04/28/2014 03:57 pm ET Updated Jun 28, 2014


An unholy alliance comes together in my seemingly-endless war with MS. This time, the pulmonary embolism did a number on me. Trauma to the body, even surgery, kicks in the MS. That happened with a lumbar fusion, and bouts of colon cancer, and now my blood clot in my lungs. It feels like a terrible tango with an unyielding enemy. I have been trying to hide from the facts, but recently when I could not carry a cup of coffee 10 feet from sink to chair and had to put it on the floor and slide it, my frailty was tough to deny.

This is not new, just worse. "Gabe, we're home," I had yelled to our middle kid awhile back as we walked in the door. I repeated the call. Silence.

"Gabe, we're home," Meredith announced loudly.

"Hey mom," he replied. "Is Dad with you?" I had not summoned the strength to be heard, an unwanted reminder of my weakened body.

We headed into a revolving door. Meredith went first. She entered the store and did not think to look back. The revolving door stopped, trapping me. I could not push it. People were waiting to get into the door, saw my cane and just waited. The stalemate continued until I summoned the strength to conclude the circular journey.
I cannot get used to the humiliation.

Progressive diseases do progress. Recently, we ran an errand. I always ride shotgun. We parked, and Meredith went into a shop. I suddenly decided to join her but could not open my door. I threw my weight against it, but the door would swing closed before I could get even a leg out. So I sat.

Once, I could not drag my right leg into a cab before the sliding door closed on it, and a nice young woman, waiting for a bus, walked into the street to hold the door open until my leg was safely inside. All of these incidents add up for an aging man who feels as if he could blow away in a strong wind or get punched out by a Girl Scout.

I look around on the streets of New York and hobble along as people of all ages brush by me, not rudely, only hurriedly. I stop and stare at strangers running up or down subway stairs, their arms full, paying no attention to their feet and whistling a happy tune. How do they do that? I wonder. Watching them just makes me dizzy.

I am growing frail. That is undeniable, not just fear for the future but reality today. Deal with it, I tell myself. Work at home when the weather is boisterous. Ask for help opening heavy doors. That is not my strong suit, but it beats thanking strangers for lifting me up from the sidewalk. I did not ask for this, but neither did anyone else.

Those with debilitating illnesses, hardly just MS, fight the battle for self-esteem. Our physical failures challenge our ability to get by each day. That chisels away our pride at who we are and what we do, no matter the arena. The obvious solution is to lighten up and stop placing such importance on doors and stairs. Let go of your resistance to asking for help. And please let me know how it goes. I will be here, siting in sullen silence.