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Written by:  Cris Cohen
Date: May 1, 2012

Our 10-year-old son, Max, has a condition called Cataplexy. Cataplexy sounds like something you'd find in an airport, as in "You'll need to take the cataplexy over to Terminal 5" or "Someone accidentally lowered the cataplexy onto one of the baggage handlers."

Cataplexy causes sudden, temporary paralysis. All of your muscles go slack and you collapse. It's kind of like what most people experience after sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's office for a long time. Halfway through a People magazine and selections from Kenny G you wonder if you'll ever be able to walk again.

Unfortunately, Cataplexy doesn't happen as gradually as when you're waiting to see the dermatologist. It can hit with no warning. One minute Max is up and walking around, and a second later he is in a heap on the floor. With some people, symptoms such as these might lead to an alcoholism diagnosis. (However, as protective parents, we've tried to limit Max's time in bars to just three days a week.)

Occasionally, Max will get a little bit of warning that the Cataplexy is going to hit. He kind of senses it the way animals can sense an earthquake starting or people on diets know when they are in the presence of carbs. When that happens, he will suddenly get an odd, unsteady look on his face, like he was just on an amusement park ride while it was being fumigated. He will then start lowering himself to the ground so the coming fall isn't so bad. It's a survival instinct that is sometimes also found in cats and people over 40 who try skateboarding for the first time.

Because of Max's abrupt collapses, my wife, Michele, and I have occasionally made some diving catches with him. It's kind of like being a baseball player — if the ball weighed 60 pounds and, instead of grass, you played on linoleum.

In fact, because of Max's condition, I'm not as impressed with baseball players as I used to be. I still appreciate that their catches require speed and agility. However, it's not as exciting as seeing my wife dive for our son in a room filled with sharp-cornered furniture. (Although that's something Major League Baseball could consider if it wanted to spice things up a little. "Thomas is sprinting to get to that line drive and ... Oh! I guess he didn't see that coffee table.")

For now, though, diving catches are not an everyday occurrence in our house. Temporary paralysis is something we only have to deal with a few times a week. And when we sit in a doctor's waiting room.

When not working or spending time with his wife and son, Cris enjoys writing as a form of therapy. A collection of the columns he wrote before moving to Cary are included in his book, Staying Crazy to Keep From Going Insane.


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