Motor neuron disease (MND) is a death sentence. I talked to Jo (https://youtu.be/uk80b99Ttmk) in Virginia Beach about how she and her husband, Nick, managed before and after his death. This is a story of courage, practical action and lasting love. Hopefully, this interview might help anyone who is facing a similar situation.
Jo talked about how brutally the fatal news was broken to them, the realisation that nothing could prevent Nick’s death but that they could make his last years as good as possible. And even as his body progressively closed down, Nick was still the same man: lovable and loving; irritating and irritable; active and still a driving force in his family’s life. His body may have been dying but his character was undiminished.
I’d actually met US Navy Commander Nick when I was serving in the Women’s royal Naval Service in Naples, Italy, back in the late Seventies. Jo then arrived to take over my job and carry off the most eligible bachelor. I was staggered to learn that MND or Amyotrophic Lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig Disease (ALS) is closely linked to military service in America.
As part of last year’s Baking Blind world tour, I’d spent a week in her home while I was cooking around Virginia Beach – she even gave up her own bedroom for me as it had a more accessible bathroom. She’d beavered away for months finding other great cooks to take part in the videos that have been playing over the last few weeks.
Jo is constantly active: running her Pilates and other physical fitness classes, supporting her children, travelling and getting the best from life. But she readily admits that she is no cook. She’d had to have her oven checked out before I arrived as it had sat dormant for so long and she barely knew how the buttons worked. Yet, this self-declared non-cook was generous enough to organise a brunch party so her friends could meet me. While I made a giant frittata, she had borrowed this recipe for overnight egg casserole. Completely strange to me: bread, cooked sausage and cheese all sitting in raw eggs and milk overnight before being cooked. It sounds like that typical vintage Sixties Americana cooking that relied on tins of condensed mushroom soup! But it turned out to be perfect and was polished off by her guests.
The main drama of our visit was discovering a snake trapped in a patio planter. I could hear the snake frantically thrashing to escape the bird-netting around the pot of sunflowers – it sounded huge and no-one was brave enough to try to disentangle it. The only solution was to call an Animal Rescue team that had all the right protective gear. They declared it a harmless black rat snake and, with nonchalant professionalism, extracted the wriggling bundle to return it to the wild. Coming from the UK, where snakes are not a common occurrence, it was all a bit daunting – especially when one can’t see. I’ve decided that my desert island luxury is to have all creepy crawlies and slithery wildlife removed before I’m marooned with my music choices.