Some of you might know that my father was diagnosed with Parkinson's about 6 years ago.
Far from being bad news, I was actually relieved to find that his general decaying state of mind and health actually had a name, and more importantly, that it was, to some extent, treatable.
I didn't know much about the disease - only that Katherine Hepburn played a lady affected by it in "On Golden Pond" and that Michael J. Fox got the disease in his late 30's. So, like many of my friends and acquaintances, as I discovered later, I knew that shaking of the hand was a symptom but knew very little less.
After two incredibly surreal and almost traumatising weeks in hospital while my father was recovering from an operation, I feel like it's my turn to put some of these symptoms down in writing and share them with all of you. I'll never forget the story my mother told me about a friend who was walking with her Parkinsonian husband, who was in full dyskinesia mode (dyskinesias are the uncontrolled, undulating type movements caused by the medicines) and how she heard someone say "Look how drunk that man is."
Or more recently, the eye surgeon who operated on my father, when told that we were worried about how he was going to recover due to his Parkinsons said, "No, but the Parkinson head movement won't interfere with the eye recovery." Hmm, she forgot about the fact that recovery from anesthesia and a long operation is difficult for any patient, and even more with someone with an illness that affects the brain.
In any case, the disease affects different people in many different ways, and that's part of the "fun". Doctors can only experiment with this treatment or that treatment and lowering or raising the doses of a whole range of pills, including those to treat the side effects of the primary medication. But the symptoms can be controlled and its advance slowed down, even if you can't really prevent it from moving forwards.
So, without further ado, here are some of the symptoms of the disease.
- Rigidity and Freezing.
Yes, far from shaking, what's really painful is the rigidity in the limbs, which make it rather hard to walk, for example. Freezing refers to exactly that, a complete stop in the middle of an action.
- Sleep problems.
- Problems with vision.
- Swallowing problems.
- Hallucinations (some of which are caused by other medicines).
- Reduced facial expressions.
- Bladder and bowel problems.
The list goes on and it will change depending on the patient. What's more, the diagnosis of Parkinsons can often mask other problems.
What's been important for me has been to see other people with the disease get on with their lives (Michael J Fox, thank you...) and hear from others how exercise is the one thing that can help the disease to slow down (thank you, Sonia). Hopefully my father can get back to his frisbee again at some point...