Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bobblehead Sings Karaoke

The Chicago hit, “Just You and Me”, that I dedicated to my wife and sang in the karaoke bar was a little off key and one octave lower than Peter Cetera did it in 1973 (the year before we were married). But that, and the fact that my tremor was accentuated due to being stressed and having forgotten my Parkinson’s medications, didn’t cause me to be embarrassed in front of the entire Kuhn & Company team. They were supportive of and accepted me for who I was, as they have always been (which excuses more than just the bad singing and the shaking).

This scene took place at the "Northern Lights" night club aboard the Holland America ship "Zuiderdam”. It was the 9th Kuhn & Company retreat aboard a cruise ship plying the West Coast waters for a few days of relaxation, teambuilding and continued professional development. These short repositioning cruises that frequently leave from or return to Vancouver in May and September provide an ideal opportunity to express appreciation for our fellow team members, as well as a chance to focus on team issues. This has become a unique highlight of our law firm culture. With the whole team, not just partners or lawyers, and spouses/significant others, it is a hallmark of our non-hierarchical team orientation and core values. But even more importantly, spending three or four days together provides ample evidence for the accepting and caring environment I am honored to work in. And that leads to a bobblehead.

In most law firms no one would risk buying life-like bobblehead dolls as gifts for the partners. Least of all when one of them has Parkinson's, resulting in his head experiencing tremors from time to time. But that is exactly what the Kuhn & Company team did. I was proud of them. Courage and creativity thrive best in an environment where risks are encouraged and people are accepted for who they are.

Despite being the senior partner, I have felt and experienced an incredible amount of support, acceptance and caring since announcing to all members of the team the results of my diagnosis two months after I received it. By that time there were minimal signs of the disease; deteriorating handwriting and some tremor. But I felt I needed to trust my fellow team members with this personal information early on, and well before any of them could ask, "Why did you not tell us sooner?". Of course, there was some risk involved, as some may have interpreted this news as a negative forecast for the future of the firm, but it proved to be just the opposite. No one left, and everyone was fully supportive, understanding and accommodating of the various consequences of the disease.

As my handwriting deteriorated further, a stamp was obtained for my signature, which due to stiffness changes every time I try to make it. When my typing speed deteriorated and sometimes a stiff finger stuck on a key a little too long resulting in some curious, and even laughable, typographical errors (such as the time I sent an e-mail signed "Boob" instead of "Bob"), I converted to voice-recognition software. This demands that I proofread much more carefully, as I am prone to make phonetically correct but embarrassing errors if I am in too much of a hurry, which is often the case.

The lessons I have learned from being in a highly supportive work environment is that having Parkinson's disease need not be a fast-track to retirement or leaving behind the challenging professional arena that I have enjoyed for so many years. I recognize that everyone who contends with PD is not so blessed, but I would urge early disclosure to at least avoid the stress of hiding symptoms from fellow workers and risking the loss of support in the workplace. After all, even a bobblehead can sing karaoke and hear the crowd shout a warm, if somewhat overstated, "Fabulous".


  1. What a great writer you are. Made me feel like I was there with everyone. I am sure the karaoke was indeed 'fabulous'. Thanks for making the effort to make a work place a really great place to be.

  2. Hi, I like this bobblehead doll. I want to thank you for this informative read, I really appreciate sharing this great post.

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