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A New Normal

Joined: 2/17/2015
Posts: 1
A New Normal

Think of a garden hose, lazily resting in concentric circles upon silent ground. The nozzle is off, no water is running. Someone turns the spigot, slowly, slowly, until reaching full pressure. The nozzle is still closed so no water bursts forth. But the pressure. It builds, and builds, until that hose wiggles, thrashes, and moves in an array of eccentric patterns. That's what Parkinson's does. The pressure starts slowly and builds until there is no option but to move. Crazy arms. Bizarre legs. They have their own stubborn will, separate from mine.

Sitting on a crisp paper barrier on the vinyl cot, lights bright in the antiseptic room. I obediently tapped fingers together, played a percussion rhythm with one foot, now the other. Finger to nose. Mirror hand movements. Walk forward. Step backward. When the doctor said, "You have Parkinson's Disease", he failed to surprise me. No one reaches the office of the neurologist without already knowing. Without having known for some time.

It starts with minuscule movements. Stress. That's what I told myself. That's why my leg remains in a constant dance. I have known people like that all of my life. You share a bench at your kid's baseball game and want to grab their knee and say "Stop!" But that was never me. Until now. Then the hand. If it had just been a tremor, I might have caught on earlier. But it was not. It was, of all things, a flapping. I'm an educator. I've worked with autistic children and seen stemming. But, for goodness sakes, I am 60 years old. Autism doesn't just start. So why the stemming movements? It must be stress. That was the only explanation.

Coping strategies begin without thought. They just happen. You sit in a room full of people and someone asks, "Did you hurt your wrist? You have been holding it all night." You find that when the audience applauds during the concert, you must first release the hand that you have been sitting on.

I never did find a way to mask the shaking when I poured coffee for guests or when I tried to text on my cell phone. That brought the dawning moment. The realization. The act of naming the adversary. Parkinson’s.

A college education typically takes four years. But when you have a disease, you are educated very quickly. As I read the symptoms, so many things finally made sense. The fatigue. The painfully slow movements. The body aches that I did not know were from constricting tremoring muscles. And an arm that refused to swing. It would move in all manner of irregular ways, but would not swing normally. It looks atrophied, but my doctor calls it dystonia. Dystonia - the reason for my turned in foot and my lazy arm. The hardest part is knowing that the problem is not really my arm or my leg or my foot. It is my brain. My brain that makes me who I am. It is flawed. I am flawed.

I sit in my recliner thinking deeply of the journey. It dawns on me that this must be the reason for my falls. I explained each one so logically. I was reading my mail while walking from my mailbox and mis-stepped. I was at my sister's home and her entry step was higher than mine. I was not accustomed to that extra inch in height. A student tripped me with his rolling book bag. He really did, but would I have balanced myself without my diseased brain? That's the journey passed. What is the journey ahead? My greatest fear - loss of cognitive processes. I can deal with my faltering steps and my tremoring movements. It is frightening to think that I may fall into early dementia. That I may not be able to follow a logical train of thought or hold an intelligent conversation. This is my new normal.

Yet as I sit in reflection, I can still count my abundant blessings. Parkinson’s is not life-threatening, just life-changing. Symptoms are greatly reduced with medication. There is humor to be found. When shaking hands with an acquaintance, I said, “You can just give me your hand. I’ll do the shaking.” When asked if decongestants made me jittery, I responded, “How would I know?” It is good to remain light-hearted, not to visit the “what ifs” which may never come. God is good. He has not been thrown off guard by this new circumstance. He equipped me for the journey and opened my stubborn eyes to the blessings. Short of a miracle, I will still have Parkinson's when I die, but it will not visit heaven with me. My brain will be healthy, my thinking will be clear. I'll be praising my Savior with steady hands held high, thanking Him for the journey that made me strong.
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