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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.

Dys-what?

Terri Reinhart

I know there's been a lot of changes in the field of dentistry in the last decade, however, when did someone decide it was a good idea to have patients close their mouth over the blasted suction tube? This first came to my attention several years ago when I was going to a respected periodontist to have my teeth cleaned. That was the day their office learned the meaning of the word, “dystonia”. As soon as my lips closed over the tube, my whole body twisted and contracted into a pretzel. It doesn't make teeth cleaning very easy, especially as I couldn't open my mouth to let go of the tube.

At this point, my dentist is very understanding and so are most of his assistants. Every once in awhile, there's someone new working with Dr. Sherman and I have to explain all over again. Actually, all I'm able to do is shake my head vigorously and refuse to close my mouth. Invariably, they give me their best patient look. Obviously, this patient isn't all together. They repeat their request at least twice until I finally awkwardly attempt to speak, despite the suction tube which is still waiting for my lips to close around it.

“Ah cand,” I tell the assistant, confirming his/her opinion of my intelligence.

I get a puzzled look in return. If I'm lucky, this is when the assistant will take the suction tube out of my mouth so I can speak more clearly – or at least as clear as I can when half my face is numb.

“I can't,” I explain once more, “it triggers my dystonia.”

“Dys – what?”

I used to try and explain my dystonia to people. Lately, I simply tell them I have Parkinson's disease. Then they smile and nod. They don't really understand, but it's a recognizable diagnosis. It's what Michael J. Fox has, and everyone knows Michael J. Fox. I realize this is a cop-out, but I rationalize it because I've already been sitting in the dentist chair for 3 hours and I don't want to take up any more time than absolutely necessary.

There is a lot of websites about Parkinson's disease on the internet and for this reason, I have chosen not to have specific medical information about PD in my journal. I hadn't intended to include medical information about Dystonia, but perhaps it would be a good idea. The dystonia community is much smaller and they don't have celebrity spokespeople to make sure everyone is aware of this disorder.

Someone on our online dystonia support group suggested we try to recruit a celebrity who has dystonia to speak up for us. I offered then, but was turned down. My celebrity status isn't quite up there with Michael, Mohammed Ali, Davis Phinney, and all those other folks.

More information will follow soon, and I invite anyone from the dystonia community to give suggestions for what to include. If there are any links to websites that have been particularly helpful, I'd like to include them here.  

Feel free to share any of this information with your dentists and their assistants.