Anyone who knows me also knows that April is Parkinson’s Action Month. This is my ninth April as an officially diagnosed person with Parkinson’s. I wish I had not lost the receipt for that doctor’s visit, because after nine official years and an additional fifteen or so unofficial years, I’m ready to return this particular gift.
I’m tired. Parkinson’s makes you that way; it’s physically and emotionally debilitating, and the prospect of an unknown number of years stretching in front of me, fighting this dastardly disease every minute, is sometimes a little overwhelming.
My mornings are slow-starting, and are often accompanied by a self-administered injection of a Parkinson’s medication. I’m old enough to remember the comic strip “L’il Abner,” and if you are too, then you’ll know what I mean when I compare it to Kickapoo Joy Juice. For the rest of you, Google is your friend.
On mornings when I can’t seem to get going, my dose of Joy Juice seems to do the trick, but I still fondly remember the days when my first act after getting out of bed was not to stab myself.
I still remember many other things, too. Unfortunately, that list doesn’t include what I’m supposed to do today or what my nieces’ and nephews’ birthdays are, but that’s why God made iPhones.
I remember what it felt like to hear the words, “you have Parkinson’s disease.” I was shocked and devastated; I just couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. I argued and bargained, but to no avail. I raged and stormed; it didn’t make any difference. I moped and felt sorry for myself, but not for too long; even I didn’t want to be around the sad-sack Corey. Eventually, I came to an understanding that my life had fundamentally and permanently changed, and I decided to live anyway.
I remember telling Amy. She was in Cameroon, Africa on a Hays-Fullbright scholarship trip, and we talked via satellite phone briefly. We feared a brain tumor.
“What did the doctor say?” Amy said, barely audible over the crackle of static.
“Well, it’s not a brain tumor…he says he thinks it may be Parkinson’s disease.”
“That’s a relie…PARKINSON’S? Oh, no…” The connection went dead, and we couldn’t get back in contact for a day or so. To me, it seemed like forever. I can only imagine how it must have felt to Amy, 7,500 miles away and unable to help. She is my biggest defender and champion, and I love her for her honesty and unflagging support. She is the love of my life.
I remember telling my daughter. She was eighteen, and had recently graduated from high school. She was just coming to terms with a life-quake of her own, having discovered that her injured feet and hips would prevent her from continuing to pursue a ballet career.
” Hi, Dad. What’s the news? What did he say?”
“He’s not really sure, but he thinks it’s probably Parkinson’s disease.”
She went pale, but rallied quickly. “Oh, Dad, I’m sorry. You’re tough, though. You can beat it.” Neither of us knew then what the diagnosis meant, but I think I must have inherited my optimism and fighting spirit from her. She’s a labor and delivery nurse now, and she still dances for fun. Nothing holds her back.
I remember telling my son. He was a mechanical engineering student at The University of Texas, and had a punishing academic schedule. I left him a voicemail.
“Hi, son – this is Dad. Hope everything is going well. I hope you’re having an easier time with the Feedback Control Systems class than I did. I still don’t know what a “root locus plot” is. Anyway, give me a call when you can. I have some news.”
In the manner of many fathers and sons, we didn’t address it directly for a while. I think his sister actually told him. The next time I saw him, he just about killed me with a bear hug, though.
“How are you feeling, Dad?”
“Well, I was fine until a few minutes ago. Now, I think I may never walk again…” We laughed, and it was okay.
Since then, he’s earned bachelors and masters degrees in ME, has worked for NASA on the International Space Station, has been an oceanographer on research vessels in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean, served as Chief Scientist for research missions, and is now poised to set the robotics world on fire.
As accomplished as both my children are, and as proud of them as Amy and I are, my pride in their accomplishments is no match for the love and gratitude I feel for them. I am awed at what good people they both are.
I remember my last ski run, my last dive, my last 10K. I remember when I took my family, my health, my life for granted. I remember feeling that my life was over. I remember discovering it wasn’t.
I remember the smell of cinnamon rolls, of a nice Scotch and a good IPA, of my newborn son’s and daughter’s skin, of White Linen perfume on my wedding day.
I remember when April was just another month. Things have changed since then. I have lost a lot, and grieved for the losses. I have gained more than I’ve lost, though.