For Immediate Release
Date: Feb 12th, 2013
Contact: Dr. John Thompson
Living Is What You Do When Life Gets In the Way
I first wrote down the date, December 31, 2012, in the summer of 1995. It was the date that I had planned to retire from dentistry, and you know, live on Social Security. If I planned well, I would no longer have to do anything but come to the office on a limited schedule that I could choose as I became a part time employee of my partners. I really expected to work as long as my eyes and hands are working. The less I had to practice dentistry to make a living, the more I have enjoyed it and the less I looked forward to that date.
Practicing dentistry for over forty years has allowed me to meet great people who have been my patients and who have put their trust in me for their dental care. It has also allowed me to work with perhaps the best partners, Larry Elliott, Jerry Stovall, Bill Lee, Janet Lee and Pada Chalothorn, and staff that any dentist could hope for in a career. The present cadre at TLC Dentistry and those who have gone before have allowed me to present dental care and services in an atmosphere that was hard to define as work. Where has time gone? That is the question I have to ask as I write this piece.
Over the past two years I have noticed what I thought was progressive arthritis in first my left hand and then my right. Last year, I began looking for some help with the arthritis and this spring, I began in earnest to seek relief and improvement. I was now unable to grip a golf club and that got my attention. My first stop was my orthopedist, who made an immediate referral to a neurophysiologist to test the nerves that control my fingers and hoping it was just a carpal tunnel problem. After radiographs, MRIs and multiple specialty consultations, I am not dealing with arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome or cervical stenosis. My problem originates in the nerves that control the motor and sensory function in most of the fingers in both hands. It is called motor neuron disease (MND) and unfortunately it is not reversible and not treatable. The problem began to extract a toll on my life choices.
One choice I made was to go to the internet to better understand MND. DO NOT GO TO THE INTERNET! I followed my internet experience with four days in the fetal position and when I recovered from this I proceeded to develop every symptom of ALS known to man. My faith of steel wife, Dr. Carole, keeps telling me I was depressed and that I did not have ALS. Her reassurance did not alter the fact that my hands were failing and I was realizing that I could no longer practice dentistry as I referred more and more treatment to my partners. The fact that I could no longer grip a golf club was now so totally insignificant as I gave away my clubs.
My neurologist referred me to a neurologist at the UK Medical Center who specializes in ALS. That appointment was just after Thanksgiving. While in his waiting room, I split tooth #18 which had only a shallow class 1 amalgam placed while in dental school. It is gone! My blood pressure was off the chart when the three-hour exam began. You cannot begin to imagine the exuberance I felt when I was told that I do not have ALS and that I should go live my life. I do have a motor neuron problem and neuropathies. They may get worse. There is nothing I can do to make it worse or make it better and there is nothing to treat the problems, but go live your life was the prescription.
Now I must give credit to Dr. Carole, whose faith is unshakable, as she told me all along it was not ALS and that I was now suffering depression. Her faith, prayers, my prayers and the prayers of family and friends and the prayers of friends of friends have humbled me as those prayers were answered. I cannot say that the physical symptoms have improved at all, but the emotional symptoms have completely abated. My prayer was for a remission and that prayer was answered in spades. The overwhelming fatigue that is a symptom of ALS and depression is gone and I have more energy than my legs will allow.
Why would I share this story? It is because I have learned a lot in this past year. One mantra that I learned from Dr. L. D. Pankey , “What the mind can conceive and believe it will achieve”, I had forgotten. Under the guidance of Dr. Carole, I have chosen to believe that this will not become ALS and I have cancelled all further tests that were scheduled. She has said, logically, that if you can’t change it and they can’t treat it, why do you need to know? I guess I will know, but for now I do not have ALS.
When you think you are facing a devastating disease, it changes everything about the way you think. The most important thing is the relationship you have with family and friends and your ultimate faith in a merciful God. God has provided me a life learning experience that has brought me to a total peace with my mortality. I have decided that I am going to live every day and be grateful that I was given this day to do something good. I now plan to live every day for the rest of my life knowing what blessed really means.
Well, I have retired from clinical dentistry as planned, but not on my terms. I still can’t grip a golf club, but there are those that would say what difference would it make to my game. I most likely will not sail alone, but I do have friends that say they will now sail with me, but only in winds of their choosing. I can still hold a paint brush or pastel stick, so I can still become a starving artist. My mind still seems to work for now, so I am trying to find ways to reinvent myself. For now, I am spending January on an island in South Carolina and will spend most of February in Anguilla. My first Social Security check will arrive when I get there. The sun is shining brightly and I will come up with something good to do today.