Reunited with Dr. McLaren

This week was my first week back at Drake after an extended winter break. It was a fabulous break, filled with friends, family, and food, but there was one thing missing—I couldn’t sleep! Every night, I sat in bed for hours with ALS project ideas running through my head. There were ALS patients I needed to meet, events I wanted to attend, and scientific material I wanted to research. Night after night passed and my mind became focused on one event: my visit to Dr. McLaren.

Though my number one priority over break was to visit Dr. McLaren, I was reticent to ask the approval of his family. What if it was a bad time? What if he was too tired to see me? With the encouragement of a friend, I finally asked his wife and was granted permission. I was elated! It was all I talked about for a week and sleep was not an option. It had been months since my last visit, and I couldn’t wait to spend time with him again.

From where I live, it takes a little over an hour to make the journey to Dr. McLaren’s house. As my father drove me through pouring rain and heavy traffic on that January afternoon, I began to grow very nervous and excited. How was Dr. McLaren going to look? Had he lost weight? How well would he be able to type with his feet? How long would I be able to stay? Questions like these continued to cycle through my mind as we pulled into his driveway. At the door, I was greeted by Dr. McLaren’s wife, Kim, and the whir of his machines. He was relaxing in his wheelchair and watching football on his TV. I was given a stool to sit on and plopped right in front of him. I looked at him. Here I was, finally reunited with my hero. I had spent my morning mentally preparing myself, hoping I would be ready when I first saw him. Now that I was here, I pushed back my tears and smiled wide. I only had a few precious minutes to spend with him; I   decided to make them the happiest they could be.

Gesturing wildly, I began to relate stories of my phenomenal first semester of college with Dr. McLaren—my wonderful roommate, my stressful schedule, my fabulous ALS work, and more.  Though he could only move his eyes and slightly shift his left foot, I knew in my heart he was still listening to every word I said.

Dr. McLaren is one of the few people I feel entirely comfortable around. I can tell him the craziest stories and ramble on about life and I truly believe he won’t mind. We never focus on his ALS, only the funny and happy things we encounter in life.  It’s come to a point where I can see him as the Dr. McLaren I knew in high school—a friend with whom I could talk, laugh, and admire.

I talked and talked and talked some more, and soon Dr. McLaren needed to be moved from his wheelchair to his bed. I shuffled to the side as his wife and nurse began moving things around the room. It was fascinating to watch, yet unbearably painful. It was the first time I’d seen an ALS patient being moved with a mechanical lift. I held my breath as his body hung limp and useless as the lift moved him to his bed. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. Focus on the positive, Sarah. Keep in your heart his voice, his smile, and his courage.

His nurse moved about the room to set up his keypad and we resumed our conversation. Sitting at his side, I began updating him on my ALS work. As soon as he found a pause in my blabbering, he slowly typed out a word on the computer screen.

Grades?

Another question soon followed.

Will they be sent to your parents?

Of course! Leave it to the high school principal to question me on my grades this semester. I laughed and let him know not to worry since my grades were very good. But time soon escaped us and my father was suddenly waiting for me in the driveway. It was time for me to leave.

Time to leave? LEAVE? I can’t leave! I wanted to stay with Dr. McLaren as long as I could.

I sadly realized this wouldn’t be possible and began to say goodbye. I told him how excited I was to see him. Words were inadequate to express how much allowing this visit meant to me. It was so great to be with my friend again and the giant smile on my face showed it. I let him know I was looking forward to seeing him again soon.

I was just about to leave when Dr. McLaren typed up two more words on the screen.

Thank you

I smiled. It doesn’t matter if the visit is for only 5 minutes or 3 hours; if I’ve had a rotten day or the best day of my life, visiting Dr. McLaren always makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world. Even though he cannot speak to me and only types up a few words, I still leave every time with a great conversation behind me.

I opened his front door, turned back to Dr. McLaren with a big wave and a “BYEEEEEEEEEEEE!”, and shut the door behind me. Smiling, I walked to my father’s car, ready to go home, ready to go back to Drake University, and ready to continue my work to end ALS.

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