Mr. Kurtzke’s Scale

      Read by author
Zero: how does it feel to be a zero? You see I forgot. 
I knew it once, but time marches on, and I do not.
One, two, three, four, five, I skipped them all 
and landed hard on five point five, not my first or only fall.

Six, six was hard, unforgiving. The purchase of my cane
kept me upright, steady, and brought me a new and lasting pain.
Six point five a slow slide from six, hardly noticed until my shopping bag
included crutches and with each step my left foot began to drag.

Six point five to eight point five was but a weekend's work, numb from tits to toe.
There's no fighting it, I cannot win my daily battle with this foe
that brought me 8 months of bed-rest, personal care and humiliation.
Time to contemplate ten, the end, our final destination

on this scale designed to measure the depth of our despair,
of damage wrought, of functions lost and lost beyond repair.
But what of joy, determination, of a life well lived, in the face
of such overwhelming odds? On your scale they have no place. 

Now by some neurological fluke I'm back at six point five again
and urged by fate I sit and contemplate the meaning of that ten,
that last mark, that final place where all hearts beat no more. 
I wonder when I come to ten, will I see a dim and distant shore?

I find I cannot focus, or keep my mind upon that final mark, that final
beat, it veers to seraphim, cherubim, archangels, Gabriel, Raphael, Micheal, Uriel
I cannot imagine what it is not to be, to not see my grandson grow old,
to never know the day's must-have gadget, for my story to be all told.

We who are marked by death (eight point five on a scale from nought to ten) 
are encouraged to make our plans: living wills, nil by mouth, for when 
we find ourselves sliding from nine (helpless bed patient), down feeding tubes, past
ventilators to that point of no return to which we all must come at last

But I do not, I refuse, decline, plan instead to wing it, take it day by day,
live in the moment, two fingers up to death, not let it hold sway
until I'm done, not accept death as my orderly ordained carefully planned lot.
To some it looks like dying, to me it's living since it's all I've got

Author's Notes
1. I wrote this poem in response to a scale designed by a man called John Kurtzke, to measure the degree of disability due to multiple sclerosis. The scale starts with zero: a normal neurological exam and ends with ten: death.

2. ‘Mr Kurtzke's Scale’ will appear in the anthology MS: My Story. A recording of the poem appears on the Leith Walk Rhymer’s youtube channel.

Copyright © 2015 Lindsay Oliver

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