Monday, February 3, 2014

How to Put Your Pants On

Putting on pants.  It’s a pretty easy concept that I’ve been doing for more than a few years.  Besides, if in doubt I can always fall back to my Army training and execute the maneuver in 6 basic steps.

  • 1x pants, properly sized, cleaned and prepared for wearing.
  • 1x person, properly cleaned and prepared to wear pants.
  •  Refer to additional instructions for proper sizing, cleaning, preparing of pants and/or person.
  1. Using both hands, one hand per side of the top pant opening assembly, hold the pants out in front of you.
  2. While standing on your left leg, lift your right foot 20” and insert into the right pant leg top opening.
  3. Completely clear your right leg through the bottom opening of the right pant leg.
  4. While standing on your right leg, lift your left foot 20” and insert into the left pant leg top opening.
  5. Completely clear your left leg through the bottom opening of the left pant leg.
  6. Raise top pant opening assembly and secure around waist, using buttons, clasps, belts, ties or any other approved method.

So simple even a freshly minted second lieutenant could do it with minimal supervision!  Not so simple when you have Multiple Sclerosis.  I can still size, clean and prepare (though my wife would argue with style choice).  My problem is often with standing on one leg or raising my foot 20”.  On some days that can be a herculean effort - more than once have I crashed head first into the dresser with my legs stuck halfway through step #5!  There has to be an easier and safer way.

There has to be an easier and safer way…. That should be my new mantra.  MS can make the simple things difficult and almost always makes the difficult things impossible.  My goal is often to figure out how to do what I need to do.  I make those assessments all day, every day.  My questions are basically the same:
  What do I need to do?
  What can I do?
  Is there a gap between those two questions?
o   No – Sweet!
o   Yes – Now what?
I repeat this over and over as my day progresses.  The ‘now what’ question is the tricky one, often requiring a creative solution, stubborn perseverance, or that always fearful recognition that there is one more thing on the list of “things I can no longer do.” 

Since I wear pants almost every day, that’s as good a place as any to try and describe that daily struggle to you…

Good Days
I can plan on having a pretty good day when I get out of the shower, dry off, and easily hop into a pair of pants in a single, swift motion.  Although I usually have some indicators before that (how I feel in bed, waking up, at the gym, etc.), I’ll often hold judgment on the morning until ‘the pants’.  On a good day my muscles and nerves are in sync, allowing me to focus on the harder things.  When I get my pants on easily, I feel like I can conquer the world!  I share today’s accomplishment with my wife, she responds with a look that says, “I’m happy for you…but it’s only pants”.

Bad Days
On bad days, the warning bells toll loudly long before my pants come off their hangar.  Maybe I can’t raise my arm to shave or button my shirt.  I can dismiss these minor inconveniences in a nonchalant manner, going scruffy-faced that day or wearing a polo shirt.  I do those often enough when I feel well that I can disguise my issues during bad days.  Unfortunately, I have to wear pants!  On those days, when I just can’t raise my leg to dress myself, I admit defeat.  Those are the days where my heart breaks just a bit as I sit down to get dressed, stepping into my pants or lifting my leg and placing it through.  In the grand scheme, it isn’t really a big deal.  So what if I have to sit down while getting dressed?  I’m not the first one and won’t be the last one.  Heck, that’s the way some healthy people get dressed all the time so why is it a big deal for me?  It’s just what this all means.  Sitting down means that I can’t dress myself the way I have for the last 42 years, the way I want to dress myself.  It is times like this that I hate everything about MS.  My disease keeps me from doing the things that I want to do.

Every Other Day
Fortunately, the bad days are few in numbers, though the good days are still too few to define “normal”.  Most days swing wildly between the two; as I get dressed in the morning you can almost hear the circus music playing in the background.
  • I’ll try the straight-approach.  Treat every day like it is going to be a good day and you may just convince yourself!  If that fails,
  • Try lifting your leg again, and again, and again.  I’ll try the clean-and-jerk method.  If my leg feels like a 400# weight then maybe it needs to be treated like that.  Then I’ll try swinging the leg in, hoping for just enough momentum to get my foot over the waist and into the trouser leg.  These methods have a spotty record of success, sometimes it works but most of the time my leg falls back to the floor.  It’s often just a matter of doing it again and again until I can stick the landing.
  • With MS my nervous system gets easily rattled and stressed.  When that happens there is no way I am going to successfully accomplish anything.  I may need a few seconds to relax everything, take a deep breath, and let my body reset itself.  I never knew what to expect if/when the day came that I needed to rest a bit in the middle of putting my pants on.  Often, I just need a moment and I’m ready to battle my pants again.
  • “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”  When W. E. Hickson coined that phrase in the 1800s I highly doubt that he was talking about putting on your pants.  For me it’s about more than pants as well.  There are days where my stubborn pride becomes the only reason I won’t sit on the edge and finish getting dresses.  The victory is exhilarating when I finally succeed in my appointed duties.  My frustration mounts when my attempt to put on my pants results in a big lump on my head as I come crashing down headfirst into the dresser.  I’m most haunted by the times I have to admit defeat and acknowledge I’m having a bad day.  “Stupid pants.”
Relatively speaking, my pants are a pretty good barometer for my disease.  Today was a good day – in my Army Aviation days today’s dressing was a straight-in approach.  I like those days.

I’m looking forward to putting my pants on tomorrow!

Kevin Byrne - Portland, OR