Three Strikes

Part I
I live on borrowed time.

I should have died one summer morning in 1967 on Highway 89 when I fell asleep behind the wheel on my way to Montreal. Just after midnight the night before, and acting on a whim, I had decided to go visit my mother who had just arrived in Montreal to see the 1967 World Exposition.

At that time, a long section of Highway 91 was not built yet. To get onto I-89 going north, one needed to go through small town-to-town roads to get to White River Junction, Vermont. Having grossly underestimated the driving time through these country roads, and overestimated my endurance, I quickly packed my bags and jumped into the rented car I was given for travelling to and from a summer project. When I glanced at my wristwatch, I was surprised at how time had flown—it was almost 1:30 a.m.!

With the recklessness of youth, I ventured forth. After getting lost a couple of times, I managed to navigate myself successfully to I-89 going north. By then it was almost 4 in the morning.

At this wee hour, the highway was completely deserted. I was feeling a bit drowsy, so I pulled the car to the side of the road to get a little shut-eye.

I awoke with a start as the morning sunlight streamed through the window. I looked at my watch and realized I had slept for less than half an hour. Feeling refreshed, I decided to press on.

Nothing seemed to be amiss for a while until I suddenly found myself jerking my forehead up from the steering wheel. To my horror, I realized I must have fallen asleep behind the wheel. For how long had I slummed over the wheel, I knew not. With the car going at nearly 70 m.p.h. (~110 km.p.h.), it couldn’t have been more than a couple of seconds. Fortunately it was a straight section of the highway, and the grim reaper was at his coffee break.

Needless to say, I immediately pulled the car over to the side and took a very long nap.

Footnote: In those days, in sparsely populated areas, state troopers would seldom bother people stopping their car on the side of a divided highway for a nap.

Part II

“ I am very tired; I don’t want to get up. Please Let me sleep on….” I found myself repeating that over and over again.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Bang! Bang! Bang!

What is that annoying loud noise? Go away! Leave me alone! Let me sleep.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Suddenly, I awoke.

My mind was in a fog; my head weighted a ton; my eyelids could hardly open, and my legs felt like jelly. I staggered across the room to the door and mumbled, “Who is it?”

“Are you alright?” The voice of the janitor came through the door. “I smell gas. Check your stove.”

Without letting what he said sank in, I replied,” Everything is OK.”

“OK. But check it anyway.”

“Will do.” I promised.

Suddenly, I realized there was indeed a smell of gas in my apartment. I rushed over to the window, opened it, and stuck my head out to the chilly but refreshing winter air of a cold February New England morning in 1970.

My head began to clear and my mind was functioning again. I went over to the gas stove and noticed the pilot lights(*) for the ranges were out and a trickle of gas was coming out. Realizing that any spark would cause an explosion in my gas-filled room, I quickly turned off the feed to the pilot light and opened all the windows. Only when the room was sufficiently clear of the gas did I relight the pilot light. (* A pilot light is an always-lit small gas flame in the stove that lights the ranges when they are turned on.)

Some time during the night, for an unknown reason, the pilot light must have gone off. Gas started trickling in. Had it not been for an alert janitor, I surely would never have waken up or been blown to bits if some one had lighted a cigarette in the hallway! Lucky me ! The angel of death was busy knocking on other doors that day.

Part III

This time I am not so lucky. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis 运动神经元病 is a rare and incurable disease with no known causes. In Canada it affects about 1 out of 100,000 people. The rate is higher in some countries. (中国约有20万“渐冻人” http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_43779cc90100nctz.html) Only 25% of the patients survive more than 5 years. Those inflicted gradually lose the control of their muscles; the end comes when the breathing muscles fail.

Stephen Hawking is the most famous ALS patient. His is of the extremely rare case in which the disease stopped progressing after the first few years.

Five years ago I started having sporadic cramps in my fingers. In Feb, 2008, my elbows started to hurt and I began losing upper limb muscular strength. In my case, the deterioration–known as disease progression– is not fast. The medicare and social service in Canada is good: I was “assigned “two completely free wheelchairs, one mechanical, one motorized. I can still push the mouse around, but do not have the strength or dexterity to click or type. For that I use an “auto-clicker” and an on-screen point-and-click keyboard.

The Pale Rider has finally arrived at my front door and given me notice:”Three strikes and you are out!”

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