Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dare the Dragon of Depression

In the relentless gray of this November day the cold rain halfheartedly maintains its soggy grip on near-leafless trees and unmowed lawns. It is drab, dreary, and the sunny days of last week, last summer and some future day seem depressingly distant.

On days like today the dragon of depression stalks me, breathing not fire but darkness on me and others who are already tired and stiff from trying to control the constant tremors. The fierceness of our Parkinson's foe often leaves us too fatigued to find any hope to re-light the lamps that dragon breath has doused. Sometimes we cannot fight the darkness, the depression caused by constant demands upon our deteriorating bodies. Sometimes we can barely grit our teeth and close our eyes to glimpse some distant light of memory or anticipation. Sometimes these stressful short, fall days and restless long nights leave us feeling desperate and alone, wrung out.

How do we face the dragon of depression? How do we battle back from doom-filled thoughts that discourage and disturb us?

I am but an early onset traveler on this narrowing road called Parkinson's. I am not dominated yet by symptoms, but still challenged to fight back harder every day. But I do know that 50% of those who deal with this disease will have to battle the dragon of depression. Already I have felt the cold breath of the dragon trickling down my spine from time to time.  I needed a battle plan, a strategy, and a weapon. So far I have chosen those set out below.

While seemingly trite, my overarching battle plan is to 'take each day as it comes', which, as those who have tried know, is much more difficult than it seems. When dealing with despair I seek to avoid the anger and frustration that follows the thoughts of how I got here. Why me? Why now? Who did this to me? What could I have done to stop it? In the darkness a rearview mirror is helpless, and lends itself to paranoid reflections. I cannot fight the battle today by focusing on the ones that could have, or should have, been fought yesterday. Likewise, tomorrow has not yet rallied its enemy forces against me. Fear of a difficult future does nothing but sap the energy I need for today's contest. I must face only the fight before me! I believe I have what it takes for that.

My strategy is simple: learn to not fear the darkness, take solace in its silence, embrace it as a friend who can teach wisdom about who I am and how to meet the challenges, present and future. Running from or in the dark is dangerous, and panic leads us nowhere. It is not the night that need be feared. It is the fear itself that leaps inside of us, our breath quickening as we drop our guard and run headlong to escape something we carry with us. The preferable path to take is to wait, accustom our eyes to the darkness, and move deliberately through it, observing the directions that are best to take. It need not be a journey taken alone. Friends, be they professional or personal, are often necessary companions. We will find our way out.

The weapon I attempt to employ was reflected this week in a card I received from a friend in the legal profession who stated that this blog reminded him of the old Chinese adage, "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness". We do not have the power to convert the night to day, to control the sunshine, to banish the gloom and darkness. But we can light a candle. And wielding its tiny flame we can keep dragons at bay. There is always hope if we but seek it. For some it is the hope of finding a cure that lights their way through the darkest hours. For others it is a faith that no matter the difficulty there is a purpose in it all. As it says in the Bible, "... we do not lose heart... we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed... therefore we do not lose heart" (2 Corinthians 4).

So, as the winter wrestles warmth away and sometimes leaves me weary and overwhelmed, I will sit quietly sipping a glass of Pinot Noir with my wife, light a fire in the fireplace and determine in that moment to let the flames defeat the dragon.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Parkinson's Under the Sea

Flipping off the small boat backwards into the turquoise Caribbean water I entered a world that rendered Parkinson's disease momentarily meaningless. While the air and the water had similarities, both being approximately 80° Fahrenheit, and the 97% humidity only 3% below 100% liquidity, they had many more differences. The silence and serenity of the underwater environment has kept me coming back since gaining certification in 1997. Granted, I have chosen to limit my scuba diving to warm waters, which in turn restricts these experiences to no more than once or twice a year on average. But the freedom and freshness of these adventures remain inspiring.

After battling back from the virtually lifeless existence that had resulted from my cold, when we docked at Grand Turk (the Turks and Caicos Islands), while not 100%, I was ready for my last chance for an underwater adventure. It was too late to join the scuba tour arranged by the cruise ship, so my brother-in-law and I took the first available taxi to an island dive shop I had contacted through the Internet. Two thoughts ran through my mind as we drove the short distance to the address I was given, viewing hurricane damage and a definite lack of commercial sophistication along the way. First, would this be a reputable establishment or a literal one-way voyage to the bottom of the sea? Second, as we only had a few hours before our ship left the tiny island, how could we be assured of getting back on time?

What we saw upon arriving can only be described as "under construction". We were silently acknowledged by what appeared to be a "construction crew" of 4 or 5 native island dwellers who simply stared at us as they went about some indiscernible task that was apparently not pressing. We entered through the low doorway crudely marked with a hand-painted sign, "DIVE SHOP", only to find the converted beach shack apparently deserted of any occupants. The little voices inside me began competing in volume and urgency, with one shouting, "it will be fine", while the other sounded a full alarm, "danger, danger". But the inner screaming match ceased when we heard a toilet flush and saw a door creak open to disclose a blonde woman in her early 40s, who, obviously embarrassed, welcomed us in a refined but cheery English accent. What followed was reassuring as we were fitted with top quality diving equipment and introduced to our dive master, Smitty, who appeared quiet but confident, having been a dive master around this island for his whole life. Additional comfort was given as the dive shop owner assured us that Smitty would deliver us directly to the cruise ship dock in plenty of time, and that the best diving was less than a 15 minute boat ride away.

The lead weights buckled around my waist, the heavy life-sustaining canister of air strapped to my back, the incredibly awkward fins that extended my feet some 3 times their normal length, and the opaque vision through the diving mask all seem incredibly cumbersome before I hit the water. But this discomfort was erased by even a short-lived existence under the waves; the stuff of surreal science fiction. All the gear that distracted me moments before becomes weightless as I slowly submerged, descending 30 feet to the crushed coral sand and a world far away from normal life. Every 20 feet or so my eardrums remind me of my too recently clogged nasal passages, but by persistently grasping my nose and puffing up my cheeks with captured air I was able to equalize the pressure and descended without further pain. Our small party soon dove down the face of the nearby coral wall, stopping at our maximum depth of 90 feet, although the precipice continued precipitously into pitch dark down a further 7500 feet we were told. I am reminded that I am a stranger here as my mask squeezed onto my face under the increased pressure, forcing me to blow air out through my nose. After a few anxious moments of drawing air through my mouthpiece, I relaxed, breathed deeply and with long intervals, like the swells of the sea above me.

Adjusting the amount of air in the buoyancy control device to keep from plummeting down the “cliff” I began a leisurely horizontal swim, drifting and rocking with the tidal underwater current. It was really more like a slow drunken stroll in a giant aquarium filled with coral, white sandy expanses and marine life of every description. There were immense sea turtles (okay, one sea turtle) swimming effortlessly in complete contradiction to their earthly maneuvering, large lobsters scuttling from one clump of coral to another to escape our presence, and innumerable multicolored tropical fish hanging and turning slowly like neon lures of every size, reflecting the sunlight that stabbed in shafts through the sea, each one playing unashamedly as they proudly promoted their own particular patterns and shapes.

Parkinson's was forgotten as I took in the watery wonderland. Except for clearing my mask of unwanted seawater from time to time, it was an uninterrupted experience where tremor and stiffness seemed to disappear. It was if during those 55 minutes I had been transported to a disease-free heaven filled with beauty and potential for discovery around every coral corner, totally unencumbered by any serious physical limitations.

Of course, as in life, the reminders of my earthly challenges are never far away. The reality of my Parkinson's disease was brought home with a vengeance as I reluctantly drew myself out of the water and crawled aboard the dive boat. The late afternoon sun had hidden behind clouds hugging the western skyline, and the wind that whipped through the open boat came in cold gusts that cut through my warm water dive suit. The uncontrollable shivering due to the cold accentuated the uncontrollable shaking that I normally displayed. I felt conspicuous but was helpless at explaining my dilemma. It seemed too awkward to even attempt.

Upon reflecting later that evening I replayed the effortless and symptomless submarine experience and smiled with satisfaction. I was reminded yet again that Parkinson's couldn’t rob us of everything. We can find places of freedom, like on motorcycle missions, jumping out of planes or slipping into the sea. The open water frees even the sea turtle from its tortured struggles to glide easily among more elegant members of marine society.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Parkinson's in Paradise - Caught a Cold in the Caribbean

It is relatively easy to feel sorry for yourself when you catch a cold on the first day of a Caribbean cruise.

It all started several weeks before we were to leave on our short but much-anticipated vacation aboard the Emerald Princess out of Fort Lauderdale. As is often the case, it took a week or more of working 14 to 16 hour days to get ready to take one week off, therefore I arrived at the hotel in Florida the night before our ship’s embarkation, feeling rundown and exhausted. More importantly, or so I thought, I was minus my suitcase, which held all of my clothes and, stupidly, my Parkinson's medication. The bag and its needed contents had apparently gone AWOL at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, aided and abetted by some practical-joking baggage handler. Apparently he or she thought it would be hilarious as he imagined me, dressed in my latest Lululemon clothes with my right side shaking with the necessary velocity to gain flight, trying to convince the maĆ®tre d' that I should be permitted entry with my wife and friends into the Botticelli dining room on formal night. The American Airlines missing baggage department assured me they would launch a full-scale search and recovery mission in order to track down my truant luggage, ensuring that it would be captured, taken into custody and transported under guard on the next flight to Fort Lauderdale, arriving at the hotel late that evening. Long after midnight I gave up waiting and fell asleep with images of looking seriously out of sync with my well-dressed wife.

I did not feel 100% when I woke up the next morning, but chalked that up to a less than restful sleep and the stress of finding out that my bag had still not arrived. As the morning ebbed away, my frustration began shifting to optimism as the lost baggage police had indicated my overstuffed suitcase had indeed been taken prisoner and was supposed to be delivered to the hotel. I insisted that I needed it by no later than 11 a.m., as that was the time our ride to the pier was to pick us up. Caught between angry, anxious and still exhausted, I sat in the hotel lobby to wait, and promptly fell asleep. Unbeknownst to me, American Airlines had taken my insistence on meeting the 11 a.m. deadline seriously, and missing that deadline they had the bag impounded in a warehouse with millions of other mislaid suitcases. My wife woke me about 12:15 p.m. to tell me that after speaking to an American Airlines supervisor explaining in no uncertain terms that things were getting critical she had discovered that the warehouse was a scant 8 blocks from the hotel, and had arranged a taxi to drive us there to pick up the bag and transport us to the ship’s gangplank. By the time we arrived at the pier I had a bad headache and a good case of the shakes, but at least we were finally boarding to begin our tropical time away.

My next 3 days were spent largely in our cabin (thank goodness for a balcony), only venturing out with a large stash of tissues to staunch the tide that would erupt from my increasingly runny nose. Fellow voyagers scowled at me as I attempted to avoid spraying them with my sneezes. Even crewmembers invariably sought out one of the innumerable hand sanitizer machines every time I went by them stifling my hacking cough and sniffing incessantly. The alliteration was not lost on me: catching a cold on a cruise in the Caribbean!

But despite the lack of cold medicine on board the otherwise well-stocked cruise ship, and notwithstanding my antisocial behavior as I disappeared for a nap every couple hours, I began to appreciate that things could be worse. I could be at work attempting to function in Stoic fashion, pressed by demands I felt ill-equipped to meet. Instead, I had a whole week to recover in the sun, enjoying 80 plus temperatures and unparalleled scenery, sharing excellent food and entertainment with good friends. I could sleep whenever I felt like it, which was often, and likely return home at the end of the week modestly refreshed and rested. Having a cold in the Caribbean was not so bad.

This led me to think about living with Parkinson's disease in less developed countries where good medical care is either unavailable or unaffordable. Living in Canada, I am blessed by having, in effect, Parkinson's in paradise. The standard of living and medical health system enables me to have the best of care, economic access to a variety of medications and the expectation that I will live as long as most.

It is easy to feel sorry for ourselves. But there are many who have little medical or other support in their fight against the fear and uncertain future that follows a diagnosis of PD, if such a diagnosis is available. Comparatively, we are fighting Parkinson’s in paradise.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Don’t Touch?

Just like when I was an overly inquisitive boy, I seem to be constantly warned, “Don’t touch!”. But don’t we need touch?

Other than for medical reasons, touch is often sparingly rationed out to those of us who are getting older, or dealing with a disease like Parkinson’s. Despite the resulting sense of isolation, in effect a symbol of stigmatization like the ‘untouchable’ leper, people just seem to shy away from the taboo of touching. It seems to be relegated to the ranks of the manipulative, illicit and uncomfortable. But in the past few days I have been offered more than a few examples of how touch is legitimized and made luxurious.

It was only 7:30 in the morning but I had an hour before the flight left. All I needed was 20 minutes she said. It was one of those airport “chair” massages. You know, the kind where you sit in a kneeling position, face pressed into a cushioned donut. You remain leaning forward in a praying pose while someone kneads your stiffened muscles like my Grandma used to pummel the bread dough before she pushed it into the wood burning oven. Kim had worked a number of jobs before entering the highly personal world of massage. When I asked what caused her to choose her work, I was surprised when she off-handedly remarked, “I needed touch in my life”. Although curious, I did not pursue the topic further (I had a plane to catch), but there seemed to be a great deal more to the story. Twenty minutes was not long enough.

I don’t know about you, but the scalp massage part of a haircut is by far the most enjoyable part of what is otherwise a purely functional, bimonthly mandated activity. Angelika was responsible for the much-needed, but expensive, haircut I had while sailing out of Fort Lauderdale’s harbor into a Caribbean sunset sky. She was from South Africa. She was working in the spa aboard the Princess Emerald to see the world, as were most of the young people working the cruise ship. Strong, masterful hands with adept, outstretched fingers worked aromatic shampoo into my lathered hair. I wanted it to continue indefinitely, like a kitten with eyes half closed being stroked in front of a fire. I realized that the whole job of a beautician is touch. It was lavish, and twenty minutes was not long enough.

In the face of acceptable touching, such as greeting the family and friends we are cruising with, at a purely functional level it has become a very awkward aspect of our culture. Take the apologetic young man at Vancouver airport security who explained to me while he snapped on a clean pair of blue latex gloves that it was just procedure to “pat down” every so many passengers. I suppose that sounds, as it felt, far less invasive than “frisk”. What was I going to think, that he was doing this for some personal gratification? Not likely.

We are so often informed by words, signs or just by example that touching is bad. For instance, even though the H1N1 flu and other plagues of our disease-paranoid age are primarily airborne, we are faced with liquid hand sanitizer at every doorway, gangplank and washroom we encounter on the ship. I even noticed that some folks take a paper towel when gingerly grasping the washroom door handle as if escaping a crime scene seeking to leave no telltale fingerprints.

Touch, it seems to me, becomes more not less important as we age. And for those of us who face the sometimes self-marginalizing affects of Parkinson’s or other visibly distinctive diseases, touch brings us back from isolation and loneliness. Be it a pat on the arm or shoulder, an extra-long, firm handshake, or a warm embrace that says, “I value you”, let’s commit to keeping in touch as a part of who we are. Let’s not delegate this important sensory ability to the professionals.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Winston, War and Parkinson's

Exhausted from too many late nights at work, and having grabbed an insufficient four hours sleep before we dashed off to make the early morning flight from Vancouver to Miami, I slumped into window seat 13F, expecting to be asleep before we left the ground.  We had snagged the emergency exit aisle with the extra legroom and "reclining" seats, ensuring some ability to snooze.  As we were settling in I noticed that the movie to be played was "Into the Storm".  I had never heard of the 2009 Emmy-winning TV miniseries.  But something held my sagging eyelids open as I saw the rotund, cigar-chomping images of Winston Churchill.  I became totally engrossed as soon as I had my headphones plugged in and began hearing the fighting words of that savior of England. Those words inspired me as I began to see the analogy of Parkinson's as a war to be waged against an ever-fiercer force.

Churchill was a grand, if somewhat pompous, figure who strode confidently into the right place at the right time.  But at the time, few who knew the man considered him much more than a populist orator, an opportunist from a privileged background who succeeded to the office of British Prime Minister in the wake of Neville Chamberlain's retreat. Yet, despite his significant human failings (he smoked, drank and ate too much), he evidenced such courage, or brash arrogance, that he convinced or cajoled his nation and its leaders to not surrender to Hitler's Nazi bullies, but fight on despite formidable, even insurmountable, odds.  His determination and single-mindedness were legendary and critical to ultimate victory.  But, curiously, he was not a man for easy times, as his 1945 electoral defeat, after winning the war, convincingly evidenced.  He was born to fight.  The war made Churchill, as much as he made war.  It called out his greatness, his best.

I am inspired by Churchill's commitment to fight the enemy, regardless of his self-doubt and how futile war must have seemed.  I concluded at the end of that movie that he would be an inner voice for me, barking out encouragement or demanding improvement in the battle against PD.  Consider what he said and apply these statements to your enemy:

"Never give in - never, never, never, never...never give in... Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

"Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others."

"Sure I am of this, that you have only to endure to conquer."

"It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time."

"We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival."

Now ours is not a 5-year war with Parkinson's disease. Nor do we live in an age when fighting is portrayed positively.  We, of our generation, have grown up believing that all problems of conflict can be solved without sacrifice or saviors, hurt or harm. Such thinking in 1940 almost snuffed out the candle of democracy. But whatever our political persuasions, when it comes to PD we cannot negotiate.  Appeasement is not a strategic option.  We must battle its ravages until it is defeated. No wonder we feel fatigued from time to time, for it is a fierce fight.
We can be inspired by others who go to war against this daunting foe.  Like Michael J. Fox, fellow Canadian and crusader for a cure and the cash to pursue it, or Muhammad Ali, who, once as dauntless and ego-expressive as Churchill, does not hide in shame, or the hundreds who seek a better world for themselves and those who wake each day to face the enemy.  But even Churchill did not stand alone.  He has his Clementine, who soldiered on with equal bravery.  So too are there those today who prop up those trembling and stiffened hands, such as Fox's Tracy Pollan, and Ali's Yolanda.  I am reminded of my own bride of 35 years and the Churchill quote that certainly resonates for me.  Winston said, "My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me."
In times of war we need heroes.  Parkinson's is no exception.  We need inspiration and encouragement.  Maybe you know such a person who will help you to never give in.  Maybe you can be a soldier rather than a caualty.  It will take relentless, steely-eyed commitment.  But as Churchill said. "In war: resolution".

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance - War of Attrition

November 11. Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, Veterans Day, Poppy Day, and Anzac Day are all different ways of expressing the same thing: the need to remember. It is something I am rather poor at, as I typically and easily invest my energy in the present.

But today I choose to remember:

1. Those who fought against tyranny and evil;

2. Those who put their lives on the line today to give us safety and security; and

3. The elderly, especially those with Parkinson's, who are so easily forgotten.

Remembrance Day is 90 years old this year, having been formally created by King George V in 1919 as a commemoration of those who lost their lives in World War I. And today there is only one living Canadian veteran of that war (a total of 5 worldwide). John "Jack" Babcock is 109 years old. Soon his ability to retell his experience in that horrible world conflict will be gone. Will we remember it then? Few remember even the Second World War, except through secondhand, often faulty, impressions left by movies and television.

Due largely to the complexity and speed of life, the frenetic demands of the present and the need to anticipate and plan for the uncertain future easily override the past and eliminate time to remember. The Internet and television show us the minute-by-minute battles fought by young people in foreign lands today. These are the images that permeate our contemporary thinking.

It is ironic that ‘remembering’ seems to be a pastime of older folks. But who remembers them? The elders of our society (whether soldiers or civilians) are rarely recognized or celebrated. They are most typically relegated, both literally and figuratively, to dusty, misunderstood and often quite forgotten places. They are sometimes left with little more than reminiscences of days gone by. The pain and pleasure of long ago fill the minds of even those who are unable to adequately engage the present, or fathom any future. It is the young and glamorous who rule our world.

This is also seems true in the world of Parkinson's, where the media profile the plight of the young, the famous or the extraordinary. But the shaky and stiff seniors of our society often suffer silently, forgotten. As with veterans from the various wars, those older folks with PD live and then pass with little notice, as if they had nothing further to contribute. It is my job, our job, to remember, value and venerate these history makers among us, wherever they fought or still fight their battles. In many ways, like the soldiers of yesterday, they gave us what we have today.

“Lest We Forget”, words that have taken on a specific meaning in relation to Remembrance Day, could appropriately be tied back to Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 poem, "Recessional", from whence they came. That poem is not about war, but about society forgetting its roots and values, its need for humility, and remembering those upon whose shoulders we stand. Let us not forget. Let’s take time to remember and honor those who clear the path ahead of us, be they soldiers or seniors.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Parkinson's and the Dentist's Chair

Going to the dentist is just one of those necessary regular visits I must make that increases the visibility of my Parkinson's symptoms. It confirms that I have to keep my sense of humor.

It was quite obvious that neither Michelle nor Dr. Ray looked anything like Dr. Inkster, my dentist when I was 8. And little about this morning's current surroundings bore any resemblance to the second storey walk-up office with its brass plate announcing that the tiny waiting room belonged to Dr. J.F. Inkster, D.D.S. Inside there wasn’t a single magazine a kid could read to calm his jangled nerves. In comparison, Dr. Ray's office was bright and modern with an open airy feel, no internal doors (except for the bathroom), skylights and large windows with a street level view. Hundreds of magazines from Reader's Digest to Golfer's Digest waited in his spacious waiting room that had a special corner dedicated to kids.  The sights, smells and sounds of dentistry have changed dramatically in the past 50 years.

Despite the changes, I still suffer from dentophobia. I shake when I sit in what always seemed to me to be a converted barber chair, staring into a light that could do double duty at Yankee Stadium. The flow of adrenalin always accelerates as I get elevated and reclined at the same time, and then told to "relax and open wide". The major difference between my childhood experiences with the dentist and present is that I don't know if I am trembling out of fear any longer or just because of my Parkinson's Disease. Maybe it is both.

Despite the easy conversation skills of both my young dental hygienist and dentist (do they learn that in school?), I am still totally unable to control my tremors. My right arm jerks like that of a marionette controlled by a hidden puppet master. It is more than a little awkward sitting on your right hand when you are lying down in the grip of a sculptured lounger. My right leg immediately gets as stiff as a mannequin's, with my foot looking pointed as if it was caught stretching out the Achilles tendon. I try to relax. Michelle is more than patient as she checks and cleans my teeth. But try as I might, I return to my stiffened and vibrating condition within moments.

Dr. Inkster had a humorless disposition and could not carry on a conversation with an 8-year-old to save his bicuspids.  Despite the open window an ether-like odor permeated his old dental office. To compound matters, Dr. Inkster did not wear a mask.  A kid didn't have a fighting chance against his smoker-stained breath. Surely a dentist would know what it is like for me to be forced to breathe in (through the nose due to various paraphernalia occupying my other breathing orifice) someone's halitosis emitted from yellow stained teeth for what seemed like several hours. It was hard to hold my breath that long. Despite my impaired ability to smell, I would not notice anyone's bad breath even assuming they have any, I do catch a whiff of the peppermint goo Michele puts in trays in which my teeth take their fluoride bath. But the scent is not enough to compensate for the feeling that I am slowly drowning when the sludge starts draining down my throat as I accidentally squish my teeth together.

Evaluating the situaion, I think it is the high-pitched jet engine whir and whine of those dental instruments of torture that bring back my terror and set off my tremors each time I enter a dentist's office. In some ways, not many, it is worse now than in Dr. Inkster’s office. In the old days, the dentist would remove the instruments from your mouth long enough to allow you to breathe and lean over to spit into the white, round porcelain, permanently flushing spittoon. Nowadays, no sooner do they remove one set of tools from my mouth than they are replaced by a small but powerful replica fire hose squirting high-pressure water point blank onto totally sensitized teeth. When it gets pulled out a small chrome wet/dry vac takes its place, attached no doubt to some 250 hp suction-producing motor in the other room. I feel a desperate need to swallow or somehow hide my tongue lest it be sucked out or given a hickey on its vulnerable surface. It always strikes me as comical when some well-meaning dental assistant notices my vice-like grip on the chair arms and asks, "Are you doing okay?" I want to respond, "Oh yes, I could only be doing better if this were a day spa and I was having my toenails sheared off by a hammer and chisel.”

Michelle and Dr. Ray cannot help it if I become a paranoid schizophrenic upon walking into an instrument-laden cubicle with a chair that seems to only be missing its chest, waist and leg straps. It brings back vivid memories of Dr. Inkster leaning over me with a needle that was probably used for horses during the off hours and saying, "This will only be a small prick in your cheek ". After extracting the weapon from my mouth, wiping what seemed like blood from its tip with an already stained patch of gauze, he would go right to work as if the elixir he had pumped into my then throbbing jaw was somehow doing its numbing work instantly. Of course, I complained incessantly, as much as was possible with my mouth agape. But he was unyielding and refused to recognize that I was feeling every bit of the grinding, scraping and drilling he was so studiously undertaking on my defenseless molars.

Upon reflection, I am confident that the fear-based shaking I did as a kid when faced with the dental punishment for not brushing my teeth and eating too many toffee bars was just as pronounced as my tremors are now. Except that now Michele says I save her some effort as she can virtually hold the cleaning tools still as my head does the moving for her. She comments that I don't need an electric toothbrus.  I respond by saying, "True, but could you make sure you give me a left-handed toothbrush when we are finished. I am wearing the enamel off my teeth brushing with my vibrating right-handed one."

Now about the challenge of flossing...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Leaving a $300 Legacy?

What kind of legacy will you leave? More than $300?

This was the question I asked as I mounted the stage and stood at the podium wondering how to say something significant in less than 10 minutes. The crowd was mostly older, 60s and 70s, but evident among them were the young men and women who were the focal point of the event. The seniors looked earnest, as if they were, like me, well aware they faced a much shorter future than the students sitting at their tables. The young people also looked earnest, but with a different expression. It was one of hope and opportunity in the frontier of the future yet to be. I was there as an alumnus, sharing the commitment our family had to providing scholarships to students who attend Trinity Western University, and encouraging others to do likewise. I spoke about legacy.  It had come to me while doing chores in the backyard that morning, madly scrambling to finish raking leaves while at the same time searching my aging and somewhat outmoded mental database…more like a creaky Rolodex… for a topic to talk on).

At the same time as I was speaking, I was painfully aware of my uncooperative quivering hand clutching my belt as I suppressed the question that lurked in the back of my mind. What kind of legacy can a person with Parkinson's disease leave?

We all will leave a legacy, even those with Parkinson's. Perhaps more so.  But what kind of legacy?

It is amazing how many ways in which the lives that we live might leave an indelible mark on others. Let me challenge you, as I did myself this past weekend, to see our lives as significant, one way or another.

For some the easy legacy to leave is money. That brings me to my $300 legacy.  It was in the form of a 1970 graduation scholarship that was invested in me in order that I could go to college. I was an average student who was not challenged much by school, wore his hair down to his shoulders and drove his blue Volkswagen Beetle fast and recklessly. I would not have impressed many, but I often remember thinking as I climbed to the stage 39 years ago to receive that relatively small scholarship, "It is a good thing they do not really know me.". But little did I realize at the time how that small scholarship would enable me to begin an undergraduate degree, which led to a law degree, that led to a modestly successful career (30 years so far) of fulfilling service, and the pleasure of building a law firm. Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, it has now led to the ability to annually contribute so that others might have the same opportunity.

While many struggle to even afford to pay for their Parkinson's meds, everyone can leave a legacy of friendships and family. Whether we are grandparents, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, or close friends, we will be remembered for the contributions we made to other people's lives. It is a legacy of relationships we will leave. Investments made in people.

For those of us seeking to confront the challenge of Parkinson's disease, will we be remembered as fighters or complainers? Will people remember us for our constant recitation of pains and pill dosages? Or will they think of us for having imparted some of the wisdom that comes from fighting the battles, and even winning a few?

I am extremely thankful for the people who invested in me. I owe them something. I need to reinvest in others. I need to leave memories minted in the minds of others that encourage, not discourage. Recollections that lead to laughter, not sadness. I need to model perseverance and courage so that others who follow and are forced to face the bully of Parkinson's are better prepared.

I was speechless as I left that stage, realizing that I had been speaking most loudly to myself. Now that is a challenge!