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How My Cat Saved Me from a Parkinson's Freezing Episode

How My Cat Saved Me from a Parkinson's Freezing Episode

Sierra Ann Hill is a writer-journalist whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on primetime episodic television. Her just-released first novel—Guitars and Gardenias—is an adult Parkinson’s adventure-love story. Sierra has had young onset PD for 20 years. Learn more about her on her blog.

All I wanted was to shut a window. And it turned out to be a terrifying task.

My caregiver whose name was Zany (kid you not) had forgotten to close it and, of course, rare as it may be, rain was beginning to pour out there in Los Angeles.

I knew this would be challenging because of my diminished motor skills—or rather near paralysis—as a result of having had Parkinson’s disease for ten years. Usually, I managed alone at night, so I was perhaps feeling a bit over-confident about being up to tackling the window.

Besides, an icy wind was blowing in and the last thing I needed was a cold. I called out for Zany one last time, but too late. She was gone. A burst of chilly air swept in and made me shiver.

The window in question was in the corner of the room, with a large, circular table in front of it. Seven cardboard file boxes were stacked next to the table, in the corner.

I psyched myself up; pulled myself out of my chair; held on and maneuvered along the side of the circular table, hanging on for balance; managing to squeeze by the file boxes and winding up in front of the window.

Slowly, I put one hand at a time on the window sill. Then, one-two-three! It took all my might as I slammed it closed. I let out a squeal of victory that was short-lived, however. I noticed, while I could barely squeeze INTO the space, I hadn’t thought about how to get OUT.

I stood in front of the window for a good ten minutes, wondering what to do next. Which way to turn to slip out of the small space where I was trapped. Soon I was sweating. My heart sped with palpitations. Panic. I didn’t even have room to turn around.

I decided to drop to the floor and try to crawl out under the table. As I began to turn, my sleeve caught one of the lids on the file boxes and I landed on the floor, the file boxes falling down on top of me. I was pinned down—unhurt but completely paralyzed and stressed.

Over the next few hours I tried every conceivable method of physics to try and find a way to escape, but the weight on my body made any form of movement impossible.

By now it was 9:17 p.m. Zany had a key, but she wouldn’t be back till the following morning. I tried to sit up again and again, but no way. I was stuck there, helpless. This was before the days of “Help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” emergency-call buttons. So I just laid there, under the boxes and the papers and a rainbow of post-its, income tax returns and cancelled checks.

I resigned myself to giving up.

On cue my orange tabby cat appeared and noticed something was wrong. He had been giving himself a bath and ran for cover when my fall occurred. Upon returning, he strolled over to sniff my head, since he had never seen it at eye level before.

He wandered around and around me, howling, apparently quite confused about what to do. He curled up near my shoulder. Topaz was about the meanest cat on the planet so this moment of compassion shocked me back to reality. Instinctively, I reached out to touch him and MY HAND MOVED. Out from under the papers! And I realized I had been experiencing an episode of "freezing," probably brought on by the stress of my predicament.

It took all my might to struggle to move my right arm just enough to slide a few sheets of paperwork off of it. Little by little, I inched—pausing to rest over and over again. I fought my way out from under the files and the junk until two hours later I emerged finally FREE!

My anecdotal experience was that I was able to break out of a "freezing" episode by use of an alternative movement—petting the cat had unlocked the brain "freeze." Now, when my hand "sticks" to an armrest, I free it by clapping my hands. When I "freeze" walking, I step over an imaginary curb.

Another Parkinson's battle won, with the help of the little cat who sat at the foot of the bed, now sharpening his claws.

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