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A Journey through my Dad's Heart

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.

A Journey through my Dad's Heart

Terri Reinhart

It was a wonderful privilege for my sister and I to sit in on Dad's echocardiogram this morning. An echo cardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart and is often done after someone has had a heart attack. Ever since Dad's mild heart attack on Good Friday, he's been concerned and curious about what the doctor will find. 

We sat down and watched as the technician put the leads on his chest and turned off the light to start the test. Gray, fuzzy images came on the screen. That was Dad's heart? I kept trying to understand what I was seeing. The darkness started to make me sleepy. Dad's arteries, valves, the atria, the ventricles; all were fading in out in grays, whites, blacks. Half asleep, pictures started forming from his heart images on the screen.

It was like seeing pictures in the clouds. What was that? It looked like a small gray man playing a clarinet. Funny... Dad played clarinet. A three leaf clover? An elf playing piano? A hippo eating biscuits? An exotic dancer? 

"Hey," said my sister, "was the dancer upside-down?"

Uh, yeah. I'm not sure whether to be relieved or worried that we both saw an upside-down exotic dancer in Dad's heart. We were both pretty sleepy. 

After the test, the technician was quiet for a minute and said, "Well, if he was a lot younger, the doctor would see all sorts of problems, but probably, he'll want to see your dad in a year." This was not surprising. Will he still be here in a year? I know there's a lot wrong with Dad's heart. I also know there's nothing wrong with his heart.

That's because there's a lot more to see as we take this journey through my father's heart:

such as a small sheet of paper with the names of all four of us kids and a space to mark when we came home from an evening out with friends. Theoretically, this was to make it easier for Dad to get some sleep and be assured he would know who is home. He still got up to check.. every time one of us walked in the door.

A paperback book with a $20 bill stuck inside, handed to one of us whenever we needed a little cash, with the words, "don't lose the bookmark" said quietly.

A brown paper bag containing peanut butter and butter sandwiches, which meant Dad had surprised one of us by making lunch for us.

His heart is a little sloppy now and it's getting crowded in the veins. If anyone ever grumbled about our house being sloppy or crowded, Dad would laugh and say, "you should've see the house I grew up in!"

There are stories and stories and stories - about his time in Africa, his time on board ship during World War II, about his imaginary friends, Mr. Brown and Andy, and about attempting to play his clarinet with false teeth.

And there is our mother. They've been married 62 years and he's been in love with her the whole time. Even through the most challenging time of their marriage, when side effects to her prescription drugs caused psychosis, Dad would say, "I just want to live one day longer than Mom, so I can take care of her." 

Dad and I share a few things. We've both been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Because of this, we've been able to have our DNA testing done through 23 and Me. I perused our reports to see what we have in common and found: we share 49.9% of our DNA, we both consume a lot of caffeine, we're both light sleepers (hmm), we both have dark eyes and detached earlobes, and we both have straight dark hair.

It doesn't say anything about our hearts, but regardless of how it's working now, I hope I inherited a heart like his; even if it comes with an upside-down exotic dancer, clarinet playing guy, hippo, piano, and three leaf clover.