Thursday, October 17, 2013

Meeting? What mee... Oh! THAAAAT Meeting...

Yes friends, like clockwork, we once again are fated to gather together! The meeting is this Saturday, 10-19, at 3:30. Huzzah! Peter, what is on the agenda? Thanks for asking, Peter. We have an exciting guest on tap, unfortunately, they haven't gotten back to me yet.  So if they cannot be inveigled to come, we are going to look as a group at the complexity of Parkinson's disease. I was surprised to hear neurologist Pinky Agarwal say that non-motor symptoms of our disease can go back as long as 30 years before motor symptoms appear. So let's all look back in our personal histories and come prepared to talk over different things you noticed that in retrospect were early signs of your PD from the time way before you were diagnosed. I will have a few items prepared to kick off discussion, and look forward to seeing you then.

The Semi-Collected Adventures of that Semi-Collected Superhero, Flash Molasses

Here they are folks! The almost full collection of the adventures in Parkinson's Disease of that plucky PWP, Flash Molasses! Apologies for vagaries in formatting. For instance,  I see there are two episodes labeled #8. The first should be labled  #7. Why it isn't, I haven't a clue. I'm pretty sure there is no episode 13, in a rare incidence of triskadecaphobia, I seem to have omitted it. But maybe there is. All the drawings can be enlarged individually by clicking on them.

You can see Molasses evolve and devolve as I shaped him over time and as PD began to sabotage my drawing. Then he snaps into focus following my DBS operation in 2008.

The final horizontal-format drawing was my contribution to Team Cul de Sac, the cartoonist's project to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. The brainchild of Chris Sparks, in honor of cartoonist Richard Thompson, Team Cul de Sac has raised over $100,000 for the eradication of Parkinson's Disease.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

On Being Swallowed by a Boa Constrictor

"For the life of man is but a span,
He's cut down like the flower.
He makes no delay, he is here today,
And he's vanished all in an hour"

 ~ May Song, from the singing of Martin Carthy

Like its victims, Parkinson's Disease is slow. According to Neurologist Pinky Agarwal, the first subtle symptoms of the disease, for instance loss of sense of smell, may crop up 30 years ahead of the classic hallmarks tremor, stiffness, and slowness.

It's difficult not to think of the disease as beginning with the tremor or stiffness which you can point to as emblematic of your problem. But to appreciate the complexity of Parkinson's, we need to re-frame the way we perceive it.

Parkinson's is a brain disease, right? Well, yes, eventually. But before it reaches your brain it is silently and for the most part, painlessly, doing damage as it creeps through your gut and olfactory system.

Parkinson's is a disease of movement, Right? True, also of emotion, sleep, thinking, focus, balance, and the list goes on.  

Parkinson's is a disease of the elderly, right? Absolutely, but it is also a disease of  the middle-aged and even the young. Apply Dr. Agarwal's 30 year time-frame to my case. I was showing symptoms that allowed diagnosis when I was 43 years old. That puts the start of my disease around age 13.

Chances are I've been dealing with PD just about as long as I have been doing anything. Considering this, the temptation is to wonder how much was lost to disease without my even realizing it. I ponder what it cost over those years to cope with the subtle-but-ever tightening  squeeze of this patient boa constrictor. I brood over what I might have been able to do had I not been engaged in this lengthy unconscious struggle.

Yet, to suffer from Parkinson's Disease is to enjoy a privilege. I don't mean some perverse notion of how suffering somehow makes us better. What I mean is the sheer fact that in times gone by, it was a major achievement to live to be old enough to manifest the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease.

According to Wikipedia, Upper Paleolithic (stone age) humans had a life expectancy of 30 years at birth. (By odd coincidence 30 years is the same length of time Dr. Argawal put on the process of PD building in our systems prior to announcing itself with motor symptoms.) Neolithic humans had it even tougher: 20 short years flew by, and it was time to meet your ancestors.  You say "Bah! That was long ago." Granted. What was it a mere 100 years past? In the early 20th Century, at birth: 31 years. So much for nostalgia.

Seen in this light, it's all gravy past 30. And here we can learn from Parkinson's Disease. Take the long view. I'd rather be swallowed by a boa constrictor at 55 than be eaten by a saber-tooth tiger at the tender age of 20.