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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 Tag: humor

Our Own Fab Five at Work

Terri Reinhart

Like many people, I've been enjoying watching the new Queer Eye series on Netflix. And like, probably most of the people who watch the program, I fantasize about having the Fab Five come to our home and help us redecorate, cook, buy clothes, change our hairstyles, and give us a pep talk to get us revved up about our lives.

Reality check: 1) Getting accepted for a Queer Eye makeover would be kind of like winning the lottery. 2) Imagining what the guys would say about my sense of style is humbling. Maybe it's best to figure out how to do this on my own.

I'll admit, I don't want advice on clothes. Two pairs of jeans, two pairs of shorts, some t-shirts and other odds and ends and I'm good. I'm taking my fashion hints from my husband. Oh, and... no more skinny jeans. Been there, tried that. At my age and shape, they make me look like a lollipop. I wouldn't mind help with cooking, but if I'm honest, I really just want someone to cook for me.

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Our Fab Five this summer are the foster puppies. Above, you can see 4 of the 5 taking my crocs out to the garden. Obviously, crocs are not in style for me this year. Jeans are in style. Long pants in 90+ degree weather. When I rebel and wear shorts, they remind me with their needle sharp teeth and claws.

They help with the landscaping, too. So far, they've taken out three types of Sedum plants, a woodsorrel, my peppermint, and the ornamental grass. The plants they've decided to leave to grow in my garden are bindweed, crabgrass, lamb's quarters, and common mallow. Interior design consists of numerous dog beds, pens, and pee pads. Oh, and dog toys. My new hair style is carefree. 

Taking on the care of foster puppies on top of all my other responsibilities and on top of trying to take care of myself and manage my Parkinson's/Dystonia challenges doesn't make a lot of sense. I don't get enough sleep and it's a lot of work. There are days when I crave just a few hours without a puppy whining or a mess to clean up. Aside from being with our grandkids, this is the best retirement job I could imagine.

What the puppies are really, truly good at is giving us the opportunity to sit and play and just be loved. 

 

Wisdom and Strength and Love Shall Grow

Terri Reinhart

Having a sympathetic young police officer NOT give me a speeding ticket is one of the perks of being an elder, but being an elder also means learning how to let go. We have to let go of bits of ourselves, what we used to do, who we used to be. With any progressive neurological disorder, letting go starts a lot sooner.  What happens when we get to the point where there are things we can't do anymore? 

Okay. Stop right here. I know what you're thinking. I've heard it before, many times. Please don't send me the quotes and memes saying, "Stay positive! Don't ever say you can't do something!"  I don't want to see the videos of 99-year-olds riding skateboards, climbing mountains, or running marathons or the videos of 99-year-olds with Parkinson's riding skateboards, climbing mountains, and running marathons. I get the point. If they can do it, so can I.

Right.  

The message in these memes and videos? Running marathons = awesome, walking with a walker = not cool.   Climbing mountains = awesome, needing help to climb stairs = not cool. Riding on a skateboard = awesome, riding a mobility scooter* = not cool. If we must have Parkinson's or if we must get old, be like the awesome ones. I know it's all meant to be inspiring, but too often it's discouraging. Nope. I obviously can't be awesome because, try as I might, I'm not going to climb mountains or run marathons or ride skateboards.

Stop again. Breathe out. All those memes and videos? Hit the delete button.

Now, a reality check. Giving up the awesomeness of climbing mountains, running marathons and skateboarding isn't difficult for me. I don't do those anyway and, if I'm truly honest, I don't want to. It's when I have to give up things I love to do, that's my true test.  

Because of fatigue issues, I've had to give up a few things - working full time or  even part time, volunteering regularly, doing more than one major activity per day and not more than three per week. I've been very lucky. What I've had to give up, I've been able to replace with other activities like naps...and, well, other things... like naps.. and... Okay, instead of felting intricate pictures and figures, I'm knitting little animals for my grandchildren.  I can join my husband on his daily walks if I adapt and use my cool scooter*. I can, occasionally, be in a clinical study and once in awhile, I even get paid for it.

We all respond differently when we are faced with chronic health challenges and the challenge of growing older. Some will choose to not go gentle into that good night, but will, as Dylan Thomas' poem advises, rage, rage against the dying of the light. Some will pretend their challenges don't exist and try to pass as a younger person in perfect health. Some will be convinced their challenges will go away if they are just positive enough. Some will climb mountains and ride skateboards till the day they die. 

I don't want to spend the rest of my life raging or feeling guilty because I'm not climbing mountains.

My mentor is Dr. Paul Zeiger, engineer, scientist, university professor, yoga teacher, poet, and PWP (person with Parkinson's). He says we are given many opportunities to reconfigure our lives according to the resources we have available to us. He knows. He and his wife, Carolyn, have had to do this time after time. Paul says that growing old is the most difficult work a person will ever do. For some of us, a marathon is also known as getting through each day.

There is a verse which is said by the first and second graders at the Waldorf school at the end of each day. It allows the children to put their academic work aside, let it rest.

All my doing now has ended.
What I have learned shall rest.
When I have done my very best,
wisdom and strength and love shall grow
and I will bless all those I know.

We tend to identify ourselves by what we do and when we lose the ability to do something, it can be like losing a part of ourselves. We have to reconfigure ourselves and find out what this new.... or older body can still do. If we get stuck trying to hold on to who we were once upon a time, we're not leaving room to discover who we are now. The time for doing some things may have ended, but we can let them rest and trust in what we have learned from our doing.

We have to grieve and maybe even rage a little. But what if we take Paul's advice? What if we could let go of those lost parts of ourselves and let them  go gentle into the good night? If Paul and Carolyn's lives are an example, we know if we can let go and let those things rest, our lives are not empty, but will include wisdom, strength, love, and the capacity to bless those around us.

Skateboarding is optional.

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*My mobility scooter IS cool. Some 12 year old boys told me so. It is a TravelScoot, the best little scooter ever. Thank you, Roger, again and again, for blessing me with this gift and the bigger gift of a connection with our family in Luxembourg.

 

 

 

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.

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Twisted

Terri Reinhart

It's Dystonia awareness month and I'm supposed to write something so people will learn about and start to recognize this totally weird and somewhat unpredictable disorder. Considering it is, like Parkinson's, somewhat of a designer disease and affects each person in a unique way, it can be difficult to explain. Some of my twisted friends are posting videos. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth at least a thousand pictures going by very quickly. (Actually, that's film, but it sounds good.)

I'm not real comfortable doing selfie videos, so I'll write and do my best to not use a thousand words. A disclaimer before I start: there may be some of you out there who will say, that symptom isn't dystonia, it's Parkinson's. For this, I will apologize in advance. Sometimes I can't tell which is which. There may also be a few people who will disagree with my weird sense of humor. I won't apologize for this. It's how I stay relatively sane...or at sane enough that my family and other relatives will put up with me.

So, here goes...

Dystonia comes in many forms. These are just a few:

1. The Rebel - the whole body is functioning normally or what generally passes for normal these days. Yup, it's all good. Except for the big toe on one foot which is standing at attention, perpendicular to said foot. The rest of the toes often follow its lead. The opposite of the Rebel would be the Shy Toes, which curl under the foot. Either way, they're not fond of shoes.

2. T-Rex at Dinner - when the elbows decide to attach themselves to the sides of the body, limiting arm movement considerably. Why this happens more often at dinner than at other times of the day is unknown. Eating is definitely a challenge. Good for you if you're dieting. Not so good if you're hungry and your family finishes everything before you get the first bite all the way to your mouth. 

3. Wink, wink - It's really the muscles in my face pulling to my left side. I'm not flirting with you, I promise. This is different from Blink, blink, which is a Parkinson's thing that happens when we don't blink, blink enough.

4. Involuntary Pliés - My legs want to dance, sometimes without telling me. Another way to describe this is to picture yourself on strings, like a marionette. The puppeteer lets the strings go slack suddenly, then pulls them back up again. It's kind of cool. Really freaks out people, especially going through security at the airport. 

5. Twist and Shout - This can be one body part or many at once - often (for me) caused by a startle reflex. Someone drops a spoon in the kitchen, you never know what I'll do. My arms may twist up onto my chest or they may flail outward (often when I'm holding a sharp knife - which is why my family is very careful not to startle me), my feet turn in, I may do a #4, might walk backwards or sideways with great force until I hit a wall or counter. The shout part generally includes a lot of swearing.

6. Bar Fight Gif Mode - You know those annoying gifs that show a very short video over and over and over. That can happen to us sometimes. We become gifs. The neck jerks to one side and down as though someone is slapping you, over and over. The abs contract as though you're being punched in the stomach, over and over. You can't find the pause or stop button and you're stuck in this mode for some time. (My record so far has been about 7 hours) It's not only painful, it's boring.

7. The Works - All, or most of the above, happening at the same time. Generally referred to as a Dystonic Storm. It would be like being fully conscious while having a grand mal seizure. Like being beat up, relentlessly. 

Mostly, it's a weird disorder where our bodies seem to be arguing over which part is making the decisions. It's like having cerebral palsy - part time - and the diagnoses are sometimes confused. With many people, dystonia is extremely painful. We don't have all these symptoms all the time. Sometimes.. occasionally... well, once in awhile, we even look sort of ...NORMAL! 

Just don't hold your breath. We'll come out with something entertaining and twisted again soon, don't worry.

Please wait till the ride comes to a complete stop

Terri Reinhart

"Bienvenue! Willkomen! Croeso! Welcome to the new triple loop roller coaster! Please take your seats, make sure the safety belt is fastened properly and the safety bar is secure. Keep hands and feet inside the car at all times and do not attempt to exit until the ride comes to a complete stop. Enjoy the ride, folks!"

I braced myself and already felt a little queasy. It was anticipation, I'm sure, but my tummy wasn't listening to the voice of reason. It was listening to the ride operator... and the ride operator was simply my brain's translation of the far more reasonable voice of my doctor saying, "I wrote you a prescription for a new medication."

My usual response of "How normal do I have to be?" didn't work this time. After several recent experiences with headache, nausea, dyskinesia, and full dystonic storm hitting all at once, I wasn't in a position to argue. Being a wee bit testy, I let her know I wasn't thrilled about adding any new drugs, but I'd be a good patient and do whatever she wanted me to do. Grrr. I didn't have to be happy about it. 

The next morning, I took my regular meds and my new one, got on the roller coaster and hung on tight. Who knew what thrills and chills awaited me? The ride promised at least some relief from dyskinesias, the rolling-won't-stop involuntary movements often associated with having been on levodopa for a number of years, and extend the time when my regular meds were "on".  I already knew the twists and turns on this ride could include purple blotches on my legs and ankles, weight loss, and dizziness. So far, it sounded not unlike a few of my rides on old wooden roller coasters when I was in high school. My husband was on standby in case anything went wrong.

Mostly I wanted to make sure I kept breathing. Like I've said before, my docs know I'm somewhat paranoid about drugs. I'm ultra sensitive to most of them. And when I mean ultra sensitive, I mean like, my docs may seem to take me seriously, but it's only when they see for themselves what can happen, that they suddenly look panicked and proclaim me the most medication sensitive person they've ever seen. 

Yeah. I got it. 

So, back to the ride: husband on standby, bracing myself....

I fell asleep.

All that anticipation. All the nervousness, nailbiting, and worry. I slept for 2 hours. Then I got up, spacey, a little dizzy, and wandered, unfocused, around the house for awhile. Then I fell asleep again. Fortunately, husband on standby had also thought to make a big pot of stew in the crockpot earlier in the week. I didn't have to make dinner. Wasn't hungry, either. After a little stew broth and some bread and butter, I took another nap before going to bed. It hadn't been a very exciting ride.

That was yesterday. I only took two real naps today - and a short cat nap. The rest of the time I've felt scattered and bored silly. Not enough stamina to do anything, but tired of being scattered and tired of sleeping away the day. We'll see how my body adjusts over the next few weeks. My doc says to be patient. I said something else. 

In the meantime, I'm fairly easy on my husband. I sleep a lot and don't eat much. I'm not the best company, but at least I don't scratch up the furniture and I don't shed.

The ride's not over yet.

 

 

 

Always Darkest before the Dawn

Terri Reinhart

I got up growly today. Snarling at my husband, who dared to be still asleep in bed, blankets pulled up to his chin (God, he looked... happy... damn him), I lurched out to the kitchen and took my meds. How long will it take for them to take this time?

I'm retired. There is no earthly reason I have to be up by 6:30. It's way too early, but my legs decided to argue. If I didn't get up, they threatened to get out of bed without me. Hah. I'd like to see them try. Restless leg syndrome isn't for wimps. You have to be strong and not let your legs call the shots. Get up one day at 6:00 and the next thing you know, they'll have you getting up at 5 am and going on a 5 mile run before breakfast.

I managed to hold them off till I got sick of trying to hold them still, then I got up out of self defense. Fine. I'll get the animals fed, take the laundry off the clothesline, and make breakfast. Then, if the legs have moved enough and the meds have taken effect, maybe I can have a nap.

It's raining. Not a light quiet sprinkle, but a downpour trying to make up for the last drought.  I put on my boots, coat, and hat. I slipped and slid out to the chicken yard and barely managed to get the grain out without falling on my ass. The chickens refused to come out of their house. As I walked back, I saw a couple of squirrels happily devouring the expensive feed. I growled at them, but they continued eating. As for the soaking wet laundry, it could stay outside.

Back in the house, I started to heat water for tea and sat down at my computer to see the news of the day. I should know by now. Don't get your first peek at news for the day on the internet. The weird news floats to the top and I was greeted with:

"Nebraska Woman Sues All Homosexuals", "Obama plans to invade Texas, kidnap George W. Bush, and create a new kingdom of liberal darkness", "Anti-evolution Legislation Introduced in Alabama House", and "Chance of snow for Mother's Day"

It was enough to make me want to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over my head. My legs, however, were still restless and the feeling had drifted up to my arms and chest. I did a few stretches then got my cup of tea and tried to curl up on a soft chair.  Mmmm... the tea did wonders for me and I reminded myself it is always darkest before the dawn.  My craziest symptoms often come up just before the meds kick in and... yes... My muscles were starting to relax and I could breathe easier again.

The rest of me relaxed, too. I know our country is making progress, even though it often seems to take 2 steps back for every 3 steps forward. We're still making progress and, unfortunately, when progress becomes noticeable, it often comes with violent backlash from those who oppose it. I'm trying to stay positive, but it also takes work to continue taking those forward steps. We're doing what we can. We're getting more involved with city politics, which is where we can make a difference. In the coming weeks, we'll be helping to get signatures for a petition, going door to door handing out leaflets, and I will continue to carefully watch the actions of our local school board, which has become incredibly dysfunctional and disrespectful towards teachers and students. I'll also continue to speak out on behalf of my friends in the LGBTQ community, whose presence brings such beauty and richness to our world.

Okay, for now, it's time to take another deep breath, let my muscles finally relax, and... nap. If I'm to do all that work, I'm going to have to rest up. I curled up on the couch and was almost asleep when I heard my husband walk in the room. As I dozed off, I imagined him snarling at me. I had dared to go to sleep again, just as the day was getting started.

And I'm sure I looked happy.

Learning How to Grow Older

Terri Reinhart

As I watch my parents get older, there are so many things I think about. In fact, there are so many things, I have to keep lists. Most of this is purely practical: the paperwork I need to get done so they can move to their assisted living apartment, what they will need to bring with them, what are all those things they can't take with them and what will be do with them. That's a long enough list to last a few months right there. 

For better or for worse, we can't be only practical when it comes to our parents aging. There's a whole range of emotions and memories, as well. There's also some dirty laundry to deal with, even if it's just in my own mind, and it has to be sorted, cleaned, and hung out on the line to dry. 

It's also made me look at how I want to be as I get older. Do we have a choice?

It's debatable how much of our health is due to our lifestyle choices and how much is due to luck, karma, and good genes. Eating healthy and exercising is good, but then my grandmother ate lots of rich desserts and she lived to be 97.  My choice, my ideal, would be to live a full life and be able to say at the end, as my mother-in-law did, "It's been fun, hasn't it!"

What I've learned this summer is I don't ever want to resent being a year older. I'm not going to buy into the youth obsessed culture. I don't want to pretend I'm still 35. I'm not. I don't want to dye my hair or hesitate when someone asks my age. Why would I? Being 57 is cool! Each time in our life is unique and I'm enjoying my life right now.

Don't tell me I'm 57 years young. We wouldn't tell a child he is 10 years young. I'm getting older, not younger. All of me is getting older. I don't have the physical body of a teenager or young adult and, thankfully, I don't have the mind of a teenager, either. I wouldn't want it. A lot of work goes into learning and developing as an adult, and the work never stops. 

I don't want to fear getting older. I don't even want to fear getting very old. Many people don't make it that far. I'm not afraid of nursing homes. I worked in one. There's also the example of our former neighbor who, at the age of 92, met a lovely old lady in the nursing home where they both lived. They spent their days holding hands and talking to each other. No one else understood what they were saying, but they enjoyed every moment. I'd like that. If the other person was my husband getting very old with me, it would be even cooler.

The only thing that scares me about dementia and Alzheimer's is the possibility of becoming mean to people I care about. Even then, I know it's a phase which sometimes, but not always, accompanies these diseases and inevitably will disappear in the fog of memory loss. The memory loss doesn't worry me nearly as much. The heart often remembers, even if the brain doesn't. At least I believe this is true.

Ah, if I wasn't in the middle of taking care of my elderly parents, I wouldn't be spending time thinking of what it would be like to turn 85 or 90 years old. I've still got a long ways to go and I'm far too busy being 57 and spending time with my favorite 60 year old, 33 year old, 32 year old, 30 year old, 21 year old, 4 year old, 3 year old, and 1 year old.... not to mention my 85 and 90 year old parents.... and all those friends in between... to dwell on.. well, anything at the moment. 

So I'll just leave you with a few good quotes from some amazing women:

Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.
— Betty Friedan
At 20, we worry what others think of us. At 40, we don’t care what they think of us. At 60, we discover they haven’t been thinking of us at all.
— Ann Landers
The great thing about getting older is you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.
— Madeleine L'Engle
I’m a person who gets better with practice. Getting older is awesome because you get more practice.
— Zooey Deschanel

                                                                                                        


Robin Williams and Parkinson's Disease

Terri Reinhart

Finding out today that Robin Williams had been recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease makes his death more personal to me - more tragic and infinitely more terrifying.  I think of the disability lawyer who told me he'd eat his revolver if he was ever diagnosed with anything like Parkinson's. I think of a friend who was depressed and suicidal in the first months after his diagnosis.

For a blessedly brief time, I knew what it was like to have severe manic/depressive episodes. I understood the spark of brilliance you feel when you're manic and then, the intense shame when depressed... and afterward wondering what is you and what is simply a combination of chemical reactions in your brain.. and you miss the spark of brilliance and wonder if your friends will still like you without it.

And you totally miss the fact that you ARE brilliant and your friends love you - no matter how you are doing. I understand how this could have been so unbearable - so like a fire that you would do anything to escape it. 

Between our physical challenges and non-motor challenges and the added complications of medicines which influence our brains and, at times, our behavior, and the ups and downs of our dopamine levels, it isn't hard to see how people with Parkinson's can be at higher risk for suicide.

Because of the shock we all feel over Robin Williams' death, many people are sharing phone numbers of suicide hotlines. This is good. For those of us with Parkinson's disease, I'd like to share a couple more resources:

Parkinson's Disease Foundation has a PD Helpline - 1-800-457-6676 or email at info@pdf.org.  

Patients Like Me (www.patientslikeme.com) is an internet support group which is so, so much more. We keep track of our treatments and our symptoms. We are encouraged to share our data and to look at the data that other patients share. 

In Colorado, there is the Parkinson's Association of the Rockies at 303-830-1839 or www.parkinsonrockies.org.

Email me through my website. I will always listen. I am definitely not a substitute for medical help, but I will listen.

Oftentimes, simply (okay, maybe not always simply) getting our medications adjusted and balanced is enough to really make a difference with these issues of depression and anxiety. Always, always check with your neurologist if you or a family member with PD are having any of these challenges.

We also seem to be at higher risk for... creativity, artistic ability, and imagination. In order to stay healthy after the meds are in balance and your PD is stable, don't forget to exercise, dance, read, visit with friends, make new friends, continue learning in whatever way you can, and laugh. 

Laugh. I can't help but think Robin Williams would have eventually come up with some marvelous comic routines around his Parkinson's disease. I'm sure he would have been totally brilliant. Now? We'll just have to do it for him. We can be brilliant, too. 

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