At first I made a doctor’s appointment because of my diagnosed pinched sciatica nerve in my lower back and wanted a second opinion but things had changed; I now suspected that I was experiencing certain symptoms not associated with nerve damage.
The office set my appointment for the morning of October 29, 2012; asked to arrive early to complete the new patient forms. As I arrived, I sat in my car in silence, the situation seemed too surreal and at the same time permanent. I knew I would see this place again. October is my favorite month and I couldn’t help but think of those lines by Thomas Wolfe:
“All things on earth point home in old October; sailors to sea, travelers to walls and fences, hunters to field and hollow and the long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love he has forsaken.”
I was coming home, being called to reckon with myself. It was time to stop ignoring the disconnect between my body and mind, what were they trying to tell me; time to pay attention to everything that was calling me back, time for me to get out of my way.
Before I knew it I was waiting for the doctor in one of the examination rooms. He walked in and as we traded introductions he took out a pad and pencil and started asking questions about my family history, especially hereditary issues and subsequently my personal history in regards to health. When did I first notice the tremor, what was I taking for sciatica and so on. Then we came to the exercises utilizing my fingers, hands, and arms as well as my legs and feet… walking back and forth in the hall… knee and arm reflexes plus eye to nose coordination… mental activities such as counting backward from 100 by sevens and recalling the months of the year backward. You get the idea that it was a complete workout with nothing ignored.
After the various test, we sat and talked about sciatica and the fact that I did have it. Will it come back and if it did, probably not as severe as the last time. Also, stretching, exercise and good posture and their importance for nerve damage. Indeed, time has proven him correct as any pain I feel today is controllable. But the cause of the other issues I was experiencing like tremor and slow movement is Parkinson’s disease; he was positive about that.
I wasn’t really surprised which did surprise me… in a strange sense I had expected it. You can call it intuition, but I had read as much literature about Parkinson’s as I could so I wasn’t coming to this scenario from a complete state of ignorance. The confirmation did give me an immediate sensation of freedom as most people diagnosed with Parkinson’s will tell you, half the battle is in the knowing. But was I setting myself up?
I saw dark clouds ahead forewarned by countless others from the deck of this vessel. This is a ghost ship of all who have come before me, but I alone must embrace this invisible foe as it has embraced me.
My neurologist… yes I said ‘my’ as in acceptance as I took on my new role as ‘patient’… he and I talked about many things after his diagnosis: medications, physical limitations, cognitive issues, side effects, to name a few. He explained to me that the cause of Parkinson’s is a shortage of Dopamine production in the brain. Dopamine relays messages from the brain controlling body movement. By the time you have your first symptom, you will have lost around 60 to 80 % of your dopamine-producing cells.
In more formal language, Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disorder… Dopamine, a neurotransmitter produced in the substantia nigra… mid-section of the brain which controls movements; its production impaired. The substantia nigra is also part of the basal ganglia, a complex area controlling movement as well as emotions and learning. Current medications can relieve symptoms but not the cause of damage to brain cells or neurons causing a lack of dopamine production. This chemical imbalance leads to a loss of motor skills leading to motor and non-motor symptoms… tremors, cognitive issues, balance etc.