I have Parkinson’s disease because my brain no longer produces a chemical called dopamine. My body needs this chemical to move and function correctly. My brain can no longer produce dopamine due to the fact that the cells that make it are dying. It may be ten to twenty years after they start to die that a person will notice any significant symptoms.
There is no test a doctor can do to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. It is a symptom diagnosed condition. When I saw the neurologist in 2009, I was referred to him by my family doctor after I described some things I had noticed going wrong. The neurologist spent about thirty minutes asking me questions and having me move different parts of my body. When the 30 minutes were over, he looked at me and said, “You definitely have Parkinson’s disease.”
He prescribed some pills for me to take that trick the brain into thinking they are dopamine. He told me that PD is a progressive, degenerative condition which means over time it will continually get worse. The good news he told me was that it isn’t fatal. People die with Parkinson’s, not from Parkinson’s. He also said most people have about ten years to continue working before the PD symptoms worsen to the point that working is no longer an option. But it’s different for everyone.
The insidious part is even though it may take twenty years before you know you have it, symptoms start almost immediately after the first cell perishes. Looking back from here, I recognize what my first symptom was. About twenty years ago I lost my sense of smell. That is a common non-motor symptom of PD. But of course, by itself there is no way to recognize it as a part of Parkinson’s. Slowly over the years, more things would show up from time to time that were troubling, but they all seemed unrelated. About 15 years ago, I started really suffering from depression and anxiety for no reason. Life was good. Great wife…great kids…great job…nice house. Life was exceeding my expectations. So why couldn’t I enjoy any of it and why was I so miserable. Again, I had no idea depression is a common PD symptom.
When people are confronted by something unexplainable and difficult to live with, we develop Coping Mechanisms. They are things we do to make the pain tolerable. Whether the pain comes from physical or mental sickness or heartbreak or loss. Hopefully, the mechanism we develop is a positive one, not alcohol or illegal drugs.
For the depression, I developed the habit of walking every day. I found a tree lined road close to my house and I would walk its length and back. Rain or shine, day or night, I would walk. Also, when it was warm out, every Sunday evening I would drive to the prettiest lake and watch the sunset.
I would of course take God with me on these walks and to these sunsets, but He would only listen. I knew He was there and I knew He was hearing me. I trusted Him enough to just let Him stay quiet.
Then one day, my wife and I were walking somewhere. She looked at me and said, ” Your left arm isn’t swinging when you walk.” We walked a little more and sure enough, it wasn’t. It just kind of hung there awkwardly. I started to think about all the weird things that had been accumulating over the years and the next time I saw my family doctor, I told him about all of them. When I had finished, he said, ” Sounds to me like Parkinson’s. That’s when he made the appointment for me with the neurologist.
I had two initial reactions to the news that I had PD. First was a profound feeling of relief. What’s worse than suffering is suffering for no apparent reason. Now my suffering had a name, Parkinson’s disease. Second, I immediately began to develop my coping mechanisms.
It’s been a long and ever-changing process. As I lose my ability to do things, I replace them with alternatives when I can. One of the things I have lost that is the hardest to adjust to is the inability to walk more than a short time. My walk is now a shuffle and after a short time I have to sit. There is also the constant danger of falling, (one of the two main reasons for someone with PD to be hospitalized. The other is choking). So, to keep my spirits up and allow me to get outside and get some exercise, I ride a bike every day. That’s my #1 coping mechanism. Of course, not the two-wheel kind. I would go maybe two ft and fall over sideways. Mine has three wheels. One in the front and two in the back. It’s called a recumbent delta trike.
I thank God for my trike. Other than when I’m sleeping, the only other time I don’t feel the Parkinson’s is when I’m riding my bike.
P.S. I have discovered that most of the time, God works silently.