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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: dystonia

Olly Olly Oxen Free! Is there a Movement Disorders Clinic hiding near me?

Terri Reinhart

They're hiding out there somewhere. As long as you know what you're looking for, some may even be in plain sight. For many patients with Parkinson's, the rare neurologists who truly understand Parkinson's and even rarer Movement Disorder Clinics will continue to elude them. 

We're lucky here. We have a number of sanctuaries where these doctors can remain safe and continue adding to their knowledge. They are rarely seen in the wild, or even outside their sanctuaries, not because they can't handle the freedom, but because they are kept too busy to be much more than captives in their offices. 

Because they are so rare, many people will drive hundreds of miles just to see one. Other people will never have a chance and so they take their chances on being seen and treated by doctors who are general neurologists or family practitioners. It's not always a bad thing. There are some less specialized doctors who either understand Parkinson's or are willing to get the information they need from one of the sanctuaries. 

There are also the other stories - a patient who is told they don't qualify for DBS surgery because they aren't bedridden yet; a doctor who prescribes a large dose of Sinemet in an odd combination (10mg carbidopa/250 mg levadopa) to a new patient who then goes through agonizing nausea and vomiting from their medication dose; a doctor who tells a new patient that if this dose doesn't work, double it. Some doctors think they know enough, but don't. My father's general practitioner gave him the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, then refused to refer him to a neurologist. My first neurologist told me my symptoms were just like Parkinson's, but that's not what it was. He didn't refer me to the Movement Disorder docs even though they were just down the hall. 

Treating Parkinson's disease, finding the right combination of medicines and other therapies, is an art. I consider my neurologist to be a master artist as well as an amazing doctor when it comes to how she handles my treatment plan. I know I'm privileged.

There are many reasons patients may not be able to see a Parkinson's specialist. Some patients don't have adequate insurance to pay for a specialist. They might live where there are no Movement Disorder Sanctuaries.. I mean Clinics. They might have one close by, but it is so busy, their visit must be scheduled months in advance. 


Movement Disorder Specialists, we need more of you. We think it would be nice for you to have a smaller caseload, fewer patients to keep track of and treat. I'm sure you'd enjoy being in the sunshine now and then. It would be nice to see you out in the wild - as well as in smaller cities and more rural areas.

Some sources say we are facing a shortage of doctors. Others say no, it's not a shortage of doctors, we're just not efficient. We should be using more Nurse Practitioners and Physician's Assistants. A number of sources feel we have too many specialists and not enough general practitioners. Too many specialists? I don't think so. When a specialist has such a high caseload, you have to call at least 4 months in advance to make an appointment, I say there aren't enough. 

When patients live too far away to go to a specialist or, if they go, they drive hours each way, we need to find a better way to serve those people.  Asking in our support group about how far people drive to see their Parkinson's neurologist, the answers ranged anywhere from 20 minutes to 7 hours one way.

We need General Practitioners, too, of course. They need to be the ones who really get to know their patients. As they are seeing patients for all sorts of ailments, they also need to know when to refer them to someone else. How can one person be a specialist in every possible disease and disorder of the human body? It's just not possible. Specialists help with the efficiency of modern medicine. At the very least, we need Nurse Practitioners and Physician's Assistants who can specialize in different areas. 

We don't have the answers yet. Like most people in the US, I'm dreaming of the day when we have health care for everyone, the day when income inequality isn't so completely off balance, the day when college tuition and medical school tuition is not so prohibitive and school loan repayment doesn't threaten to bankrupt average people and become one more reason for the high cost of health care.

Until then, keep your binoculars handy just in case a shy, elusive movement disorder specialist happens to be spotted in your area. 

And here is a handy guide for locating them:

Movement Disorder Specialist Finder    


About Dystonia - the best resources I've found

Terri Reinhart

As some of you may remember, my official diagnosis is either Early Onset Parkinson's with dystonia that responds to dopamine or Late Onset Dopamine Responsive Dystonia with Parkinsonisms. Either way, the treatment is the same and they are both progressive neuromuscular disorders. The latter is less progressive than Parkinson's, but it is progressive.

And regardless of the diagnosis, I'm also a part of the Insomnia Club, at least part of the time. This is an exclusive club to which many people with Parkinson's and Dystonia belong and it consists of informal online meetings anywhere between 1 and 5 am. It was during one of these meetings that I found the following articles and news segment about Dystonia.

The first describes a typical dystonic storm and, for those of us who experience this, how to tell the difference between a dystonic storm and just a worsening of symptoms. The author, Tom Seaman, has probably the best blog out there about dystonia. Once I started reading his articles, I had a hard time stopping. 

What Really is a Dystonic Storm

The next one is an unusual story about a woman who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child and lived with that diagnosis for 33 years before learning she had Dopamine Responsive Dystonia. At 33, she finally started taking levodopa. Suddenly she was able to run and play with her children, go on hikes, and drive a car. Jeanne Sharon Abbot has written a book about her experience and maintains another amazing blog about Dystonia. In doing this, she has helped at least 20 other people who had been misdiagnosed as she was. This is why we blog about our experiences.

Woman misdiagnosed for 30 years

and her blog:

It's so good to see this information out there. Dealing with Parkinson's is one thing. People understand what it is, to a degree, or at least they've heard of it. While I definitely have Parkinson's symptoms, dystonia has always been my major challenge. It's a lot harder to explain. It's harder enough to explain that I told my neurologist I wasn't interested in having a DAT scan to confirm my PD diagnosis. She understood. She said she only had one other patient whose symptoms were close to mine. With PD, there's a huge community out there. With Dopamine Responsive Dystonia (DRD), I'd be a community of one.

Except between the hours of 1 and 5 am when the Insomnia Club meets.

Oh, and before I go, there's another aspect of Dystonia which I find most frustrating. There is a type of dystonia which is called Functional Dystonia and is considered to be psychogenic. I know this is real and I don't discount it at all, however, in one case I know, a woman was denied her treatment when her doctor decided it was all psychological. As women are diagnosed with dystonia 3 times more frequently than men and, we women know doctors (at least in the past) have been quick to attribute our symptoms to anxiety, depression, and just being female, I just get a little suspicious when I hear about it.

In looking up information about psychogenic dystonia, it seems the docs have gone back and forth between considering all dystonia to be psychogenic or all dystonia to be organic. Now, there's a blur between them and that's all right. I suspect there's some psychogenic and organic elements to nearly all physical challenges. 

Which brings me to another wonderful article by Tom Seaman:

Dystonia and the Highly Sensitive Person

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” ( 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.


*Beatles, Herman’s Hermits

** Schlag mich Baby noch einmal (Hit me baby one more time – The Wise Guys singing the Britney Spear's song -

***Tiger Lillies

****Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goalposts of Life – written by Bobby Bare and Shel Silverstein