Monday, October 26, 2009

Feeling a Little Shaky

"Order in court" the clerk abruptly announced, as if those of us in the courtroom were soldiers waiting for a commanding officer. I jumped unnecessarily, but characteristically, having become a little edgy lately due to lack of a good night’s sleep. Immediately my tremor spiked up a notch or two, setting me to vibrating like a paint can in the grip of one of those shaker machines at the hardware store. Bad timing!

Everyone stood up in traditional respect for the black robed judge who strode through the security door in the back corner.  She climbed the three steps to the dais and, half bowing, half nodding to those in attendance, unceremoniously plunked herself down in the overstuffed red leather chair behind her bench. It was 9:30 Monday morning and another day had begun in Court of Appeal Chambers. Unfortunately, the comparatively small area behind the "bar" that separated the public gallery from the remainder of the room had too few chairs to accommodate the lawyers who had gathered to gossip while waiting for Her Ladyship to arrive. As a result, there was a professional sort of scurrying that happened when she did arrive, as if the music had stopped in a game of musical chairs. I had come early and secured my favorite spot, close to the door so that I did not have to climb over anybody to get out.

As the judge's list of matters was being read by the court clerk, I felt my right leg bouncing up and down as if I was at a barn dance marking double time to a polka, while my right arm seemed to be furiously strumming an imaginary banjo. But before I could survey the room to determine who might be watching my musical miming abilities, number 7 on the judge's list was called. It was my turn.

It was not all that difficult an argument to make, but if my noticeable tremor was misinterpreted as fear you would think this was an appearance in front of all 9 judges at the Supreme Court of Canada. Sitting on my hand proved useless and short-lived as I had to stand to make my presentation to the judge. I chose what seemed to be the best alternative and used my hands more dramatically, gesturing and moving my papers about at the risk of spreading them on the floor around the small podium.

Fortunately, it took little persuading to get the order I needed, my opponent being firmer in stance but much less prepared. Áfter victory was pronounced by the judge I gathered the papers that I had needlessly shuffled, stuffing them into my black barristers bag, and marched as confidently as I could out into the hallway.

It would have been fruitless, and a little foolish, to stop at any time to explain to the court that I had not taken my medication in the morning due to my overly zealous and lengthy preparation. Although the idea of saying, "do not mind me, I am having a bad day with my Parkinson's", had crossed my mind, I was concerned it might have been mistaken for a lack of confidence in my argument that would follow. In the end I tried, without any success, to just ignore it, hoping that everyone else would as well.

As I walked out into the cold October rain I realized that as long as I was moving no one really noticed my shaking. Besides, I imagined halfheartedly, it could just be excessive shivering in the cold. But I knew that the events of the morning would increasingly repeat themselves in different environments over the years to come. It will become necessary to learn how to accept what my uncooperative body is doing, despite the likely discomfort of others with their questioning looks.

This is part of the PD progression that I have not yet resolved how to handle. Trying to hide the symptoms seems immature, even foolhardy. But it was a natural response, and I am now left wondering what other response might "work".

It was later in the day, while talking with another member of our firm, that I realized it was the bully, fear, that I need to wrestle into submission. Fear that I would be viewed as less capable, less competent, less confident; all necessary traits of my trade. Fear that all the things I had worked 30 years to build would crack and finally crumble under the influence of my own personal quaking.

I cannot live in fear, cowering in a cave of my own making. I must have faith and courage, both of which are often in short supply. Days like today prove that fear is often based on lies. I am the same person as I always have been; I am just feeling a little shaky today.


  1. I called attention to my arm vibrating one the time I thought it was a pinched nerve.

    Best advice - stay away from the Court of Appeal!

  2. Thanks for you vulnerability Bob, but I must say there are few people I have more confidence in and that not as a result of a first impression but a consistency of integrity and character.

  3. What a great writer you are - I was with you in the courtroom!