4-4-11: The Freedoms of Terminal Illness
Dudley Clendinen is an award-winning author and journalist who lives here in Baltimore. A former reporter and editorial writer for The New York Times, he found out in November, at age 66, that he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, more popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. There is no known cure for ALS, and once a person is diagnosed, they usually live between 1.5 to 3 years.
Our host, Tom Hall, has embarked on a series of conversations with Dudley Clendinen about the disease, and the experience of living with ALS. Today, he talks about the freedoms that come with being diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Dudley said that directly after his diagnosis in November of 2010, he got in the car, and was wondering where he should go, when a positive thought came to him: “The first happy thought that suddenly hit me was ‘now, I have something to tell the credit card collectors when they call. Oh, goody.’ ”
He said his credit score isn’t the only thing he’s stopped worrying about. “I don’t have to worry any more about my cholesterol. I can eat as much ice cream as I want. All the people in my family stroke out, die of heart attacks, or go daffy. I may, but probably not before Lou gets me.”
Dudley is a recovering alcoholic, and Tom asked him whether he now feels free to have a drink. “I thought about it. But I’m lucky. I’m not tempted physically any more. Lots of people never lose the craving. What we people who are compulsive never loose, I think, is the occasional feeling to fill ourselves up with something. We feel empty in some moment, so we want to eat, or we want to drink, or we want sex, or we want cookies, or to smoke a cigarette, or something.”
“I thought, yeah, I can justify a martini, who’s going to get mad at me now? But it’s not about that. And if you take yourself through the moment, as I do, where I sought to relax myself or celebrate or amplify, it would mainly lead to the next martini, and the next one, and the next one, and I would end up kind of a sodden heap, instead of the open ventilated personality that I am now. There’s no more point in dying a drunk than there is in living a drunk.”
You can listen to all of our conversations with Dudley Clendinen here.