Baltimore Writer Living ‘The Good Short Life’ With Lou Gehrig’s Disease

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BALTIMORE (WJZ)—A doctor tells you you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. There is no treatment, no cure.  Death is sure and often swift. The Baltimore writer, teacher and journalist Dudley Clendinen got that diagnosis less than a year ago. He is still alive.

Denise Koch reports his life is now being followed by readers around the world.

“If you’re a regular listener, you’ve gotten to know the journalist and author Dudley Clendinen,” said Tom Hall.

Every other Monday morning you’ll find Dudley Clendinen at WYPR radio. Ever since he was diagnosed with “Lou,” as he calls it, last November, he’s been sharing conversations about living and dying with the disease.

 “I don’t want to live past the point where life feels worthwhile,” Clendinen said.

ALS can either start in the feet and work its way up or start in the muscles of the mouth and throat and work down. That’s where Clendinen’s began. Slurred speech was his first symptom.

Clendinen loves life. It’s evident in his Charles Village apartment: art, color, treasured objects. He’s trying to sort through it all so as not to be a burden to his beloved daughter, Whitney.

Death, he says, is no big deal. But dying is a chore.

“I’m lucky to have a disease that has no cure and no treatment, and so I don’t have to chase false hopes down the road. That saves me a huge amount of time and that’s very comforting,” he said.

When asked if he was afraid,Clendinen said: “No, no. I’m really not. I’m calm and cheerful.”

That calm was evidenced in a piece he wrote this summer about his journey with “Lou” for the New York Times, “The Good Short Life.”

He talks about his plan to choose the moment of his death and the method. Hundreds and hundreds of people responded from all over the world. And now, this prolific author and journalist has been given a reason to live: a book offer. And that’s changed his plans to “wink out,” as he calls it, before the year’s end.

“But now I have a book to write,” Clendinen said.

Life, Clendinen says, is a negotiation. He will live until “The Good Short Life” is written. There’s a deadline. And there’s a mission to teach us all how to die a good death.

“This death actually makes a lot of sense of my life,” Clendinen said. “It gives it symmetry.”

“There’s no reason for me to feel cheated,” he continued. “This is a fabulous opportunity.”

Click here to go to WYPR where you can listen to the series of interviews with Clendinen, and click here to read his essay on “A Good Short Life.”

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