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Mesa Musings:

Facing battles together

January 19, 2010|By Jim Carnett

After returning home from a trip a few months back, I retrieved a slew of messages on my answering machine.

One featured an unmistakable voice. It was my best friend from high school and college. We hadn’t seen each other in nearly a decade, and hadn’t conversed by phone in two years.

As I listened to the message, I detected a hint of desperation in his voice. He asked me to get back to him ASAP.

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He’d called 10 days earlier.

Bob (not his name) and I grew up a few blocks apart on Costa Mesa’s east side.

We’ve known each other since we were 15. We played sports together, went to high school and college together, worked for a time for the same employer, and stayed in touch after marrying. We’re both grandfathers and, to my astonishment, we now both share a particular human condition — one we’d gladly unload.

The last time we spoke, two years ago, I was getting ready to retire. Bob called to express his best wishes. It was then that I shared with him that I’d been diagnosed two years earlier with Parkinson’s disease. That diagnosis played a role in my decision to retire.

Bob seemed genuinely concerned.

“It’s OK,” I quickly assured him. “I’m doing well. I’m OK with this.”

Parkinson’s is a degenerative brain disorder that occurs when certain nerve cells die or become impaired. The cells produce a chemical — dopamine — that facilitates smooth, coordinated body movement.

The disease has no known cure, and patients exhibit such symptoms as tremors or shaking, slowness of movement, rigidity or stiffness, and balance difficulties. Other signs can include a shuffling gate, cognitive problems and muffled speech.

“Just wanted to see how you’re doing,” he said when I responded to his recent voice message. But, something was amiss. “I’m fine,” I said. “Life is good.”

There was an awkward pause.

“What’s wrong?” I finally blurted out.

For months he’d been depressed, he said, and was experiencing Parkinson’s-like symptoms. His symptoms intensified over time, and he felt co-workers were beginning to notice. He hadn’t seen a doctor.

I understood his state of mind. When I first became aware of my own symptoms, I avoided a doctor, too. I was in denial.

Bob described his condition, and I told him he needed to see a neurologist.

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