Carnett: Doing battle daily with Parkinson's

I sometimes need to be reminded to be grateful for things I take for granted.

Like walking.

I have a good friend, several years older than I, who’s battling an advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease. An avid walker for many years, he daily employed that exercise in an attempt to stanch Parkinson’s creeping advance.

But over the past six months, he has almost completely lost his ability to walk. His stiff legs freeze. When that occurs, he’s virtually incapable of taking a step.

It’s maddening.

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.

My friend was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 10 years ago.

I was diagnosed three years later. Does that mean in three years I’ll be where he is today? Predicting the progression of this disease isn’t as simple as that.

Not everyone with Parkinson’s shows evidence of every single symptom of the disease. It’s a grab bag. For example, my father, who died of Parkinson’s after having had the disease for a decade, never exhibited a hand tremor. I have noticeable tremors.

The friend I mentioned has hand tremors similar to mine but seems not to have serious cognitive issues. My father developed significant cognitive problems. Full-blown dementia set in during the final three years of his life.

My symptoms, for now, don’t include freezing. But my friend didn’t begin freezing until recently. Like my friend, I don’t seem to have cognitive issues, but one’s prospects with this disease are as difficult to unravel as a Gordian knot.

I’m learning not to take things for granted. One day at a time is my mantra.

Walking to stave off the affects of Parkinson’s is an important part of my daily routine. It was important to my dad when he battled the disease.

I walk for 80 minutes six mornings a week. One can’t expect to actually “manage” this disease, but I’m convinced that it’s essential to keep your body moving. Parkinson’s endeavors to lock you up in a straight jacket.

Three years ago I developed a bone spur on my heel. For six months it grew worse and became debilitating. I finally visited an orthopedist who recommended surgery. I wasn’t ready for that.

Surgery would have necessitated me abandoning my walking regimen for months. I needed to walk.

I toughed it out. I kept walking because I knew that if I stopped, Parkinson’s would win. I hobbled to and fro but kept ambulating.

Finally, I went to a sporting goods store recommended by my daughter, a nurse, and bought some specially fitted walking shoes. Over many months — with much better cushioning for my heel — the pain began to subside. Within an additional six to eight months the pain was gone entirely. All the while, I continued to walk.

Did the shoes do the trick? Perhaps it was my prayers offered daily for the healing of the bone spur.

As I prayed, I impertinently reminded the Lord that if forced to give up my daily walks, well, we could expect deterioration of my condition. As if the creator of the universe needed my counsel! Though meant for him, my prayers often served as a prompt for me.

Friends tell me bone spurs don’t typically spontaneously disappear. Yet my pain is gone, and I’m grateful.

Ultimately, I’m not going to beat this disease. I know that. But as a Parkinson’s buddy of mine says: “We shouldn’t feel picked upon … life ends badly for nearly all on this planet.”

True enough.

The friend I mentioned at the top of this piece, sadly, has just about lost his ability to walk. It was one of his last weapons — a defiant fist raised at the fates.

Do I face his prospects? I don’t know.

But, for as long as I can, I’ll keep on truckin’!

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

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