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My Parkinson's Journey

In which Terri shares a humorous look at her journey with Parkinson's disease and Dystonia:

For me, illness and health are not opposites but exist together. Everyone has something that is challenging to them. Mine just simply has a recognizable name. My life will take a different path because of this but that's okay. Everyone has changes in their lives that create their path.  I'm learning how to enjoy whatever path I'm on.


Terri Reinhart

Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon....

Pay attention, now. There will be a test at the end of the article.

Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Truman...

What am I doing? In just a couple of weeks, I have my last big test for my exercise study. It involves a lot of things like making a bed, carrying groceries up and down stairs, sweeping up the oatmeal that the therapist just spilled all over, picking up scarves from the floor, and seemingly dozens of other things. It's a practical activity marathon that lasts for two and a half hours.  Here and there, scattered throughout these activities, are questions and activities that also test my cognitive abilities.

I understand why they are doing this. I've been exercising for nearly 16 months now, under the direction of a physical therapist and the doctors who are managing this study want to see if my ability to perform daily living tasks has improved with the exercise. One of the tests that I dread is the six minute power walk. SIX WHOLE MINUTES!! For those of you who say that's nothing, well, I guess I can't say anything to that. It used to be nothing to me. I took 30 minute power walks on my breaks from the classroom nearly every day. But walking is much harder for me now and this difficulty was one of my first symptoms that eventually led to a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.

Roosevelt, Hoover, Coolidge, Harding, Wilson...

When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson's, I went through a thorough neurological evaluation. In fact, I think I went through three thorough neurological evaluations, because of the studies I am participating in. In each one, I was asked to do many gross motor and fine motor movements. Then, in the middle of all this, they started asking me questions. I got a little concerned. Yes, I know my name and my birthday. I know what state I live in and what day of the week it is. I know that the object the doctor is holding up is her pen and that it is used for writing. I was even a little irritated at how easy these questions were. Did they think I was stupid?

Then came the killer.

Count backwards from 100, subtracting 7’s.

I started to laugh and said, “No”. Who were they kidding? Count backwards subtracting 7’s? I might have gotten the first (93), if I had really thought about it, but hey, what did subtracting have to do with Parkinson’s? I was a kindergarten teacher, not a math teacher. I laughed and didn’t do it. Another question at another evaluation: Name the presidents, starting with the most recent and going backwards. Again, I laughed. I did remember the current president and Clinton, but that was the extent. Actually, I remembered quite a few presidents, just not in order.

I didn’t think about this much until I had to request my medical records for social security. I read them. It’s a good thing to do, reading your medical records, but sometimes it can be humbling. Under the results of the neurological exam it said, “Patient denies having cognitive problems, however……” I guess I didn’t score very well.

At least the daily living skills test has one bright side. It confirms my decision to leave the kindergarten teaching. My colleagues would laugh at my description of the marathon test. Two and a half hours? That’s nothing! A kindergarten morning goes from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm, five days a week. And what does a kindergarten teacher do? Sweeps the floor, picks up toys and play cloths, carries children (sometimes even up and down stairs), cooks, vacuums, leads a movement circle with the children, and walks back and forth around the play yard for, well, longer than six minutes that’s for sure. There is even a cognitive part. After all of this movement, the teacher has to remember a story well enough to tell it to the children and be semi coherent when parents arrive to pick up their darlings. It’s then that parents will think up questions that make the neurological exam seem like, well, like kindergarten.

Anyway, I’m not taking any chances this time. I’m ready to bring up those cognitive scores and show the therapist and doctor that I’m one smart cookie. I’m cramming for my test.

100 – 7 = 93,86,79,72,65,58,51,44,37,30,23,16,9,2         

Hint:  Subtract 10 and add 3                                                                                                                   

Taft, Roosevelt, McKinley, Cleveland…