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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: comedy

Regular Exercise and Parkinson's

Terri Reinhart

When I told the parents in my kindergarten class that I would not return to teach the following year because I had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I felt compelled to let them know that there were some positive aspects of this diagnosis.


These included:


1. Now I have something to blame things on. Every time I am a little spacey, uncoordinated, forgetful, or downright weird, I can just blame it on the Parkinson’s. It’s not me.


2. Now I have something in common with Michael J. Fox.



3. No one will ever, ever expect me to run a marathon.


There were other reasons, too, why I looked at this diagnosis as being very positive. For one thing, my doctor had not been sure at first that this was Parkinson’s. Leave it to me to be just a little bit different and more complicated. I try hard. I went through several neurological evaluations and the doctor talked with me about a number of possibilities, including Huntington’s and a strange disorder which she referred to as “Wild Frenchman from Maine Syndrome”.


I almost wished I would be diagnosed with that last one. I think I would have had a different reaction when I told my family and friends. Tell others that you have Parkinson’s and the response is usually the same. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” This comes with a pat on the arm and a sad smile. Not that I minded, it’s just that I didn’t really know what to do with that. But just think of what would have happened if I'd told my family and friends that I was diagnosed with “Wild Frenchman from Maine Syndrome”. They'd be too busy laughing to feel sorry for me.  That I could handle. 


The possibility of Huntington’s was not something I wanted to contemplate.


When the doctor finally told me that she was 95% sure that I had idiopathic Parkinson’s disease, she had a big smile on her face and said, “Let’s hope it’s that!” We practically danced out of the room.


The reason that the doctor was so thrilled was because Parkinson’s is the most treatable of the neuromuscular disorders. The medications are impressive in how quickly they can make you feel like a normal person. And now, many researchers are saying that exercise can be one of the best treatments for Parkinson's, perhaps even better and more effective than medications and even surgery for keeping you moving. Walking, biking, dancing, and yes, even running marathons are considered to be GOOD for you.


Provided, of course, that you actually do it.


I was involved in an exercise study for 16 months. During this time, I rode my exercise bicycle for 30 to 40 minutes every day. I was stretching and even did some exercises with weights. And I recorded every exercise session. Once a month, along with the other members of our group, I met with the physical therapist who made sure we sticking to the program. We had to show our exercise logs to the therapist. I did well! Then the study was suddenly over.


It’s been about six months now since it ended and I have not exercised regularly since then. When I recently had to check in with the rehab doctor, I was gently scolded and urged to begin exercising again. Actually, when I think about it, she wasn’t really that gentle about it. She wanted to know what my barriers to exercising were. I said it was time. Life gets busy and it’s hard to have time to exercise.


Make the time, she said.


I had just about caved in and decided that I would have no other choice than to get on the bicycle again when something remarkable happened. A friend of mine told me about another exercise study that had taken place. This one showed, amazingly, that doing craft work, SUCH AS KNITTING, had the same health benefits as aerobic exercising! Wow. If this is the case, and I have no reason in the world to doubt this person (not to mention the fact that I have no desire to doubt her), then I can tell my doctor that I am exercising regularly. In fact, I am exercising about two hours per day!


Now, I know there will be a few people who will just have to go on the internet to see if this is really true. If you find out, let me know.  However, even if there are those who refute this information, I’m sure it’s just a matter of needing more research. For this, I’d be happy to be a guinea pig.


I’ve got plenty of knitting to do.

New Year's Resolution - busted already

Terri Reinhart

I blew it already. I had such high hopes of keeping this year’s resolution ALL year, without slipping. These resolutions are important. We really should be good role models for our children, shouldn’t we? And, of course, I foolishly thought that this would be an easy resolution to keep. I am finding that the art and skill of dawdling is taking a lot more attention than I had imagined.


Sadly to say, I found myself multi-tasking yesterday. I was riding my exercise bicycle, watching a movie, and knitting at the same time. Lounging in the dentist’s chair later in the day, I also had my knitting on my lap and managed to get about 10 rows done while the dentist did whatever he was doing in my mouth. When it came time to make dinner in the evening, there I was, making out my to-do list for the next day, scheduling an appointment over the phone, stirring the rice, adding broth to the chicken, and, naturally, I had my knitting on my lap, too. My mind was racing. What will I donate to our school auction? How on earth am I going to get all my sewing done on time? Did I just put cinnamon on the chicken?


What I can’t figure out, is why some people seem to think that multi-tasking is a good thing. They even brag about their ability to multi-task as though this is the absolute proof of their superior intelligence.


Who even invented that word? What does is really mean? I suspect that it means something like, “doing many things badly at the same time.” Moms everywhere, and dads, have a great deal of experience in doing many things at once, though not by choice. Some of us even become relatively good at it. I remember the days when my children were young and I would be holding a baby in one arm, nursing, and buttering toast with the other hand, all the while I was watching my toddler and trying to discourage him from climbing into the dishwasher. I could do almost anything one handed, even break eggs. Sure, I had to pull all the little bits of shell out afterwards, but hey, I could do it!


I also remember the day when I was so proud of everything I had accomplished. Two little ones, clean and fed and playing happily on the kitchen floor while I worked to clean up the kitchen and prepare dinner. I busily went back and forth between stirring the sauce on the stove, wiping down the counters, cutting up vegetables for a salad, and singing along with the latest children’s music playing on our old stereo. It was the perfect picture of domestic life.


Then the phone rang and someone knocked on the door at the same time. I quickly answered the phone and asked the person on the other end to hold on a moment. I answered the door to a neighbor wanting to borrow a couple of eggs. I invited her in and picked up the phone again, stirring the sauce slightly and turning on the oven to heat it up.


I had just turned down the opportunity to have a family portrait taken and receive a free 8 x 10 glossy photo, when my neighbor yelped and grabbed my sleeve. Smoke was pouring out from underneath the stove and little flames were beginning to appear. What the.....????


I dropped the phone and opened the broiler drawer that was underneath the stove and found that my son had decided that this drawer made a perfect bed for his stuffed bear. As soon as I had turned on the oven, we had fried bear. Fortunately, there was just a tiny corner of the bear that was actually flaming and I was able to pick it up with tongs and put it in the sink, turn on the water, and douse the flames quickly. By then, I could smell the sauce burning, the kids had managed to knock over the cutting board, and the vegetables were scattered on the floor. I could hear someone on the phone loudly shouting HELLO?! My neighbor had taken her eggs and run. I briefly considered returning the bear to the broiler and serving it for dinner.


I looked forward to the day when the kids would be old enough that I could go back to work. My goal was to have a job that didn’t require doing more than one thing at a time. So, what did I do? I taught kindergarten. But at the very least, I did have a 45 minute break every day.


Now that I am retired, I am determined to take life more slowly. A couple of years ago, my oldest son gave me a wonderful book, titled, In Praise of Slowness, Challenging the Cult of Speed, by Carl Honore, which describes the origins, intent, and benefits of the “slow movement”. It talks about how our culture has become dependent on clocks, how we schedule our lives and try to fit in as much as possible. Even our children’s play time is scheduled into “play dates” and we hurry to get them from play to music lessons to school to dinner to bed. It also tells how we can change this attitude towards life and time. I like the idea of a slow movement. What could be better? In the spirit of the book, I began reading, and two years later, I’m still on chapter two.


One of my favorite bits in the book, so far, is when the author talks with a Buddhist teacher about these subjects of time, living by the clock, and scheduling our lives. Nearing the end of their conversation, the Buddhist teacher suddenly looks at his watch and, very sheepishly excuses himself. He had an appointment to keep and would have to hurry to get there.


Like I said, dawdling takes much more attention than I realized. Going slow is an attitude change, even when life throws everything at you at once. It’s about having a balance, I suppose. I only know that if I’m not careful, I’m going to start multi-tasking again.


And that would never do.


The Show Must Go On

Terri Reinhart

The other day, when I was at the grocery store, I made someone laugh. Not just a little giggle, but a deep, belly laugh. And the fact that it was a little old lady made it all the better. Making a little old lady laugh like that could be considered my good deed for the week. In fact, depending on who I talk to, I am sure I am earning the jewels in my heavenly crown and/or filling up with good Karma. I make people laugh a lot nowadays. I’d like to say that it’s my incredible wit or my charming sense of humor or maybe even my skills as a storyteller. Usually, however, it is my own unique style of moving that gets people going. Like many great comediennes before me, such as Lucille Ball and Patricia Routledge, I excel in physical comedy.


If only a Hollywood talent scout would discover me someday, I might actually earn a living at this. I don’t know if Hollywood talent scouts have ever looked for their next star in the cheese aisle of the local grocery store, but if they have, they might have seen something like what the little old lady saw that day. I turned, picked up a package of cheese (medium sharp cheddar, if I remember correctly), and when I turned back to put it in my cart, I suddenly froze. I stood for just an instant and then started walking backwards very quickly. That was it. It might not sound all that funny but physical comedy is really impossible to describe properly. It has to be watched. Good comedy depends on all those little details of facial expression (I could have sworn my feet knew where the shopping cart was parked), body language (boy, did I have a few choice words to tell my body), and exactly what kind of cheese one is buying. Based on the laughter that followed, this was one of my more successful forays into the world of physical comedy.


I have other comedy routines that come up quite frequently but the best one had to be the night we took our good friends out to dinner. Since we were treating them, I had decided that I would order something to drink from the bar. I was being a good hostess and making sure that our guests knew that they could order drinks, too. I also wanted to try a Marguerita. Having lived in Colorado nearly all my life, surrounded by some excellent Mexican restaurants, I felt funny admitting I had never tasted a Marguerita. So I ordered one.


I am not a drinker. Since my son graduated from Bartending College, I now know that bartenders measure liquor in ounces. I measure mine in teaspoons. My husband says I’m pathetic. I am the “sniff it and get tipsy” type of person and I swear I can feel the alcohol in an O’Douls. The waiter brought TWO Margueritas. I thought for sure it was a mistake and asked who else at the table had ordered one. That brought the first chuckles from my friends. They knew all along that it was Happy Hour. Both drinks were meant for me. So, as I grew up a good Catholic girl, learning that it was a sin to waste anything, I slowly and carefully took my first sips. I continued sipping while I was eating and while we were talking and while a few members of our party ordered desert.


By the time we were ready to go, I had managed to drink all of one Marguerita and most of the other one. It was also that time of night when my Parkinson’s symptoms are at their worst. I got up from the table slowly and walked very stiffly out of the restaurant and out to the car. I did not drive home. In fact, I fell asleep in the car and slept all the way home. The next time I saw my friends, I learned that I had inadvertently provided them with a delightful comedy show. I tried to tell them that it was just my Parkinson’s but it was no use. That just made them laugh all the harder, clutching their sides to prevent hurting themselves, “You were great! I didn’t think you were going to make it to the car!” And when I protested further, they said, “Yeah, right. time...stop at one, okay?”


And have them miss out on the comedy?


I figure that this is one of the many gifts that I’ve received since finding out I have Parkinson’s. I’m sure that Lucille Ball and Patricia Routledge had to work much harder to develop the physical comedy skills that I’ve come by naturally. There is always a silver lining and I know that falling now and then just means that I’m well grounded. I hope that, whatever else happens in my journey, I will never lose the ability to make people laugh.


“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”
~Erma Bombeck

“What is comedy? Comedy is the art of making people laugh without making them puke.”

~Steve Martin