After a particularly tough year, retired Seattle firefighter Mick Fish was looking for a way to mitigate his Parkinson’s symptoms while coping with grief.
Mick Fish usually does his workout classes at the Seattle-based Parkinson’s Fitness Project in person. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he now takes physical therapist Nate Coomer’s A.M.P. (Amplitude + Mental Agility + Power) neurofitness classes online.
“I can’t say enough about Nate Coomer. He is a marvelous resource. He’s knowledgeable, compassionate and works like a dog. We all appreciate him very much,” Fish said. “With the pandemic going on, he produces the twice-a-week class on Zoom, which you can do at home. It’s still beneficial, but it doesn’t replace exercising with a group. Anytime you can feel part of a group and make a commitment to show up, that’s a very good thing.”
Fish, 66, had just retired from the Seattle Fire Department when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2015. “When I went to see the neurologist, the question was actually, ‘How was your sense of smell?’ I said, ‘That’s interesting. I don’t have a sense of smell anymore.’ I had always attributed it to being a firefighter and maybe the toxic fumes or smoke. Turns out it’s an early harbinger of PD,” Fish said.
He suspected it might be Parkinson’s when he noticed his right thumb tremoring while he was driving. “It got more and more intense to the point where I couldn’t control it,” Fish said. “Then I noticed that my legs were tremoring too. My wife noticed I had a stone face, and one thing Parkinson’s does is take away your facial affect.”
Fish was a physical therapist before he was a firefighter, so he had some experience working with people with Parkinson’s. “I thought, ‘My word! How is this going to manifest itself for me?’ There was no panic or anything, just a matter-of-fact kind of curiosity. I was looking to a neurologist to give me a clue on what would be the best things to do,” Fish said.
“Then, on top of that, my wife passed away four months after I was diagnosed. It was a bad year. I found myself alone not knowing how quickly this would progress, whether I’d still be able to drive in three months or walk in three years. With the amount of grief that I was feeling at the time, I had to burn off that emotion and energy.”
Exercise can be a balancing act
Fish’s neurologist referred him to a physical therapist, Coomer, who helped influence him to embrace fitness as a way to help mitigate his symptoms. “Nate is a great motivator. He is upbeat and constantly coming up with new combinations. Every time I go, he’s thought about something new or changed something to challenge us, so you don’t feel like you’re in a rut,” he said.
Fish said he reaps the benefits of Parkinson’s-specific fitness classes because they not only challenge him physically, but cognitively as well.
“We often start with people in a circle,” he described. “Nate will give a command like step left or right, in or out toward the center of circle, or up or down where you raise your arms up or squat down to the floor. He starts slowly, then it goes faster and faster. We always repeat his commands because Parkinson’s takes away your voice eventually, so we are using our voices as much and as loudly as possible.
“A thorough workout every day seems to help slow the progression of the disease and keep me as functional as my current level can be,” Fish continued. “When I don’t do the workouts, I notice things deteriorating. Yet, there is a balancing act. I want to increase my stamina, but if I work out too much, I am exhausted the next day. One of the symptoms of PD is extreme fatigue. You want to maintain your fitness level without wiping yourself out.”