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Carnett: Afflicted with Parkinson's but grateful for support

June 10, 2013|By Jim Carnett

We eight sat around a table last week on the shores of a lovely lake enjoying a picnic lunch.

It was a gorgeous Southern California afternoon — blue skies and fleecy, white clouds — and we relished our much-anticipated "hang" time together.

Four couples made up our little assembly, four men and four women. Not coincidentally, four of us battle the effects of the same physical malady, Parkinson's disease.

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Take a wild guess as to how many men and women in our lively company have Parkinson's.

Most hazarding an estimate would probably guess something approaching a 50-50 ratio. Surely, Mother Nature doesn't discriminate. Ah, but cooking up such an assumption is a fool's errand. Dear Momma Nature does indeed discriminate.

The ratio of the aforementioned luncheon group was 100-0. All four men have Parkinson's. The ladies, thank goodness, are not similarly afflicted.

The eight of us came to know each other several years back through a Parkinson's support group that we belong to. Without the disease, we'd never have met. That's the positive takeaway from all of this: A seemingly crushing misfortune has led to deeply treasured friendships.

Parkinson's is not an equal opportunity tormentor. Since I was first diagnosed more than seven years ago, I've learned from personal experience that men are about 1.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson's than women. Why? No obvious answers, yet.

Our larger Parkinson's support group almost exactly mirrors those figures. Discounting caregivers, 70% of our membership is male and 30% female.

Parkinson's is a degenerative brain disorder with no known cure. It causes nerve cells to die or become impaired, and patients exhibit such symptoms as tremors or shaking, slowness of movement, rigidity or stiffness, and balance difficulties. Other signs include a shuffling gait, cognitive problems or muffled speech.

I looked upon our lakeside group the other afternoon and noticed that we men were significantly more hunched over at the table than our wives; less dexterous at keeping food on our forks for the entirety of the gondola-like journey from paper plate to gaping maw; and more likely to waggle a soft drink can like maracas (rumba shakers) when sipping a soda.

But, the truth is, the four wives are every bit as affected as their spouses by the ravages of the disease — maybe more so. And the ladies are scrupulously — even compulsively — attentive to their husbands' needs.

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