Monday, June 30, 2008

Carping Tunnel-Vision Syndrome

ABOVE: Shipwrecked by Parkinson's Disease

As a cartoonist, I carp for a living. One of the hazards of my job is that the first thing I do each day (after the ritual swallowing of pills and a trip to the bathroom) is look to see what the worst news is in our paper. From the Supreme Court to the lowliest local pol, I begin my day with the malefactor who did the most damage since the last time I checked. (By the way, did you notice that I'm ALREADY carping here? I'm a natural!)

This is like startin' your mornin' with a steamin' hearty bowl o' hot, nutritious worms. After a while it colors your attitude toward humanity. God only knows how the reporters who cover the courts and child welfare avoid becoming misanthropes, and I suppose many do.

Paradoxically, Parkinson's Disease has been the antidote for my case of mild misanthropy. While I loathe having this disorder, it has provided a mirror image alternate to the viewpoint brought on by watching the bozo parade.

Instead of dwelling amid the latest creative disasters of the inept and the evil, I'm a Gulliver in reverse. Being shipwrecked by Parkinson's Disease has fetched me up gasping and coughing on the Island of the Caring and the Competent.

It is another world. The inhabitants there are the likes of our friend Betty. Betty lost her husband to Parkinson's Disease. As far as I am concerned enduring that earned her a free pass on ever having to face PD again. Betty disagrees. She has volunteered for years as the voice of experience to care partners who need light on their lonely road. She often leads separate sessions for them during our monthly support group meetings. It is one of the most important services our little Parkinson's club offers.

It is the world of Dr. Dave Heydrick, a neurologist with Parkinson's who has put his intelligence, humor, charm and discipline into the mission of uncovering all he can about coping with PD and passing his learning along to the rest of us. Dave is a man who provides those of us drafted into this battle with the precious and indispensable commodity of credible hope.

It is the world of Bill Bell. When Bill's mother got diagnosed, Bill became her advocate. On finding so little support for area people with Parkinson's and their families, he went on to become an advocate for everyone in the Pacific Northwest. Smart, and an unusual combination of the good-natured and the hard-nosed, Bill put his talent and energy into running the Northwest Parkinson's Foundation. His newsletter now goes around the world, but he still seems to know and take an interest in every person with Parkinson's in the Northwest.

It is the wider world of researchers and doctors who devote amazing creativity, skill and discipline to taking care of patients and taking this disease down. To read about deep brain stimulation or gene therapy is to glimpse what seems like science fiction come alive.

I can't say I'm happy about the circumstances that brought me to this place where the people are busy trying to make the world better, and succeeding at it. But I'm amazed and grateful that it exists.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Coming Attractions: Anchorage Parkinson's-o-Rama!

Hello friends. Here's what's coming in the near future:

Tomorrow, JUNE 19th Dr. Susie Ro will give a talk on non-motor aspects of PD. The APDA folks in Seattle tell me that "In case you are not familiar with her, Dr. Ro is a fellowship-trained movement disorder specialist who gives a great presentation on the non-motor manifestations of PD. When Dr. Ro has given this talk in the past, she covered the major non-motor symptoms that can be associated with PD: cognitive changes, sleep disturbance, depression, speech changes, constipation plus a few others. The information is presented from the perspective of creating awareness for the patient so that they can seek appropriate treatment if they recognize any symptoms. She also tries to broaden awareness that PD is much more than simply a disease with motor symptoms. I can't say enough good things about her." This event will be at the new Cancer Center on the Providence campus. The Cancer Center is located off of 36th, to the West of the main complex, and East of Lake Otis Blvd. Look for the Media Center Room 2281 U-Tower, Providence Cancer Center

We have another presentation from a visiting movement disorders specialist July 9. Dr Elmer will speak on "Parkinson's 2008: The NEXT Revolution in Therapy." This is another effort from the APDA in Seattle to do outreach to we far-flung northern PWP.

We are also looking forward to meeting with Dr. Alec Glass of San Francisco, who is very interested in enhancing care for Alaska Parkinson's patients. This will entail a special meeting around July 26 or 27.

Whew! Hope to see all of you at all of these functions. Oh! Which reminds me, I will not be at the meeting this weekend, but people are welcome to meet as usual at the Senior Center to have an informal session.

Your humble, yet indefatigable Pooh-Bah,


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pete's PD Portraits #5: Mervyn Peake

This one is goin' out to my friends at PDUK. I hear the rest of you out there murmuring "Mervyn Peake ? Who in blazes was Mervyn Peake?

Glad you ask. Peake was one of the most formidable of those rare creators who earn distinction in more than one field. A talented writer and visual artist, the only comparison that he calls to mind is William Blake. Talent, style and good looks, Peake had it all, including Parkinson's.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I Only Pass Out in the Best Places

I am under strict orders from my son never to do this again. We were dining with family, and I was enjoying a beer and a well-prepared meal in a sunlit restaurant in exotic Kirkland. As conversation wafted around I became distracted by an odd sensation in my stomach, a feeling akin to what you might experience if you swallowed a live and angry badger.

My initial Badger Pacification Strategy (BPS) was denial. Skip this tack should this happen to you. It's useless. As the situation rapidly deteriorated, I adopted BPS #2: Lowering my head to the table in an attempt to control the mounting nausea. You might want to skip BPS #2 as well. No help.

It became clear that I was down to two choices. Release the "badger" in our cozy booth, (BPS #3) or make for the restroom and return the little guy to the wild via the porcelain porthole (BPS #4). Clearly there is no scenario under which #3 could be defined as successful, which left only a desperate attempt at #4.

Thinking quickly I enlisted Pam as my handler, the better to spread the inevitable blame when the doomed mission went grandly awry. I rose decisively to my feet, and then (I'm told) crumpled decisively to the floor (BPS #5)

Miraculously, BPS #5 worked great. At least on the badger. But one doesn't crumple to the floor in the middle of a restaurant discreetly. A hullabaloo followed. People were summoning help via their cell phones before I hit the carpet. When I came to, I looked up into a circle of unfamiliar and concerned faces. They assured me that the paramedics would arrive soon, and hovered close until they arrived.

I was still gathering my wits when the team showed. They lost no time in festooning me with wires connected to machines that read vital signs. I was feeling much better and after explaining about the hazards of rising too quickly when on Parkinson's medications, which can lower blood pressure and cause fainting, I managed to talk them out of taking me to the hospital.

This moment of helplessness paradoxically granted a measure of hope. We are bound to one another by our frailty. Confronted by my small catastrophe, strangers responded with swift compassion.

I wobbled out of the restaurant under my own power but with my family arrayed in close formation around me. As we wound our way to the door, I carried a new intimacy with the anonymous throng returning to their dinners.

The barriers had been breached, and as we left, it was possible to sense a common thought that clearly ran through the minds of many: "Damn, I hope I didn't order whatever HE had!"

Thursday, June 5, 2008

My Own Cato

Clouseau moves warily through his silent apartment. His sixth sense tells him danger is poised to explode, and it could come from anywhere. Every narrow hallway, every closet door, any hidden space large enough to conceal a crouching man may contain Cato.

Cato has been commissioned by Clouseau himself to stalk and attack the inspector without warning, and when he least expects it as a form of training. Just as addled as his adversary, Cato lies in wait. But where? Surely not the refrigera...

As the dooor cracks open Cato erupts from inside in a shower of frost and fury! He rains blows on the hapless detective with icy hands. Havoc, treachery and mayhem ensue, which both men seem, perversely, to enjoy.


Pete wanders obliviously through his house. Every doorknob, every corner on a counter top holds the potential for sharp and unexpected pain as his body responds to signals from his brain that cause exaggerated dance-like movements in his limbs. The complex and unconscious calibrations that we all make in the banal act of passing through space are thrown off in the interplay between disease and medication.

But when the meds kick in, it's easy to forget that. Why? Because, darn it, it feels so great to move! Until an arm swings wide and slams into something hard or sharp. Then it feels great to spout profanity with your amplifier up to 11.

It's painful and exasperating to suffer one's own unintended violence. But let's face it, it's also funny. To have Parkinson's Disease is to live a life of improv slapstick. Congratulations, you've landed both leading roles, You're Cato and Clouseau.