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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.

Cars, Freedom, and Bear Hugs

Terri Reinhart

Do you remember the freedom you felt when you first got your driver’s license? Now you could go wherever you wanted, when you wanted, and didn’t have to wait for someone to drive you there. Now you could go somewhere all by yourself and be away from the world for awhile. Now you could be independent. Do you remember this?

Me, neither.

We had lots of rules. I was to stay off the highways, not go too far or stay out too late. And I was not to go to any “bad” areas of town. All these rules were pretty easy to follow, especially as we only had one car that was shared between four of us. Mostly I walked. Being free and independent was still a dream.

When I bought my first car, I really savored my independence. I can’t say that, with car payments, insurance, repairs, and gas, I felt free, but I did feel independent. Now, as a stay at home parent, my car is my lifeline. After dropping my daughter off at school, the day is mine. I can shop, visit friends, and go where I want to go. Not that I spend my days shopping and visiting, mind you, it’s just that I know I can.

Considering this, you will understand how scary it was for me the other day when my dystonia kicked in while I was driving. Fortunately, I was on a side road and was able to pull over quickly and park the car. Dystonia causes my body to twist and cramp until my muscles become so tight I want to scream. Usually if I wait it out, after about five or ten minutes it will begin to relax on its own. If I have someone with me and can convince them to help, it’s even better. With Parkinson’s, as with many health issues, there are treatments that tend to be as bad as or worse than the symptoms themselves, but with my dystonia, I’ve found a perfect remedy that is not the least bit unpleasant. If someone is with me and will give me a big, tight bear hug, and just hold me firmly in a hug for a few minutes, the dystonia will not only release, it is also much less likely to come back that day. This is scientific. The calming effects of deep pressure stimulation on the nervous system are well documented.

Dr. Temple Grandin, a University professor from Colorado State University, developed a “Squeeze Machine” (http://www.grandin.com/inc/squeeze.html) to help autistic and hyperactive children to calm their overactive nervous systems. A big, tight, bear hug is a rather primitive squeeze machine, but a simple and available way to get this deep pressure when it is needed.

This time, my dystonia lasted much longer than usual. My arms curled up against my chest, my shoulder blades were convinced they could touch each other if they just tried hard enough, my hands threatened to unscrew themselves from my wrists, my head pulled to one side, and my legs and feet twisted up, too. Not only could I not drive, I could not open the door or even use my cell phone to call for help. For the first ten minutes or so, I was worried that someone might pass by and see me. Granted, if another person helps me out, the dystonia will go away much quicker, but I really didn’t want to ask a stranger to give me a bear hug. If a stranger agreed readily to this, I’d be a bit worried. And I’m not convinced that a police officer would understand, even if I explained all about Dr. Temple Grandin and her work. So, I sat and waited. After 20 minutes, I began to panic. It had never lasted this long before! How long was I going to sit there! Okay, okay, stress makes things worse. Calm down. This won’t last forever.

After 40 minutes, the dystonia finally released, my muscles gradually relaxed, and I was able to drive home. I took my meds and a nap. Then, knowing I would not really get anything productive done at home, I went back out and visited a friend. I did not tell my friend what had happened but I was still very shaky after my experience earlier in the day. I gave my friend a hug and he turned and gave me a funny look. “Come here,” he said, and he put his arm around me, squeezing me tight and just holding me there until I stopped shaking. How did he know what to do? I’m not totally sure, but I know he’s very perceptive and I’m very grateful.

I’ve made some changes in my driving. I've given myself lots of rules.  I will not drive on freeways or anywhere that I can’t pull over easily. I will not drive when my meds have worn off and I will not drive when I’m tired. I’m also doing my homework. Some people with dystonia say that listening to music in the car will help prevent these episodes. My sons have promised to keep me supplied with plenty of music. This should be interesting. Knowing my sons, it could be anything from Classical* to World Music** to Contemporary Music*** to the one and only Christian Football Waltz****.

Maybe bear hugs can be used as a preventative. I think I’ll ask my doctor for a prescription.

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*Beatles, Herman’s Hermits

** Schlag mich Baby noch einmal (Hit me baby one more time – The Wise Guys singing the Britney Spear's song - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPxI8yc-YDY)

***Tiger Lillies

****Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goalposts of Life – written by Bobby Bare and Shel Silverstein   http://www.bertc.com/subfour/truth/dropkick.htm