Mesa Musings: She's still a vibrant lady, a fighter

November 16, 2010|By Jim Carnett

She's an impressive lady.

An educator for more than 30 years — now retired — the attractive, poised and courageous woman used to be highly esteemed. Almost no one takes notice of her any longer. It's not her fault and, frankly, it's shameful.

She's confined to a wheelchair. Unfortunately, our shallow, self-centered, materialistic society often treats such people shabbily.

The once-vibrant woman suffers from Parkinson's disease accompanied by a devastating second blow: a degenerative companion condition known as multiple system atrophy (MSA). MSA dispenses a horrific dose of misery. I confess that I know little about it, but I can tell you it's a neurological disorder that's nothing short of devastating.


And degrading.

Automatic body functions, such as bladder control, shut down. One doesn't have the luxury of endeavoring to maintain one's "dignity." It's simply not an option.

Parkinson's is a brain disorder that causes nerve cells to die or become impaired. Symptoms include tremors, shaking, slowness of movement, rigidity, stiffness and balance problems. It can also manifest itself in a shuffling gate, muffled speech and depression.

The aforementioned lady exhibits several Parkinson's and MSA symptoms. She can't walk on her own; she's unable to eat, bathe or comb her hair without assistance from a caregiver. Her utterances are barely above a whisper. It's difficult to be captivating and charming, which she once was, given those limitations.

These two cruel diseases have collaborated to exact a heavy toll on her quality of life. Little humiliations are recurrent and unavoidable.

But she hasn't given up. She's a fighter.

The lady belongs to a Parkinson's support group I attend. We've both had Parkinson's for about five years but, because of her added complications with MSA, her symptoms are more severe than mine.

A few weeks back I was asked to lead the support group because our skilled facilitators were out of town. I decided to ask each of the 22 attendees to share the biggest challenge they face with Parkinson's — and describe how they deal with it.

The discussion was eye-opening. Though I sometimes feel I know all there is to know about Parkinson's — my father had the disease for a decade before I was diagnosed — I don't! I came away from the meeting with much to chew on.

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