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Mesa Musings:

Ill in his body, but not heart

September 15, 2009|By Jim Carnett

It can also include a shuffling gait, and muffled speech or diction problems. Cognitive issues may be realized, including dementia. My father had dementia. In his final years he had difficulty communicating. His struggle to find words for his thoughts was painful beyond description.

I hate the disease.

Parkinson’s patients are naturally in touch with their bodies, and are acutely aware as symptoms subtly — and inexorably — advance. They constantly monitor how their bodies feel and react. A slight stumble while walking, or a fleeting balance issue — which would generally be ignored by a healthy person — is a marker for a Parkinson’s sufferer.

The primary manifestation of Lee’s illness is a pronounced tremor of both hands, and also a barely perceptible stammer. But the disease moves forward relentlessly as it short-circuits the patient’s brain. For most, the resultant damage becomes catastrophic.

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Lee chooses to push back. He and his wife, Nancy, go to the gym twice a week. He also does yoga and walks daily. And he takes his medication.

Lee and Nancy enjoy traveling. In recent years they’ve taken trips to Europe, Canada, Alaska and throughout the U.S. They’re planning a Mediterranean cruise.

“We’re traveling while we can,” Nancy says pragmatically. “We’re creating memories.”

Lee belongs to a Parkinson’s support group at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest.

“It’s helpful to be around other Parkinson’s patients who know what you’re going through,” he says. “Outside friends and family can’t know how I’m feeling, and I don’t like to burden them. But, support group members are transparent.

“We share information, and we give advice and assistance to one another. We also pray for each other.”

Improbable though it may seem, Lee feels his situation has been a blessing.

“I’ve met many other Parkinson’s patients who’ve become my good friends. We share a bond that we wouldn’t otherwise have. Also, the disease has helped me to savor — with more intensity — life’s big as well as small moments.”

Lee is my inspiration and role model. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 3 1/2 years ago. I no longer live life out there in the future somewhere.

It’s moment-to-moment, baby.


JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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