A multipotentialite is a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life and pursues all of them, either sequentially or simultaneously (or both). This little known word describes who I was to a T, with “WAS” being the key word. My interests were so important to me, I left a career in biomedical engineering back in the ‘70s to build a seasonal business in the marine industry that would ultimately give me a 6-month vacation each year and enable me to retire early. With my abundant free time, I passionately pursued the following diverse interests: Fishing, boating, wildlife photography, fine woodworking, competitive shooting, bird watching, archaeology, vegetable gardening, raising tropical fish, custom home construction, and writing history research papers.
All went well, and I continued to operate at full throttle, until my health began to fail at age 70. My first obstacle came in the form of an autoimmune disease called polymyalgia rheumatica or PMR. Over the following 30 months, I lost 25 pounds (mostly muscle mass) and suffered permanent short-term memory issues. While I could no longer portage my canoe into Adirondack wilderness brook trout ponds or work long hours on strenuous construction projects, I made adjustments, got help from friends and found ways to enjoy my most special interests.
Soon after the PMR resolved, I suffered from a condition called Amaurosis Fugax, which comprised temporary blindness in my right eye, caused by a blockage of the vessel that supplies the retina. After extensive testing, I was given a clean bill of health, and I shook myself off once again and began to recover my lost strength. Approximately one year later, while sheltering in place during the pandemic, I suffered a stroke that compromised my speech. Less than two weeks after the stroke, I developed painful deep venous thromboses (blood clots) in my left calf and thigh. One humorous consequence of these closely spaced events was watching my friends try to keep a straight face when I pronounced “thrombosis” with a tongue that was paralyzed by the stroke. Subsequent to this third incident, my primary physician referred me to a hematologist. After reviewing the battery of tests she ordered, she attributed my three aforementioned thrombotic events to a combination of APS, and a genetic clotting disorder called factor V Leiden.
From my research, and the hematologist’s follow-up call, it appeared to me my future would consist of sitting around with a degenerative condition waiting to suffer the inevitable heart attack or stroke. I have always been a positive person, and I accepted my fate without distress, or what I believed to be symptoms of depression. The symptom I failed to recognize, however, was that I had lost interest in all of the activities in which I had once been passionately involved. I quietly hung up my toys and began sitting in front of the TV with a computer on my lap, while my physical condition continued to decline.
In retrospect, I was likely suffering from a form of depression common to the elderly known as anhedonia - which manifests itself in loss of motivation and desire to pursue one’s previous interests. Eventually the engineer in me required more research-based data about my prognosis, and I took a second pass through the medical literature. On this pass, I discovered HSS was a world leader in APS. I also located a very relevant journal article entitled “Across the Table: Cush and Erkan on Antiphospholipid Syndrome”. I contacted HSS the following day.
In response, I received a very prompt and cordial call from Margaret Smith, Manager of the Lupus & APS Center of Excellence, who scheduled me for a timely virtual visit with Dr. Erkan. During this first visit, I learned APS is very difficult for a physician to diagnose accurately. Several more tests would be needed to confirm my hematologist’s conclusions. After these tests were performed, Doctor Erkan called to explain that my risk was lower than I had previously believed, and with proper care, it was reasonable for me to expect significantly more quality time without another thrombotic event. My wife and I celebrated this good news with a fine bottle of cab and a 4-star dinner; feeling like a huge burden had been lifted from our shoulders.
Shortly after, I took my camera and telephoto lens out of the closet and began traveling to coastal estuaries and national wildlife refuges to pursue my love of photographing birds in flight. Next, I got the motors running on the boat I keep at our vacation home and took 2-day fishing/sightseeing trips on a spectacularly scenic Adirondack waterway. With the help of a neighbor, we used weed whackers and chain saws to open up a badly overgrown trail along the Ausable River, which I had neglected this year for the first time in decades. I can now once again walk down to the river in the evening and float a dry fly over rising trout in my favorite pools.
Although I tire very easily and will need professional help to recover my strength, my interests have returned and I am truly Back in the Game. I shudder to think what would have become of me, had Dr. Erkan not given me a reason to pick myself out of the recliner and start moving once again.