Peggy is an author, humorist, hat connoisseur, and lives with Parkinson's disease. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her physicist husband and two literary and bird-friendly cats. She blogs at Heart, Healing & Humor: My Life with Parkinson's Disease.
As a woman of a certain age, I remember when being a beloved small-town doctor was the norm in hamlets across America. Physicians were revered by their community and ran their practices to meet the individual needs of each of their patients.
I was recently trying to explain this galaxy far, far away to my great granddaughter Isabel, age 8. I told her about Dr. Jack, my homespun, small-town Indiana physician who made house calls when I was young.
“Oma Peggy, you always make up the best stories. Doctors aren’t allowed inside your home; they’re in hospitals. No wonder you are a writer; you’re a far-fetcher.”
Isabel considered this more and responded, “Don’t you have a bunch of doctors who help you with your Parkinson’s?”
As usual, Isabel nailed it. In the past, you had a doctor for life, now you have a team. And while I love the concept of a small-town, home-calling doctor, I have become convinced that teams work better in today’s medical world.
My Parkinson’s journey started 15 years ago and, after much searching, I found Dr. Paul Gordon at the University of New Mexico. He was a gentle and kind man with a wry sense of humor and a breadth of knowledge about Parkinson’s. Being naïve I thought this relationship would last a long time.
But I quickly learned that today doctors lead a peripatetic lifestyle. Within a few years, Dr. Gordon left his post at the University of New Mexico to head back to New York City. I was sad, but felt that we would remain friends and he’d be on my care team for life.
He recommended that I contact some of his colleagues at the University of Arizona in Tucson, just a 45-minute flight from New Mexico.
It was there that I discovered the value of building a medical dream team. My new neurologist, the affable Dr. Scott Sherman, told me on my first visit that he’d put me in touch with “some folks who can make your life a lot easier.”
It was then I discovered that it takes a village to care for Parkinson’s.
Dr. Sherman then introduced me to Dr. Cynthia Holmes, a health psychologist. She was my guide through the confusing world of Parkinson’ s, as well as a librarian, researcher and friend, all rolled into one package.
These women have enough energy to fuel a small nation. I was a participant in their pilot program called BIG and LOUD. Here I learned to become more self-aware of my movements. We’re taught to take note of our small steps, and, instead, take huge steps, making us feel like the Marx brothers leaping across the stage. The program also addressed issues related to speech. We had lessons in how to amplify our speech. When I thought I was screaming like I was in a skit from Saturday Night Live, I was actually talking normally.
It was hard work, but what a feeling of accomplishment.
My dream team gave new meaning to the word enthusiasm. My doctors love their jobs and feel passionately about the benefits of their exercise and speech therapy programs — Parkinson’s has met its match.
I recently introduced Isabel to my team and suddenly it was a whole new ball game.
'Wow," Isabel said with astonishment. "Your team is cool. And you didn't make them up."
At last! My reputation as an old-fashioned journalist was intact. And convincing Isabel, the little cynic, that I spoke the truth was like hitting a ball out of the park.