Note: This is written by Mike Fishbein, a longtime friend of David. Mike and his wife, JoAnn, have been an integral part of the Swim as Board Members since the inception. These thoughts reflect Mike’s personal relationship with and about David.
David, I can still remember vividly when, three years into your diagnosis of ALS, you told me “I am very happy.” By then, you were already having trouble speaking. Pre-ALS, you were an active guy—even swimming the 5-mile crossing between Falmouth and Martha’s Vineyard. You had a thriving dental practice and were engaged in several community organizations spanning the gamut of religion, education, and health care. But three years of ALS had taken its toll. At that point, you were relying much more on a wheelchair. You were having trouble swallowing and writing. Your muscles were vanishing. “The past three years have been fabulous,” you said. After a long pause, you added, “but I won’t go on a ventilator. I am not someone who can live only inside my head.”
You have been ventilator dependent now for nine years. You chose life. And you by no means live only “inside your head” but, rather, very much outside in the world. Somehow, and amazingly, you learned how to do that. Pre-COVID-19, you were still attending Jazz Fest in New Orleans with your cadre of close friends and caregivers. You were still going to Fenway Park to see Paul McCartney and Billy Joel, as well as your beloved Red Sox. You were still accompanying friends on weekly outings to your favorite local restaurants, Epic Oyster and the Chart Room. And that was in your free time—between visits from friends and family, researching breakthroughs in ALS, and keeping up with the world and local news. Now that spring is upon us and the world is again opening up, you are ready to jump back in. As I write this, you are busy planning this summers’ 11th annual David’s Old Silver Swim.
For more than a decade, JoAnn and I have set aside Wednesday evenings as “David night”. We admire your fierce determination to talk to us through your magical Tobi communication device. As your retina patiently scans the keyboard, letter by letter, you let your ideas and feelings be known. For JoAnn and me, “David night” has become our favorite. We refer to it as Wednesday Sabbath. A time to enter a new space—slower, quieter, contemplative, but still great fun.
Through these visits, I think I have come to understand what you meant when you said you were, and remain, happy. ALS compressed time. It took you out of the future and planted you firmly in the moment. And you quickly resolved to make each moment count. You took a 6-month road trip across America to all those places you had dreamed of visiting. You spent more than a year in Israel seeking treatment and explored all its spiritual and physical mysteries. You strengthened relationships with friends and family. ALS revealed what was really important in your life and gave you the resolve to invest in those things. What was most remarkable to me is how quickly you accepted your diagnosis and adapted to live with it. Even more incredible, you did not resent those who were living a “normal life”. In fact, you always wanted to hear about our trips, experiences, and joys. As you would remark, “it was my way of bringing the outside in”.
JoAnn and I very much look forward to this year’s 11th David’s Old Silver Swim. It is such a great reflection of you—an event which blends fun, humor, light heartedness, and competition—all in just the right proportions. And it is a great fundraiser for CCALS, an organization which has done so much to promote the wellbeing of patients and families negotiating the tough terrain of ALS.
Your motto has always been to “swing for the fences”, and that is exactly what you have done. Each year you have set a fund-raising goal which seems well beyond the fence and each year we manage to hit it. With the generous support of the community, let us count on doing so again.
Your Friend – Mike