Friday, August 28, 2009

Build Your Parkinson's word Power, part 3

One of the overlooked symptoms of Parkinson's disease is the appearance of new and imposing words in the daily life of the patient. Today we return to the great big world of great big Parkinson's words. Let's start with an obscure but compelling one: Akathisia.

What the heck is akathisia? It is a disorder that causes one to feel restless, to have an inexplicable desire to get a move on, to be, in the words of Steve Martin "A ramblin' guy". This just another example of the perverse nature of Parkinson's Disease: Strip a person of the ability to move, and then inflict restlessness on the poor soul. With Parkinson's you'd like to ramble, but you can't because you're frozen, and besides, you might fall down.

Which brings us to postural instability. This means you have difficulty balancing. Postural instability is an example of medical science taking something for which there is a perfectly serviceable phrase, impaired balance, and replacing it with something that has a more cerebral and clinical ring. What can we do about this? Learn from it! When the bank calls to tell you that your last few checks have bounced, don't say your bank book is badly balanced, say it is a victim of postural instability.

Another Parkinsonian condition that can interfere with the need to ramble is dystonia. Dystonia, the involuntary contraction and cramping of a muscle is a disease all in itself. But in Parkinson's it's just one of many miseries this hard workin' disease inflicts. Examples of dystonia might include painful curling of the fingers or toes. Dystonia can sometimes be held at bay with botox, so if you are going to catch it, try to get it where botox injections will leave you with a younger, less lined look. Just because you have PD doesn't mean you can let yourself go to hell.

Our final term for the day is multiple personality disorder. This is not caused by Parkinson's, but is instead a description of it. Parkinson's can progress slowly or quickly, can cause involuntary movement like tremor, as well as paralysis, and where other diseases are content to have one main symptom, Parkinson's can manifest in many ways. It's just a shame that with all those personalities, it couldn't have come up with at least one likeable one.

Note: Installment 1 of this series can be found here, and number 2 of this series can be found here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Give me a toe, Parkinson's Pas de Deux

There I was, frozen in the neurologist's office. They were measuring my ability, or in this case, my inability to move while off medication. I was easy to measure because hey, I was not moving much. As I hobbled from one area of the office to another, the attending neurologist suddenly planted her toe in front of my foot as if to trip me. This is not as far-fetched a possibility as it sounds. One of the standard parts of a PD exam is to be tugged from behind as a test of balance. Why not a "trip" test, too?

In fact what she was doing was the opposite. Without a word, she shot a toe in front of me. Without a pause I understood. "Step over the toe" my Parkinson's sense told me. And with a step as light as a dancer (OK, maybe not that light, think of the hippo ballerinas in "Fantasia.") I gracefully performed my part of the dance, executing a "Grand jeté de PD" over the helpful obstacle.

This became almost a game in our family, with Pam and Wiley enthusiastically throwing toes for me whenever I ground to a halt. I never asked but now realize that this is for them a concrete and simple way for them to help in the daily struggle I wage with this disease. By lending their toe, they can lend a hand.