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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.

Filtering by Category: optimism

Time to Uproot

Terri Reinhart

Who leaves Colorado to retire in New England?

Normal people retire to someplace like New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, or even Mexico. Normal people go someplace warm.

We obviously have a warped idea of what is normal.

Our kids responded calmly.

John and Coco: How about moving to Maine?

Patrick and Tamara: We’re in! We’re coming with you!

Emma: Uh, what? I thought we were just TALKING about moving.

It’s sort of a now or never adventure. After discovering the consequences of having property values skyrocket, including increased property taxes and insurance, we realized we needed to make some long term plans. We needed to find a way to cut down on expenses, earn more money each month, or take advantage of the market and sell our house. The last option would leave us with enough profit to buy a house outright someplace where houses are not quite so expensive.

After talking with Paddy, our Realtor, it all started to feel a little bit too real. Yes, she feels it is doable. Yes, it’s good timing. Now, pack up, clear out things we need to get rid of, make the house look as though no one lives there, but anyone could.

I had to slow down, just a little. I wanted something to feel normal amidst all this transition. I said yes to fostering a newborn orphan kitten. Obviously, I have a warped idea of what is normal.

It’s taking some time, but I’m warming to the reality of this move. The IDEA is loads of fun, but turning it into reality is daunting. Chris, meanwhile, is packing. All three of us have become addicted to realtor.com, looking at houses for sale in such faraway places as Northampton, Massachusetts. When I get panicky, I do crazy things like find out how far our favorite ‘houses for sale’ are from Costco. When I learned that Elizabeth Warren has an office in Springfield, MA, her office became another security point as in… Look at this house, it’s only 8 minutes from Elizabeth Warren’s office!

We’re not putting the house on the market until after the holidays. Until then, we look through the houses for sale, towns we might want to live in, and we learn.

I’ve learned that a coffee shop marked on the map in Massachusetts is usually Dunkin’ Donuts.

I’ve also learned that baby kittens are not the same as baby puppies. Though she is 5 weeks old now, I’m still cheering on any and all pooping. That will change eventually, I know. Most people don’t realize puppies and kittens cannot go on their own in the first weeks. Curly the kitty climbs up the mesh sides of the port-a-crib and mews when she gets stuck at the top. I am guessing we have maybe another few days or a week before she can escape and we have to abandon the crib. At least she’s figured out how to use the litter box.

We’re lucky. Maybe we’re getting priced out of Denver, but we still have choices. We have equity in our house. We can move and have more financial freedom. We should be able to travel more. We’ll certainly come back to Denver often. What it boiled down to is this choice: we can either plug away and figure out how to stretch and barely make it here or we can have a grand adventure.

We’re in our 60’s. If we’re going to have a grand adventure, better do it now!

Was that a ....? Never mind.

Terri Reinhart

There are a lot of places where dogs are allowed to visit nowadays, but hospital infusion centers are not the likeliest places to see someone in a wheelchair with a poodle on their lap. It worried me. Had I really seen this? Sure, the poodle could have been a service dog, but .. well, how many service dog poodles have we seen? I turned to my daughter. Dare I ask? 

There's a new commercial out about Parkinson's disease. It's presented as an awareness ad; awareness of the lesser known symptoms of hallucinations and delusions in Parkinson's. The ad is very emotional, and I understand because these symptoms can be frightening, but it's also stirred up quite a lot of mixed feelings within the Parkinson's community. I mean, come on! It's hard enough to feel confident socially. Now you're going to blast it to the world that we're seeing things? The ad doesn't start explaining delusions, but just the word... it doesn't sound good. 

And that's part of the problem. As soon as we hear of the possible issues that can affect our thinking, we immediately want to say, "but that's really rare. It doesn't affect most people", and by that we mean, "not me". What we also mean is, "dear God, please not me". All sorts of our culture's worst insults come to mind, especially as they're being used often by and about people in politics these days: crazy, loony, lame, insane, idiot, screw loose, mad, demented, mental, or sad. The stigma of mental illness is often more damaging than the illness itself. When there is such shame attached to any health condition, it makes it much more difficult for people to ask for help.

Okay, with this in mind, having an awareness ad about hallucinations should be a good thing, right? By the way, this ad is put out by a drug company. Oddly enough (or perhaps not so oddly), the ad doesn't mention the fact that a lot of these symptoms can be caused by certain Parkinson's drugs. There's no suggestion to have your doctor evaluate the meds you are already taking. The patient in the ad is portrayed by an actor. The sound effects and music are eerie. The whole feeling is one of sadness and fear. But they tried. They are honestly trying to bring awareness to these symptoms, the symptoms we don't want to talk about. And sell drugs. Let's be honest. They're marketing their product.

So how can we bring awareness to this type of issue without portraying the person as sad and suffering and dependent? ... without portraying these issues as a tragedy? Could we provide a somewhat more positive picture? When my able bodied friends see a commercial like this, I brace myself and get ready to hear their condolences on having this horrible, tragic illness that has obviously robbed me of having any sort of a normal life. 

Would someone like to stand up and tell me what normal is? 

On the other hand, there are those typical drug company commercials which show beautiful, cheerful, active adults swimming, climbing mountains, taking their grandchildren to the park... and hey! They are beautiful, cheerful, and active because they take this drug! All the while, of course, you hear the narrator speaking as quickly as possible describing all the possible side (ie: non-marketable) effects of this drug and all the ways it can kill you. Let's not go there.

I hallucinated once - only once that I know of. I was in a restaurant with my grandson and I watched a family come in. Someone was pushing a stroller that had a doll in it and someone else was holding a chihuahua in their arms. A couple adults took turns holding the baby doll. Why would anyone bring a chihuahua into the restaurant? And, putting the dog in the high chair? I said something to my grandson and he looked at me and laughed and said, "Grandma, you're silly!" That was my first clue that just maybe my brain was playing a few tricks on me. Will it happen again? I was relieved when I finally asked Emma about the dog I saw at the infusion center. She had seen it, too. Someone really and truly had a service poodle.

What do I need to know about hallucinations? The one I had was right after starting on new medication that gave me insomnia. I've since talked to others who've had hallucinations when taking that particular drug. My experience with hallucinations was startling, not scary. All the same, it took awhile before I told anyone about it. Had I seen this ad right after my experience, I would have totally freaked out.  

While I don't have THE answer, perhaps it's time to let a group of people with Parkinson's create these ads.

chihuahua-666413_960_720.jpg

Neither Fish, nor Fowl, nor Good Red Herring - the trials and triumphs of having a unique medical diagnosis

Terri Reinhart

A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.
~ Robert Frost
 

A funny thing happened when we got back from Chicago. The very next day, fresh from two weeks of relaxing at Ronnie's house*, I had an appointment with my study doc, a neurologist specializing in movement disorders. I'm taking part in one of her clinical studies.

This was a major visit and included a thorough neurological evaluation. I tapped my fingers and toes, made circles in the air, walked up and down the hallway, and answered questions in the cognitive part of the test. I am never thrilled when the cognitve section comes up. They have a habit of asking ridiculous questions. I mean, come on, are we really supposed to be able to count backwards from 100, subtracting 7's? When, in life, will I need this skill? Is it important to be able to look at a list of 10 totally random, unconnected words, and then recite them back without looking at the list?

I've never yet failed the test. You're probably expecting me to say, “until now”, but that's not the case. This time, not only did I not fail the test, I ACED it! There could be several explanations for this. Maybe this was an easier version of the test. Maybe I really am intelligent. Maybe I was just calmer than usual.

It's a funny thing with a lot of these neuro muscular disorders. Stress makes everything go haywire and then the meds don't work and I move like one of the monsters in a B horror movie. This effect is talked about a lot. We all know what stress does to us. What isn't talked about is the opposite. What happens if you have an extended time that is completely calm and non-stressful?

I realize this rarely happens to anyone. Maybe this is why no one mentions it. It happened to me. Ronnie's house, despite being there with our daughter, who was recovering from surgery, was surprisingly non-stressful. There were all those nooks and crannies where we could sit and read or watch a movie; and of course, there were desserts everywhere we looked. I couldn't live this way all the time. I'd be terribly bored and terribly overweight. For a couple of weeks, however, it was nice.

So I rested, relaxed, and came back to ace my neuro exam. This prompted my doctor to question my diagnosis. I'm serious. After being diagnosed for over 5 years, suddenly my doctor says maybe I don't have Parkinson's. Now, don't get me wrong. I wasn't cured suddenly. I was just looking better and performing better than I should; especially in the cognitive region. The old grey matter was functioning admirably. What was my doctor thinking? We talked for awhile and I came home and immediately got onto the internet to research something called “Dopamine Responsive Dystonia”.

The other day, I went back to Kaiser and I discussed my research with my regular neurologist, Dr. Lindsee Hudson.  She is great. We often spend at least half the visit laughing at one thing or another. This time was no exception.

“From what I read,” I informed her, “it seems I either have Early Onset Parkinson's Disease with Dystonia that responds well to Dopamine or Late Onset Dopamine Responsive Dystonia with Parkinsonisms.”

“You got that right,” she replied. She went on to say that they are treated the same way. If, and this is a big if, I wanted to, and had an extra $7,000 to get a DATscan done, we might be able to determine exactly what this is.

Okay, I don't have the money to spend on a DATscan, and I'm not sure I would do it, even if I could. Why? Dr. Hudson understood immediately. She had thought of the same reasons before I even brought them up.

  1. There is a large community out there for people with Parkinson's disease (PD) with lots of classes and support. There isn't anything like that for people with Dopamine Responsive Dystonia (DRD).

  2. In the PD community, I am considered young. In the DRD community, I'm considered ancient. DRD usually hits in childhood, late teens are considered to be old.

  3. I definitely have parkinsonisms. One website maintained that late onset DRD was really a sign of early onset PD. I'm not sure there's enough understood about either disorder to know what is what.

  4. Even within the community of people with Dystonia, DRD is rare. According to my doctor, I'd be a community of one.

I'll stick with the diagnosis of Parkinson's, but there's something cool about this. I don't fit easily into any category. Not really. I don't follow the typical pattern of Parkinson's and I'm too old to fit nicely into the DRD group.

I'm unique. My husband didn't bat an eye. He said he'd known this for years. My son just said, “Weird”. I thought he meant the whole situation. Seems he meant me.

I don't know what this means for my future, not really. My doctor is optomistic. She says I must have some sort of unique variation. Maybe something in between the two disorders, who knows? She says, whatever it is, it seems to be a good variation. I'm doing better than I should be doing at this point and I don't seem to be effected cognitively at all. I thanked her for not doing a cognitive test that day. Having rushed to get to the appointment and hitting every single red light on the way, I wasn't exactly in my non-stress mode.

In fact, I was feeling a little more like one of those monsters from the old horror movies.

Uniquely weird.

*Ronald McDonald House... We're on first name basis now.