aspect of my semblance that had served as an adolescent source of contention, and later a pivotal aid in establishing my self-confidence, my gap was an important symbol of both my personal and business identities. Thus with one of my favorite assets diminishing before my eyes, I had to take action fast, and as soon as I returned to Portland for summer vacation, dentists were visited, examinations were conducted, referrals were made for dental surgeons, and appointments were scheduled. Come August, I was all set to endure the surgery that’s made many a chipmunk out of even the most sallow-faced patients, and having been regaled with a myriad of nightmare stories including my friend Nyssa’s immense pain that even ice cream couldn’t quell, the school jokester who’d asked my mom if she’d rubbed orange peels on the pronounced spots where her jaw was badly bruised, and my father’s excessive bleeding that required immediate medical attention, I was far from enthused about the whole ordeal.
My major concern entailed something the nurse had momentarily paused in her incessant description of her favorite dishes at Noodle House to tell me during my pre-surgery check up. According to my $200 x-rays, my wisdom teeth had matured to the extent that the roots were anchored far down into the meat of my gums, right next to the nerve that’s responsible for all the feeling in my lower jaw. Even with the x-rays, the surgeons couldn’t determine if the nerve ran through a hole in the roots of my teeth or if it merely paralleled them, but if it was the former scenario, they would have to severe the nerve to extract the teeth, leaving my jaw numb for the rest of my life.
Naturally, a lot of liability paperwork ensued.
Come surgery day, I met with the doctor who’d flirted with my mom about her predominantly purple attire (the same color the medical center boasted in their scrubs) and the noodle-savvy nurse who’d gleefully shown me the top of her waist-high underwear to prove that purple superseded the scrubs in this facility. With the future of my nerves in these competent hands, I was sedated, and all else of that appointment beyond waking up drooling and being escorted to the car is a mystery. In the post report, however, I received the great news that it turned out the nerve only paralleled my teeth, and there was no severing necessary. Over the next week of uncontrollable salivation, a daily bout of bleeding, and slight puffiness that disappointedly did not warrant any chipmunk jokes, I couldn’t feel my jaw at all, but could rest assured that with copious amounts of Oxycodone-laced apple sauce, a water syringe to clean the cavernous holes at the back of my mouth, and the comical head sling that was meant to keep the swelling down, I would heal.
Soon, the pain had subsided and despite the prominent bruises on my face, the thick lisp I’d developed, and the lack of feeling in my jaw that made drooling an inescapable mannerism, it was back to the old, grocery customer service grind. After days of accidentally drooling down the front of my uniform and telling customers, “The ithe ith down aithle thixth,” my symptoms began to subside, and it seemed I’d been successfully inducted into the club of wisdom teeth extraction recuperators.
Well, all my symptoms had subsided except for one: I still couldn’t feel my jaw.
After a couple weeks of the pins and needles sensation that plagues sleeping limbs or nerves that are overcoming a hearty dosage of anesthesia, it was time to bring my plight to the attention of Dr. Old Tease and Nurse Mauve Panties. The doctor dragged several instruments back and forth across my jaw, and stabbed me with a sharp little poker to pique a reaction, but if I hadn’t borne witness to his attempts, all of them would have gone completely unnoticed. According to the doctor, however, there was nothing to fear. A lot of patients experienced delays in the return of sensation, and because my nerve had been so close to the roots of my teeth, it was likely it had been bruised during the operation. Thus, feeling would take a long time to return to my jaw, if bruising was all that occurred. Without another $200 x-ray, however, there was no way to tell for certain what had happened under the operating knife…
So, without the slightest desire to subject my parents to another large expenditure, I did the only thing you can do in an inconclusive situation like this: I waited.
And returned to classes.
And enjoyed an October vacation in LA, only to discover how weird it is to kiss your boyfriend when one lip is insensate.
And went on one of SCAD’s excessively long winter breaks to enjoy homemade pumpkin pie, pumpkin scones, and pumpkin bread through a comatose mouth.
And waited some more.
And returned to school for my last two quarters, posed for graduation photos with a tingling sensation in my smile, and moved out to Los Angeles to start the infamous “next chapter” of life.
Now it’s August, 2013, twelve months and two weeks after my surgery.
I can’t for the life of me believe an entire year has past since I first lost feeling in my jaw. One month into the ordeal, I couldn’t fathom enduring such a nuisance for the six month period my doctor predicted, and six months in I figured I must be getting close to recovery now!
But alas, here I am celebrating the one year anniversary of what may very well become a lifelong component of my face. While the numb sensation was excruciatingly aggravating for the majority of this experience, the fact that I’ve reached a point of blissful unawareness for the majority of the day is a testament to how easily humans can acclimate to different situations. At least there’s hope in the fact that we as a species are powerful adapters, and although our generally keen memories may cause frequent reminiscing of the days when we could rest our chin against our palm without hammering vibrations erupting beneath our skin, my year-long relationship with Numb Jaw has taught me not to place so much stock in a small thing like a shoddy nerve.