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Fall Down Laughing is the personal, yet humorous account of David L. Lander's struggle to hide his multiple sclerosis from the public. Weaving his candid experiences against a backdrop of fascinating Hollywood anecdotes, Lander describes how he and his family fought to cope with this unpredictable disease.

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Selected passages from Fall Down Laughing

1. What’s wrong with these legs? Why won’t they work?
Like everyone with MS, there were clues that something was wrong with me but nothing added up as remarkable. Symptoms appeared and disappeared as if by magic; slowly, little by little, inch by inch. I would step in holes that were not there, trip on cracks in the sidewalk, or watch a drink slip through my hands twice in one night without feeling it leave my fingertips.

It seemed like my body was out of sync, like a badly dubbed Hercules picture. I could no longer trust it to follow the simplest instructions. On some days, crossing streets and climbing curbs became a challenge. On other days I would be okay. I knew something wasn't right, I just didn't know what it was called, if it was serious, or if it would ever go away.

On the days my body didn't listen, I told myself it was just one of those days, I didn't know what "one of those days" meant; nothing hurt, my body just wasn't working like it should. Then, without warning, I'd feel normal again. It was like living on a fault line. I knew a quake was coming, but I didn't know when it would erupt or how big the quake would be.

2. Diagnose and Adios
When I was still emerging from a fog of anesthesia, Kathy and the neurologist stood as unsteady blurs at my bedside and delivered the news. "You have multiple sclerosis." The words sounded strange. I repeated them silently. It was unlikely that I would be able to walk again, the doctor said, and if I did, it wouldn't be for long. High doses of steroids might help in the short term. But in the end, the only thing I could count on was that the disease would progress. I would get worse.

My legs lay still, completely numb from the spinal tap. The information the doctor had just given me was not sinking in. It hovered in the air, separate and incomprehensible. Worst-case scenarios circled. In my mind's eye, I saw Lionel Barrymore in It's a Wonderful Life and Raymond Burr in Ironside, both in wheelchairs and hooked up to iron lungs. I turned away from the doctor and looked out the window of my room, located in a wing of private rooms on the top floor of one of the towers at Cedars Sinai Hospital. I could see only blue sky and the silhouette of another hospital tower. The doctor droned on about all the horrible things I would look forward to and I thought, Talk about bedside manner. Frankly, Doctor, I am not impressed.

3. The Property Value of My Mouth
Because the medical community offered so little that could be done, I began to explore anything that might help me with MS-no matter how cockamamy. For years I've taken shots of megadoses of Vitamin C and B12 which really seem to help keep my immune system strong. Other therapeutic strategies, though, have not proven to be effective. For example, I was struck by inspiration after seeing a 60 Minutes special on the toxicity of mercury dental fillings. One of the patients featured was a Florida woman with severe MS, who had believed that there was a correlation between MS and mercury toxicity. She had her dentist replace all her mercury fillings with gold. After the procedure, 60 Minutes showed her out and about, walking. Previously confined to a wheelchair, now she was even dancing for the cameras.
I went, "Wow!" The next morning I called Dr. Kipper.

"I don't know," he said, "I haven't read anything about this, and there's nothing in the AMA magazines. But I don't see how it can hurt you so, if you feel it will help you, try it."

Then I phoned my dentist. "You're about the twentieth call I've gotten today," he complained. "Why does 60 Minutes put this crap on?"

"Can you or can't you?" I asked.

Though it took hours to painstakingly pull out all my mercury fillings and replace them with gold, in the end it was all for naught. I kept waiting to be overtaken by the urge and ability to dance, but it never happened. I did try hard to smile wider after the procedure-my mouth had gone up $600 in value.

4. Acting and Hiding
…after I began taking Betaseron and then Avonex, my condition improved slightly but I still had symptoms that made it difficult at times to predict what I would be capable or not capable of doing. In some cases, my worst fears came true on a few shows I did in the late nineties, like Nash Bridges, and L.A. Heat, where as hard as I tried I just could not keep up the charade. In L.A. Heat, I played an accountant who ran everywhere. I ran through bullets. I ran after cars. It was ridiculous. My double did most of the running, except once when I somehow-don't ask me how-did the running. The director was impatient and asked that I run a little faster. Well, I did and fell flat on my face. The same thing happened in Nash Bridges. My character ran everywhere. In one scene, when I was thrown through a plate glass window, I had to get up and run, avoiding pushcarts as I went. Run. Run. Run. Bang. Splat. Pushcart hits the Dave. Head hits the pavement. Everyone thought I was dead.


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