Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Vows (Living With Cogan's Syndrome)


May 31st:

When Sarah and I said our vows, we promised to take care of each other “in sickness and in health.” Most people, when repeating those integral words that the wedding officiator speaks, tend not to think about them when initially uttered—as they are too engrossed in the moment of finally being married. In fact, I would bet that the majority of couples don’t expect the “sickness” part to even be an issue for years to come—I sure didn’t.

When my illness let loose its nasty effects just two and a half years into our marriage, Sarah stepped in and took care of me. As the symptoms progressed and we knew that my disease would not easily be broken—that it would be a long road to recovery—Sarah remained by my side, held my hand, and loved me more than she ever had. I think that true character reveals itself when times are hard. Things aren’t always great. There are certainly days in which we both struggle to hold a smile; however, I think that through the turmoil and pain, our marriage has grown stronger.

Today, May 31st, 2012—our three year wedding anniversary—I can say that I have witnessed true love, firsthand as Sarah has put all of her desires on hold and sacrificed for my sake. She works full time, brings me to my appointments, guides me around when I’m dizzy, makes enough phone calls on my behalf to constitute for another full-time job, and she edits all of my posts! Sarah loves me and has given me everything. I know it hasn’t been easy.

Nowadays, Sarah’s life seems to revolve around me, so as an anniversary gift, I wanted her to have a few things that she could take pleasure in that would relieve some of the daily stress. Sarah has a pair of shoes called TOMS. They basically look like grey slippers but they are the “in” style for footwear these days and when you buy a pair, another pair is given to a child in need. I even bought a pair for myself recently—red TOMS—after Sarah insisted that I would look “cool” with a pair. She even pointed out celebrities who wore TOMS to try and sway my decision. I was so excited when the package arrived in the mail—the anticipation rising—I tried them on and sent them right back. I did not feel comfortable wearing shoes that looked like ladies slippers. Sarah, however, has hinted to me on numerous occasions that she would like a red pair. So, we went to Nordstrom a few days ago and purchased her second pair of TOMS. The sheer joy she had when buying her new shows was beautiful to watch. She barely even touches the grey ones anymore.

The second gift that I gave her was money to go to a spa with her sister and mother. Who doesn’t love a relaxing day, being pampered and having those pesky knots removed from your back?  I can’t tell you how in need Sarah is of a nice massage after everything she’s been through—and how often I wish I had the energy to give her one—but I know a professional massage will do the trick.

As a final present—something that I had hoped we could do together—I ordered two tickets to see Greg Laswell in concert on June 19th in Boston. I had done this back in mid-April, thinking that perhaps  I’d receive some sort of miracle and that I’d be able to hear enough to relish the concert, absorbing the music like I haven’t in months. Unfortunately, it looks as though that won’t be the case. While I am upset that I won’t be able to enjoy the show with Sarah, I’m thrilled that she’ll be able to bring a friend with her and have a fun night out—and really, Sarah has been my miracle.

Even though I bought gifts for Sarah to show my appreciation and love for her, the best part has been knowing that she didn’t expect extravagance at all and has gladly taken care of me, without yearning for anything in return.

We didn’t have any real plans for our actual anniversary today. With everything that has been going on, we just couldn’t take the time out to go anywhere, let alone spend the money. This morning, however, we decided to do something.

 “What should we do on our anniversary, baby?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” Sarah replied. “You have a check-up at the doctor’s office in the morning and then I have to work the rest of the day.”

“Yeah,” I said, letting out a sigh of disappointment.

“We could still do something. I still have the gift card to Barcelona Wine Bar.”

“Oh, that would be great!” I said. “We could go when you finish work.”

That is exactly what we did.  Sarah and I dressed up and she drove us to Barcelona. Sarah ordered the butter- poached lobster risotto and chicken empanadas while I had the Churrasco which was a skirt steak with garlic spinach, sweet potato fries, and Chimichurri sauce. We dined outside, while sipping on beer and sangria, respectively. It was the perfect way to end a busy day; a fine time to reflect on how far we’ve come in our marriage in just a short few years, while simply enjoying the moment.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Home, Sweet Home (Living With Cogan's Syndrome)


May 24th:

Sarah and I like to joke about how often I am at the hospital or other buildings for appointments and treatments. Each time we arrive at our destination, one of us will declare with sarcastic satisfaction, “Ah, home, sweet home!” Today was no different as I had not one, but two engagements to attend.

Sarah and I drove to Dr. Russo's office, ready for him to check my eyes.  When we arrived, his assistant was already behind the front desk, seemingly waiting for us. He brought us into the examination room, affirmed the types of medication I'm on for his notes, poured two different types of drops into my eyes, and then did a short examination. When he was all finished, he left the room and we waited for Dr. Russo—we waited for twenty-five minutes. Apparently, he can't do the full examination of my eyes until they are completely dilated.  

In his typical fashion, Dr. Russo walked in sporting a vest, a bow tie, and a thin grin.

“How are you doing?” he said, reaching out his hand.

“I'm doing well, thanks,” I said, reciprocating his handshake. “I'm still not hearing too well in either ear.”

Dr. Russo’s face changed to from his perpetual smile to a look of sympathy—though his faint smile could still be vaguely seen underneath his expression.

“Alright,” he said. “Put your head here.”

I inched my body forward in my chair toward the examination machine, placing my chin and forehead on their respective rests. Dr. Russo pointed at a spot on the device for me to look at and turned it on. The bright light pierced my eyes, making way for tears. I wanted to flinch—to close my eyes and not have to stare any longer—but I made myself deal with the discomfort.

I should explain that I have barely had any issues with my eyes for my entire life. I still have 20/20 vision—regardless of any irritation, sensitivity, or inability to focus that I have contracted with Cogan’s. I had minor reading glasses for a few years, but do not need them anymore. Needless to say, I am still not accustomed to all of these tests.

Dr. Russo pulled the machine away and rolled his stool back a bit.

“Your eyes look good,” he said. “Your eyes are a barometer.”

He paused as if waiting for a response.

“I'm sorry,” I shook my head in confusion.

“Your eyes,” he said, pointing to them, “…are a barometer.”

I still couldn't make out the word.

“A barometer,” he repeated.

“A...”

“Barometer,” he said, doing his best to be as clear as possible with the movement of his lips.

“A barometer?” I asked.

“Yes,” his smile grew. “If they are doing well, then I know your disease is under control. I'm going to keep you on Methotrexate and Folic Acid but I want you to drop down to ten milligrams of Prednisone.”

I couldn't understand anything he was saying. The whole incident with the word “barometer” really threw me off. Dr. Russo is great, but considering I can't ever understand him, you'd think he would use a simpler word; perhaps the word “gauge” or “index.” I just had Sarah fill me in after. I don't like to do that anymore—I've been making a conscious effort to comprehend what's being said to me—but my conversations with Dr. Russo will most likely be an exception.

As Sarah and I left my appointment and while in the car, she brought up the amusing dialogue.

“Your eyes are a barometer,” she said flatly, without moving her lips.

I tend to have a decent time hearing in the car—probably because it is an enclosed space. I heard Sarah loud and clear.

“A barometer,” I repeated, smiling slightly and trying to mimic Dr. Russo's facial expressions.

Sarah had to work at the office today, so we decided (after some pleading and assuring on my part) that she would drive to work and I would take the car to my next appointment. I told her that I would park the car in the parking lot at her job, sleep until my eyes weren't dilated anymore, and then drive to physical therapy. I explained that since physical therapy really wears me out, that when I finished I could walk down the road with the laptop to a coffee shop and write for the blog that I had recently started. Sarah questioned if this was a good idea, but in the end trusted that I would be okay.

A couple of hours later, I made it to my appointment. Rose brought me into the back.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

“I'm doing well,” I said. “I've been driving a little bit, mostly short distances”

“Oh, that's great!”

“Yeah, it feels really good to have that freedom again. Last week, I began to add some minor weightlifting to my exercises.”

Cogan's Syndrome and all of its side effects, has forced me into a considerable loss of self-confidence. Sitting around for three months at home without doing any physical activity didn't help either. I felt disgusted with the way I looked and how I presented myself. Once I started physical therapy—and I truly began to see a noticeable difference—I decided that adding weights to my routine would be a solid idea.

I spoke with my brother-in-law, Marc, and my friend, Doug, about which exercises to do. They gave me some good tips, including various sit-ups. I took their advice last week and have been working out every day since. Three exercises one day, and three the next. I am already starting to feel more comfortable with my body and am starting to carry myself in a more assured manner.

“Good,” she smiled.

She then had me do the regular exercises that I have been working on: walking in a straight line with one foot in front of the other, balancing on various objects with my feet close together and my eyes closed. Next, she added two new workouts to my repertoire.

Rose set up five orange cones in multiple places around the room. She pointed to a cone, I ran to it, and I attempted to catch a medicine ball that she threw to me. This went on for a few minutes—I felt like I was training for the NFL. I didn’t work out like this before I got vertigo! I thought.

For the last ten minutes, Rose had me use the treadmill. She placed a sticky-note on the window in front of me with the word "center", one on the window to the left with the word "left", and one more on the bicycle to the right with the word "right." The goal was to focus on each word that she called out while walking. After about five minutes of this, Rose bumped up the speed and I had to jog for five minutes while doing the same thing.

I got off of the treadmill—winded and feeling like death—and Rose asked me how I was feeling.

“Well, I feel very dizzy. I didn't run even before I got sick, so that was exhausting!” I said.

She told me I was doing a really good job and that she could tell the physical therapy was really working for me.

I’ve noticed that as well. I still get tired and dizzy after being active, but I am at the point where, even though I am aware of being off-balance, I can decide not to pay attention to it. I have been able to move around much better and even drive! Physical therapy is definitely working.

For the remainder of the day—before picking Sarah up from work—I went to a local café and wrote a blog post. Writing has been quite a therapeutic experience for me. It has allowed me to do something I love while expressing myself in how I have been dealing with my disease personally, socially and physically. My hope is also that this blog will raise awareness about Cogan’s Syndrome, so that others can be diagnosed as early as possible. Thanks for reading and being an important part of my story!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hears to Hoping (Living With Cogan's Syndrome)


April 30th - May 15th:

I have to backtrack a bit. On Monday, April 30th, I drove for the first time. That was a day I’ll always remember, as it was truly a point in which I felt as though I was finally moving forward. Driving, however, was not the only important event that happened that day.

Two weeks prior, we had met with Dr. Mazen for a hearing test—at which point he said that I would have one more test on April 30th.  This would finally allow us to make a decision about whether or not it would be the right time to undergo cochlear implant surgery. Sarah and I were excited about the prospect, but there was some anxiety as well. One of the reasons being was that for about four days leading up to the final hearing test, I had decent hearing in my right ear. This may sound like a good thing—making progress and whatnot—but Dr. Mazen had explained that our insurance company was unlikely to pay for the implant for my left ear if I had good hearing in the opposite ear. I’m not sure why this was the case; it seems ridiculous to me considering I am almost completely deaf in my left ear and a hearing aid won’t help. He also explained that if I am not eligible, he was still willing to fight for me because he was of the opinion that I am an ideal candidate. There was the possibility that we would need to send appeal letters, and we even had the idea that if we went to the local news stations, that we could get some publicity and thus cause the insurance carrier to want to cover the operation.

“Sarah,” I said. “What are we gonna do? My hearing test is coming up in two days. I won’t be able to get the implant if I have good hearing in my right ear like I do now.”

“We just have to pray about it, Max. We can’t worry about what might or might not happen. If the test results are good, then for whatever reason, maybe the surgery isn’t the right idea,” Sarah said.

“I guess you’re right.”

Sarah and I prayed that night. We prayed that we would be content with whatever the outcome might be. In my heart—even though I would love to have more “good” days in my right ear—I hoped that the hearing test results would be poor. This could be my chance, I thought. I’ve spent months without hearing and if the implant is an option, I want to take it. Oh, God, to hear again. That’s all I want. Please.

The next morning, I woke up and my hearing was bad again. It was a strange thing to be thankful for—given the state I’ve been in since February. This continued through the day of the hearing test. We didn’t meet with Dr. Mazen that day—only the technician—but he told Sarah that he would call her to talk about the results within a couple of days.

On Wednesday, May 2nd, Sarah received a call from Janet—an audiologist at the hospital. Dr. Mazen had spoken with Janet about my test results and she wanted to set up an evaluation for cochlear implant surgery. Sarah was shocked since everything seemed to be happening quickly, and she was expecting to hear back from Dr. Mazen before any sort of steps began in the cochlear implant process. She told me that she confided in her friends at work and asked for advice. Her perspective throughout this process has been a little bit different than mine: I have one thing on my mind, and that is to hear again. Sarah feels the same way, but she has adopted a protective nature and is wary about rushing into things without researching and really thinking them through.

After leaving a message with Dr. Mazen’s office, Sarah heard back from him later that day. The specialist told her that the results were bad, and that is why he contacted Janet about the evaluation. He spent time answering questions, which is something we both appreciate about him. Our minds were put at ease with the idea that this appointment would be to determine if I was a candidate, and then the decision about whether or not to go through with the surgery would be later. Questions swirled in her head and she asked what she could think of: How invasive is the surgery? Do they drill into his skull? Does it involve the brain directly? Will Max be able to get updates as technology improves? Dr. Mazen responded to what he could and assured that Janet would answer the rest of our conjectures during the meeting.

One week ago, on May 9th, Sarah and I were rushing around a building at the hospital that we hadn’t been to yet. We had five minutes before my appointment with Janet and could not find her office. We believed we were on the right floor but there was no sign telling us where to go. On top of that, there was also no one working at the front desk to point us in the right direction.

As we helplessly searched for the correct entrance, Sarah received an important phone call and attempted to remain involved as we searched for our destination.

Sarah spoke with the woman on the other line, while I did my best to maneuver around, holding on to walls as to not lose my balance, and asking various people where to go. Finally, Sarah got off the phone and we ran into someone who was able to show us the way. We met Janet right outside of her office.

“Hi,” she said as she outstretched her arm towards me. “I’m Janet.”

“Max. Nice to meet you,” I smiled.

“Nice to meet you too,” she looked and saw Sarah, who was still mildly flustered. “Hi.”

Sarah shook her hand, “Hi. I’m Sarah. Sorry we’re late. We couldn’t find your office.”

“Really? You couldn’t find the sign?” Janet replied.

“No. There was no sign,” Sarah said.

“That’s odd.”

Janet walked around the corner and stopped, looking at where the sign should have been.

“Huh. I didn’t realize it was gone.”

Janet led us into her office and directed us to two seats on the opposite side of her desk.

“So, Max, I have the results of your hearing test,” she said.

“I’m sorry. Can you repeat that?” My hearing was bad again that day. I leaned in close in hopes of hearing a little of what she was saying and did my best to focus on the movement of her lips.

“Sure,” she smiled. “I have the results of your hearing test.”

“You have my results?”

“Yes.”

The three of us talked for a few moments about the test marks and then Janet looked directly at me. I noticed that she was good at focusing on me and making sure I understood her. She asked me, “Can you explain a little bit to me about your condition?” As I began to tell the story—I was becoming a professional at this point when it came to delineating what happened—I glanced at the wall at a small, wooden picture frame with a quote hanging behind the glass:

“Blindness separates people from things; 
Deafness separates people from people.”
-Helen Keller

The words absorbed into my mind and clung to my heart. I was in a safe place—a place where someone understood and many others like me had preceded me, seeking the same resolution.
After I finished telling her what happened in the last several months, Janet nodded and then explained something to us that caught us both off guard. I needed to relay the message back to her, sentence by sentence in order to fully understand, but this was one instance that I was glad I didn’t wait for Sarah to explain to me later.

“Typically,” she said, “I have my patients do a hearing test with a hearing aid on. In your case, this has happened suddenly, you do not have a hearing aid, and it would be of no use to you anyway.  I can tell, just by our conversation here, that you are a perfect candidate for the cochlear implant. The test would only be frustrating for you, so I am going to go ahead and fill out the paper work—stating you failed the test—while recommending that you receive surgery. This will be covered by your insurance.”

We had come to the appointment expecting that I would need to go through various tests—as this has become routine—and that there would still be a chance that she wouldn’t consider me a candidate; however, I passed the evaluation by just having a conversation with Janet—albeit, a very difficult exchange.

Janet went on to show us the two types of devices that I could choose from. She gave us packets and videos from both companies to take home and explore, giving us the freedom to make our own, educated decision.
We asked her various questions about the device and about how soon the wait would be between scheduling the appointment and the day of surgery. We also probed into just how invasive this all would be, and we found out it was much more minimal than previously expected. We questioned about our insurance and if she thought everything would be covered. Janet was positive that both the surgery and the device would be covered, to which Dr. Mazen later agreed over the phone with Sarah by stating, “Yes. Insurance will cover it. The hearing in Max’s left ear is never going to recover on its own. At this point, it’s a no brainer.”

Sarah and I left with a feeling of peace which we had not felt prior to the meeting with Janet. We spent the next few days looking into the two apparatuses. We both had a feeling early on which one we liked, and the more we researched, the clearer it became: I would be using the Nucleus device by Cochlear Americas. This company was the first to pioneer the cochlear implant about thirty years ago and it has been utilized at our local hospital for all five years that they have been performing this type of surgery. We had watched a video with Sarah’s parents that featured three different people who have the implant and each story filled me with tears, desperation, laughter, and hope. There was one thing that the video offered both me and Sarah: assurance. After watching, we knew we were making the right decision.

Today, May 15th, Sarah and I sat down with Amanda, the woman who would schedule my appointment for surgery with Dr. Mazen. It looks like I don’t have to wait too much longer: surgery is on June 25th!

As we sat in the surgical coordinator’s office, I remembered the framed quote from Helen Keller I had seen days earlier. “Blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from people.” Wow. All this time I have wanted to express my feelings in the simplest of terms and I haven’t found the words. That is exactly how I feel. I have been separated, cut-off, detached from people for far too long. It has been a painful and tiresome journey, but it seems—after our meeting with Janet—that I am on a path towards freedom; I am one step closer to life’s beautiful melodies.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Three Days of Awesome (Living With Cogan's Syndrome)


May 3rd:

When I finished writing my depression-filled entry about The Avengers on Thursday at my in-laws, I crossed my arms and placed them on the table, resting my head on top. I stayed like that for a while as Sarah continued working next to me on her laptop. When she was all done, we ate dinner with her parents and I remained silent—not wishing to entertain any conversation. I didn’t want pity, but I did want to stay upset.

A short time after dinner, I noticed Sarah and her mother being a bit secretive in the kitchen. Still upset with not being able to see the movie, I shrugged it off, wanting to wallow in my despair. A few moments later, Sarah entered the dining room with a rather suspicious look on her face.

“Honey,” she sat down next to me at the table and grabbed my hand, “would you like your anniversary gift now?”

My hearing wasn't too bad that day, so I was shocked by her offer, considering our anniversary wouldn't arrive until the last day of the month.

“It's here?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “It just came in.”

Sarah and I have packages sent to her parent's house because we don't have a way for the delivery person to contact us at our apartment. Every time we try to have something delivered directly to us, we end up never receiving it and having to drive out to Hartford at nighttime in order to pick it up.

“Oh, I don't know,” I said, but every part of me wanted to shout ‘YES!’

“Come on, it will cheer you up,” she said.

“But it's not our anniversary,” I reasoned.

“Max, you are in such a bad mood,” she said. “This will make you happy and you can use it every day this month. It will be our anniversary month!”

“Uhhhhhh,” I said in a high pitched voice—shaking my head—weighing the decision. “I don't know.”

“Look, Max. It is either going to sit here in the wrapping all month or you are going to be enjoying it instead,” she explained.

“Should I?”

“Yes, you should.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Really.”

“I don't know,” I grunted, turning my head to the side with exaggeration.

Sarah laughed.

“Okay,” I said, now sporting a huge grin. “I’ll open it.”

“Yay! I'll be right back,” Sarah announced.

Sarah returned shortly with two wrapped gifts which she placed in front of me.

“Mom, dad,” she shouted, “Max is going to open his present now!”

Her parents rushed in to the room. All three sat in chairs around the table, eagerly awaiting the opening of the gifts. I looked around at them—hesitating for a moment to add to the suspense.

“Open the big one first,” Sarah said.

One last look at my wife and I began to open. My eyes enlarged and my face expressed complete elation as I saw the writing on the box: Kindle Fire.

“Ahhhhh!” I gasped.

I finished tearing the wrapping paper and quickly removed the device from the box. I looked at Sarah—her smile beaming—and thanked her.

“Baby, you are the best! Thank you so much.”

“You're welcome. I knew you would like it,” she said in a playful 'I told you so’ tone.

Her parents were also excited, even though they knew what I would be receiving. I think that they were just happy to see my frown disappear.

“Open the other one,” Sarah said.

I followed my orders and was thrilled to find a red leather case—which happens to be my favorite color—waiting for me under the wrapping.

“I can't believe this. This could quite possibly be the best gift ever!” I said.

I had been torn over the past year or so about whether or not I would in fact desire an e-reader. There is just something about holding a book. Maybe it's the sound of the pages turning—though, I can't hear that these days—or the tranquility of mind while reading a hard copy in the comfort of a quiet place; whatever it may be, having an actual book in hand just seems natural. Regardless, I have researched both The Kindle by Amazon and The Nook by Barnes and Noble, and have grown to appreciate the commodities that both offer and the idea of having easy access to various books at a time. Suffice to say; I had hinted—on likely one hundred occasions—that I would love a Kindle. Never did I suspect, that Sarah would get me the Kindle Fire—the best version that allows access to the internet as well as countless applications as well. With all of the reading that I've been doing, this really was the perfect gift.

I got up from my seat, wrapped my arms around Sarah and gave her a kiss.

“Thank you, Sarah. You made my day,” I said.

“That's what I'm here for.”

I spent the rest of the night searching for free books.


May 4th:

“Wow,” I said. “That was awesome!”

“Yeah, I loved it!” Sarah replied.

“Thanks for finding this theater, sweetie,” I said as I put my arms around her and squeezed her tight on our way back to our car.

“Max, I love you. It was no problem.”

• • •

Earlier that day:

After giving me the Kindle Fire as an early anniversary gift, and while still at her parent's house, Sarah had continued her search for a theater—premiering The Avengers on opening day—that would support my impaired hearing. She looked for almost the whole afternoon, making calls intermittently to different cinemas, only to be disappointed by the answers she received.  A friend of ours had guided Sarah toward a website that lists all theaters with Closed Caption devices. Through that site, Sarah was able to find a theater located within a mall in Hadley, Massachusetts.

“I found one!” she said.

“You did?!” I squealed as tore my eyes away from the Kindle screen and looked at Sarah in pure delight.

“I did,” she said. “They offer individual Closed Caption devices but they only have a limited amount and its first come first serve. We can stay here again tonight and I’ll start work early tomorrow so we can leave and get there well before the movie starts.”

“Have I ever told you how much I love you?”

“Nope,” she smiled and shook her head. She always answers “Nope” to that question.

“I love you more than this much,” I said spreading my arms as wide as I could.

At the end of her work day, we packed up and made the 50 minute trek to Hadley. When we arrived—two hours early—we rushed inside to the ticket sellers. I am still fairly embarrassed about my deafness, so I asked if Sarah would talk to the girl behind the counter about the device for me.

“Hi,” Sarah said. “I was told on the phone that you offer individual Closed Caption devices. Do you still have any available?”

“Oh yeah,” the girl replied.  She moved over to a table that held about eight apparatuses. She then proceeded to show Sarah how to use it, but I was lost the minute the girl began.

When she was all finished explaining, Sarah spoke.

“Don’t worry,” she said, shaking her head in assurance. “I’ll help you turn it on when the movie starts.”

“Thanks, sweetheart.”

“Should we get something to eat? We still have almost two hours before the movie starts,” she asked.

“What did you say?” I asked.

Sarah looked at me and repeated.

“Oh, yeah!” I replied. “Definitely.”

“I just don’t want to take too long and come back to find out that all of the devices are taken.”

“I’m sure it will be fine,” I said. “We’ll just eat fast.”

“Okay,” Sarah said with a worried look.

We sat down at a restaurant directly across from the theater. While there, Sarah and I periodically looked out the window in hopes of catching a glimpse of the table that held the devices. We wanted to make sure that we wouldn't miss our chance.

We ate quickly and when finished, Sarah gave the orders.

“Okay, I’ll stay here and pay the bill while you go procure a device.”

“Sounds good.”

I made a mad dash to the theater. I stumbled through the hall, doing my best to avoid the people that had already formed a line outside the theater's entrance. Thankfully, it looked as though there weren't any being used. Yes, I thought. Nothing can stop me now! 

When Sarah finally met me, we found a place in line and watched the multitudes gather. I tried to contain my excitement. I wanted to look as calm and unexcited as possible amongst all of the comic book nerds. There was only one problem: I, myself, am a comic book nerd. I bit my nails every chance that I could get—hoping that I wouldn’t receive a smack from Sarah for doing so; I repeated the phrase “come on!” in my head over and over again; I went to the bathroom about four times ensuring that I would not miss one second of the movie; but at least I wasn’t wearing my Captain America shirt—which I have owned for at least six years and didn’t buy when the movie came out, I swear! I kept my cool, but I wanted to shout for joy, jump up and down, and clap my hands.

After about an hour of waiting in line, they finally ushered us in. Considering that we had arrived so early, we were among the first ten to enter the theater. Sarah and I walked up the steps of the stadium style room, and found the perfect seats directly in the middle of a row, in the middle of the theater.

The mechanism consisted of a screen about four inches high and ten inches wide. A long, bendable tube was connected to the bottom of the screen with a circular base that fit into the cup holder at my side. I was able to maneuver the machine so that it was precisely in front of me, without hindering the view of anyone else in the room. As we waited in glorious anticipation, I wondered whether or not the closed captions would actually work. What threw me off was the fact that it wasn't working for the previews.

The movie finally began; I grasped Sarah's hand as the opening dialogue came across the tiny screen, and thanked God for the moment. The first movie I had watched in over three months, just so happened to be one that I had waited for almost my entire life.

May 5th:

The first time I went to Free Comic Book Day—a nationally recognized event—was the first Saturday of May in 2005 with my good friend Nathan. We were taking a walk along the streets of New Paltz, causing all sorts of havoc—because that’s just what we do—and decided to make a trip to the comic book store, a place we frequented often. As we closed in on our destination, Nathan and I noticed an awesome sight: Batman was on the side of the road—just outside of the plaza that the comic book store was located in—waving to the cars driving by. When I say “Batman,” I mean it in loose terms. This Batman had aged about twenty years and had gained about a hundred pounds in all of the wrong places. Just next to the Caped Crusader was a sign that read: Free Comic Book Day.

As Nathan and I approached the Dark Knight, Nathan spoke first.

“Free Comic Book Day, huh? What’s this all about?”

“Well,” said the World’s Greatest Detective, “Free Comic Book Day is something that comic book shops all around the country have been participating in since 2002. All of the major publishers as well as some of the independent ones offer free promotional comics of some their main titles, as well as upcoming names. Go in and check it out!”

“I think we will,” Nathan said.

“Can we get a picture with you, Batman?” I asked.

“Of course!”

Nathan pulled out his camera but it wouldn’t turn on.

“Darn it,” he said. “How long will you be here?”

“Oh, for a while,” he replied.

“Great! We’ll be back in a bit.”

Our hearts pounded as Nathan and I scoured the town in search of batteries. We needed to act fast in order to ensure The Bat would still be there when we returned. Thankfully, he had not moved an inch.

“We’re back!” I shouted.

“Great,” said the man behind the dark cowl with a smile that fit only him.

Nathan and I both took pictures with Batsy, while passers-by rolled down their windows, honked their horns, pointed, and laughed. At one point a car drove by and a little girl rolled down the window. Batman was overwhelmed with joy as she began to shout, but his happiness quickly faded as the girl shouted, “Hi, Max!” Poor Batman didn’t realize that I was a camp counselor and knew practically every kid in New Paltz. He would surely need to save a few more people to cater to his reputation in the comics.

We went inside and found a crowd of children picking out free books and we did not hesitate to do the same.

It was a great day in the history of my friendship with Nathan; a day that will live in infamy—well, hopefully not—a tale to tell all of our friends and family for ages to come; and the beginning of an annual tradition: the day we stumbled upon Free Comic Book Day and met the Masked Manhunter—okay, fine…Batman!

Today, marked the first Saturday of May—meaning Free Comic Book Day had once again arrived! I tried to wake Sarah up around 8:30am as she said that she would want to come with me; however, I was quite unsuccessful. She was sleeping soundly. I grabbed the keys and made my way out the door. This was the first time since I began driving that I would be doing so alone.

Physical therapy has been great, and my balance is, without a doubt, getting much better. I still notice that I’m dizzy but it doesn’t affect me like it used to, but walking down the steps is still a struggle. I took my time, holding on to the railing and bracing each step with my feet, making sure I was absolutely steady before moving on to the next. When I finally made it down all three flights, I went outside, got in my car and drove slowly to the comic books store—which, thankfully, is only about a mile from our apartment. As I drive, all sorts of exciting emotions flowed through my body. I felt like a child on his way to Disney World for the first time. What will I find there? How many people will I see? How many comics will they offer me? Should I spend money on other comics while I’m there? No, that’s a bad idea. We can’t afford that. I wonder if anyone will be dressed up. Oh boy! When I arrived I noticed that there was already a line. I parked my car and look at my cell phone for the time: 9:02am. I can’t wait, I thought.

I got out and made my way to the end of the ten person line. One of the employees came out and handed everyone a sticker that read “I Got A Free Comic Today!” I happily placed it on my chest. A half an hour passed by—with about ten more people showing up—before the doors finally opened. I entered the cluttered shop with the rest of the nerdy community of Manchester and browsed around for about 30 minutes, twisting and turning my body to elude the traffic in the store. I picked out my free comics and headed home.

Free Comic Book Day has become one of my favorite days of the year. Unfortunately, Nathan moved to California shortly after our first encounter with the beloved day and now he lives in Michigan. As it nears every May, I long for the experience and hope that one day, Nathan and I will get to enjoy the festivities together again. But for now, I will settle with us texting to wish each other a “Happy Free Comic Book Day!” every year. I’m thrilled to have added today’s adventure to such a fantastic few days.

It’s easy to remain in a depressed state—sometimes I feel like I deserve to be upset with my plight the way it is—but these past few days have reminded me that life is always changing. And sure, good can turn to bad, but bad can also turn to good.