MS does not affect attitude, says one-time geologist Ron Franke
Ron Franke is a happy man. Twenty-five years after getting MS, he still approaches each day with an eager sense of what’s possible.
Flashback to 1982, the week before Christmas: Ron Franke, a 20-something geologist, hurriedly dressed for a family function. All was well, until he couldn’t find his dress shoes. Ignoring the frigid temperatures, Franke rushed barefoot out to his car to fetch his shoes. After he dashed back inside, his feet felt cold, and the bottoms were numb. Franke thought that the chilly sidewalk had caused the numbness, but it never got better.
After a month, Franke started seeing doctors about the foot problem, but no one could figure it out. Why would a healthy young outdoorsman like Franke be having such symptoms? Franke began to worry; what could it be? Finally, a St. Paul neurologist diagnosed Franke with multiple sclerosis in April 1983. Franke remembers feeling totally relieved that he wasn’t dying.
Franke compares his MS progression to a glacier, slow but steady. “The next 13 years were a struggle, but I lived a relatively normal life,” says Franke. He started using a cane in 1986, then a walker in 1991. Walking got more difficult, so Franke took his last step in 1995. He recalls initially feeling fear and loss; his mountain climbing days were over.
Franke remembers the 1990s as his most difficult time. He experienced pneumonia, surgery, and hospitalization. “At the same time, I was going through my divorce for three years,” he recollects.
In 1995 Franke retired and began receiving SSDI payments. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any health insurance from 1995 to 1997. “I had to be creative with my healthcare,” recalls Franke with a smile. When he saw his neurologist, he would ask what samples she had in her drawer. She generally gave him whatever MS medications she had on hand.
In 2000 Franke struggled with his skin breaking down, followed by a third degree wound the size of a fist. He spent another 55 weeks in the hospital and nursing home. Franke’s definition of a nursing home is “the prison with no bars.”
Franke recalls one particularly dehumanizin experience in the nursing home: An aide came up to assist Franke. Rather than ask him what he needed, the aide questioned the staff member standing next to the hospital bed. Franke didn’t appreciate being treated as though he couldn’t think or communicate. He likes using humor to cope with his challenges, so he told the aide: “Feel free to ask me anything, my hearing is perfect.”
Franke just wanted to go home. “Luckily I hooked up with AXIS Healthcare,” he said. The health management organization arranged his bed repairs at home, and then helped him move back to his Hopkins condo.
Today, Franke’s home is equipped with a variety of assistive technology. For instance, he uses a headset device to control his TV and telephone. Franke enjoys calling people on their birthday to sing his off key rendition of Happy Birthday. When he called his friend Karen Jensen, he made her day. “He’s one of my favorite people,” she says.
Franke also receives personal care assistance. Due to his upbeat attitude, Franke’s PCAs love to work with him. Franke’s PCA Becky often stops by during her free time, because she enjoys spending time with Franke.
Hanging out at home with family and friends is Franke’s favorite activity, because he is a “people person.” When asked how he is doing, he usually replies, “Wonderful.”
In closing, here are Franke’s words to the wise:
Just like the ocean waves continually pound the shoreline into sand, so did the waves of MS pound away at my mobility. But just like the waves could never catch the wind, the waves of MS could not catch my attitude. Even though my legs and arms don’t work anymore, I wake up every morning with a smile. I have a great deal to be thankful for. I am a happy man. I am a lucky man. Rather than reminisce about times gone by or dwell on my lost abilities, I choose to revel in my new life and all that I have.