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I have Parkinson’s but it doesn’t have me

Jim Carnett

I’m no doctor, but I play one on TV.

Actually, I don’t. But I do know a bit about Parkinson’s disease. I’ve been around it for 20 years, and have known hundreds of Parkinson’s patients.

If I had my druthers, I’d prefer not to have made its acquaintance. It’s an insidious beast. But that’s water under the bridge.

Three good friends of mine died from the ravages of this disease in just the past three months. One can’t dismiss that.

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There. That’s my pity party for the week.

My father had Parkinson’s for 10 years and died in 2006. I’ve had it for a decade. I was diagnosed in May of 2006, four months before dad died. He never knew I had it. I didn’t want to burden him with that information.

I’ve learned that no one seems to know the “why” of Parkinson’s. It’s a progressive neurological disorder that attacks the brain and destroys dopamine-producing cells. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter essential to movement and cognitive function.

There’s no known cure.

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The disease causes nerve cells to die or become impaired, and patients exhibit such symptoms as tremors or shaking, slowness of movement, rigidity or stiffness, loss of facial mobility, and balance difficulties. Other signs include a shuffling gait, cognitive problems and muffled speech.

Oh, then there are the E-ticket symptoms: confusion, anxiety and hallucinations. Lovely.

I knew I had the disease for more than a year before I was diagnosed, but I kept those suspicions to myself. Heaven forbid that anyone should feel sorry for me.

I’d watched my dad decline with the illness. Intuitively, I knew what to look for, but I wasn’t expecting to follow in Dad’s footsteps. It snuck up on me.

Rather nuanced symptoms began to appear, and I couldn’t ignore them. They clung to me like bubblegum on a shoe. A darned nuisance, but I wasn’t ready to shut down my life because of a wad of Bazooka Joe’s finest.

I was certain I had Parkinson’s, but I continued to say nothing. My wife, Hedy, noticed on her own.

Finally, after spilling it to my doctor during a routine physical, I went to see a neurologist. Bingo! Suspicions confirmed.

And my life changed forever.

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Admittedly, it took awhile for everything to sink in. How does one go from being a normal, healthy individual with few health concerns to a person bearing the burden of a chronic and progressive illness that may ultimately take his mobility, take his intellect and take his life?

I don’t know. I remember getting down on my knees. A lot! Those days passed in a blur. But Hedy was my rock. She let me know that this Parkinson’s thing was a 50/50 deal. She and I were a team. I pulled my head out of my nether regions.

Hedy and I moved forward.

About seven to 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.

There are hopeful medical signs on the horizon, but some of us now on the journey won’t make it there. I’ll go as far as God intends and be content with that. But, I’m resolved to keep on keeping on.

I have Parkinson’s but Parkinson’s doesn’t have me.

JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.


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