Vikki is an author, humor blogger, public speaker, and former newspaper columnist. Her blog, “Laugh Lines,” is about the humorous ups and downs of midlife in today’s world.
Okay, I did it. After two years of total denial, followed by a quick diagnosis and another three years of ignoring it, hoping it would go away on its own like an unexplained facial rash, finally culminating in several months of self-prescribed medication boosted from my mother’s pharmaceutical stash, I caved to family pleadings and agreed to go to Oregon Health Sciences University to see a specialist about my Parkinson’s. My M.D. stepfather promptly announced that he was going with me, presumably to keep me from veering off course and hitting up the Nordstrom fall sale and the in-store wine bar instead of the 8th floor at OHSU Neurology. Good call, Dad.
Toting my previous MRI films and a thousand-page questionnaire that now meant someone in the building was soon going to know more about me than two husbands, my mother, and the young pup who performed my colonoscopy last year combined, we showed up at the appointed hour and took our seats to wait.
As I looked around, I noticed the place was doing a booming business. Seriously, the place waspacked. I watched the sea of shakes and tremors for several minutes, quickly concluding that if you wanted to build a high-rise on a fault line and needed to know if the building was earthquake proof, you could skip the lengthy and expensive scientific testing and just fill the place with a couple hundred Parkinson’s patients. If it can withstand all that rolling and shaking for any length of time, you’re good to go.
They finally called us in, and I reluctantly went down the hall to meet the doctor who was going to tell me everything I didn’t want to hear. Dad’s hand was firmly planted on the small of my back to keep my feet pointed away from the exit.
The door opened and a pretty, young doc (I’m talking 12, people. Doogie Howser’s little sister) walked in. Baby Doc smiled and said, “I’ve reviewed your chart, Vikki, and you look quite young,” (Gee, I thought, as I flashed her my brightest smile, this might not be so bad after all) until she brought it home with “for a Parkinson’s patient.” Boom.
“Thanks, Doc,” I replied, “But we have a rule in our house about compliments. No qualifiers allowed. And for future reference, ‘young for Parkinson’s’ isn’t really a compliment.” Baby Doc burst out laughing and started over, “You look young.” “Thank you,” I smiled, “So do you.” And people say it’s hard to make new friends.
As Baby Doc recited her understanding of the history of my diagnosis and treatment, she didn’t miss a thing. I particularly loved her commentary along the way. “So you’ve never been to another neuro doc in five years? Seriously??” “And you’ve been taking your mother’s Parkinson’s meds?Awesome.” This woman was funny, and I loved her.
Confirmation of the original diagnosis was a result of a series of coordination and balance tests, most of which I bombed. 20 minutes later, Baby Doc announces, “Yes, you have Parkinson’s.” Big surprise. But then she looked right at me and said softly, “I’m sorry.”
While I’m not given to wallowing when life throws a curve ball, much preferring the deny-it-until-you-can’t-then-find-the-funny approach, I was grateful to have this doc acknowledge, for just a brief second, that this wasn’t exactly good news. It was life-changing. It was an unknown, which also made it scary. It was so many, many things at that precise moment. But it was not good news. Her softly spoken apology for this detour in my life was powerful in its simplicity. “I’m sorry.” Thank you for that, Baby Doc.
Now on to the fun stuff. The drugs.
There’s a virtual cornucopia of Parkinson’s medications to choose from, depending upon your age, the duration on your disease, how much medication your body can tolerate, and what side effects you can live with. Okay, Doc, show me what you’ve got.
The first pill caused “mild dementia-like symptoms.” Bluntly put, you won’t remember your own address. I told Baby Doc I was a writer and couldn’t take anything that made me stupid or foggy. Into the “No” pile they flew.
Next up, great for tremors, but caused “severe edema,” particularly in the ankles and calves. Nope, I told her. Hubs is a leg guy. He’ll hang in through Parkinson’s, but I could lose him over the cankles. “I know,” Dad grinned, “Seems shallow, but you can’t blame him. She does have her mom’s legs.” What else?
The next little beauties also included something for depression, but they commonly caused “rapid weight gain.” Have we met?? I’m not depressed over the Parkinson’s, but I’d be borderline suicidal over blowing up like the Hindenburg in 3 weeks’ time. Not gonna happen. “Yep,” drawled Dad, “She’s shallow too. What the hell. It’s works for them.”
As we dug through the pile like kids digging under the Christmas tree for presents marked with their names, we tossed out “may cause baldness” (I like my hair short, not gone), “severe night sweats” (already been through menopause. Didn’t like it the first time), “genital warts” (oh hellno), “possible addiction to gambling and porn” (you just can’t make this stuff up), until lo and behold, we found a tiny, low-dose marvel whose primary side effect was “decreased appetite and possible anorexia-type symptoms.” Well, hot damn. Come to Mama, little one.
20 minutes later, clutching my prescription and my validated parking receipt, we headed for home. I felt okay. Actually, a little better than okay. I had a Parkinson’s buddy. Kind of like a swim buddy at summer camp who promised not to let you drown, but my buddy had the ability to take pictures of my brain and give me drugs that made me skinny.
I was instructed to check back in with Baby Doc in one year’s time. I think I just might do that.