Saturday, April 17, 2010

Volcanoes and Parkinson’s

Like the devastation wreaked by Mount Etna’s fury, Europe, and especially its airline industry, is suffering the wrath of yet another volcanic temper. And Renae and I are being affected by its aftermath as well. This is not my first experience with an erupting volcano. I remember driving down Interstate 5 from Vancouver, Canada, to Portland, Oregon, in May of 1980 watching plumes of smoke and ash spew from Mount St. Helens, only a few miles away. But we easily endured the minor consequences; gray, flour-like dust covering the car, and debris plugging rivers causing highway flooding and diversions. But my latest volcanic experience, while physically much farther away, has been far less forgiving.

We were supposed to be seeing the Rocky Mountains outside the British Airways 747 window right about now. Instead, we are stuck in Europe, albeit in a beautiful part of France where we remain overstaying guests of good friends. We are likely to remain grounded and somewhat helpless for at least 5 days. The prognosis is uncertain. Any response to the situation simply deals with the symptoms of the eruption, not the cause.

Few have ever heard of Eyjafjallajokull, and fewer still can pronounce it. But the Icelandic volcano has erupted into the public awareness by spewing its ash and atmospheric consequences into the air, and in the process made aeronautic history. The resulting costs are enormous, yet the events of the last few days were predictable, as seismic activity began months ago. We just did not take them seriously, as we were generally unaware of what it all meant. Of course the threat that this sleeping dragon would awake and breathe fire and molten destruction has been there for many years, hinting of its power at times . But we in our media managed world rarely notice the subtle, the simmering, and the slow moving. We prefer, and are happily fed, the brash, brazen and bold headline stories that are the stuff of show biz sound bites and political photo ops.

This all led me to see volcanoes as a metaphor for Parkinson’s disease. It remains hidden for a long time, with people often ignoring its presenting symptoms. Even minor symptomatic eruptions don’t necessarily attract the attention of those living closest to this menace. Its presence is growing, disruptive and expensive, both personally and societally, but apart from a few who can generate Hollywood hoopla, it is a disease that few know or care much about. When it happens, we need a plan. For those of us caught in its destructive power it can be a anxiety-producing, lonely and life-changing experience.

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Maybe the PD tulip should be shown growing on the slope of a volcano.

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