My Father, PD, and Sunny Days
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In 2004, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Instead of falling into depression, I think he read almost every book out there on PD. After the diagnosis, the doctor said he was writing him a prescription for anti-depressants, but my dad didn’t need them. “I just don’t feel depressed,” he told the doctor.
Parkinson’s is the second most common degenerative disease worldwide after Alzheimer’s. It is a neurodegenerative brain disorder most often characterized by body tremors and slowed movement. In some people, depression precedes a diagnosis, appearing before any motor symptoms.
But my father first noticed a slight tremor in his right hand while he was driving the Van Pool to work. He attributed it to stress, but he tried to hold his hand from shaking or to keep it out of sight.
“Not knowing much about PD at the time, I felt as if I had a handicap– mental at that– that made me appear less whole,” he says. In the recent years, a lot of people are trying to change the stigma surrounding Parkinson’s. In the past few months, PD has been in the news more than a few times:
- April was National Parkinson’s Month.
- June is Exercise Month at Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research
- News Headline: People with Parkinson’s disease are twice as likely to get a diagnosis of the skin cancer Melanoma.
- On June 9, Michael J. Fox turned 50.
- June 19 is Fathers’ Day.
- June 25 is my father’s birthday.
My father says he's now accepted he has PD and, as long as he keeps up on his regime of medicines, he can control the tremors to a larger degree. So, beyond a counter full of medicine, he’s the same person he always was.
He’s the man who’s pulled over twice, with my sister in the car, to help someone on the side of the road. He’s the guy who’s helped the lady juggling a baby, multiple bags, and a stroller in the airport. He’s never failed to be there for my sister, my mother, or me– in whatever way he can. All without hesitation or expectation of something in return.
He’s always said, Can’t never could and How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. He still works as hard as he always has– working on rocket engines, making wine, cutting wood– even though the medication makes him tired during the day and unable to sleep at night. He’s currently in the evaluation phase for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), essentially a pacemaker for the brain targeting the areas affected by PD.
“I want it to work so I can continue to work,” he says. It could reduce the amount of medication he needs and help alleviate the aches and pains in his back, arms, and neck. In the meantime, he credits my mother for being the best support system possible. I can’t help but also credit his (what I hope to be) continued success with PD to the type of person he is, the type of person he taught his daughters to be, and his almost fearless, always optimistic yet realistic attitude.
To people newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he recommends getting comfortable with the new lifestyle you are entering. Get the book The First Year, Parkinson’s Disease by Jackie Hunt Christensen, who has PD herself. “Stay upbeat– don’t readily accept depression,” he says. “There are too many sunny days outside to give in to this.”