It’s funny how we often remember inconsequential moments in our lives. Remember the time you found $5 laying in a parking lot? How about when you helped an elderly couple load groceries into their car?
By comparison, some of the moments in our lives that are of great significance get relegated to our own dark web.
On August 12, 2016, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. My initial exam with the neurologist was scheduled for three hours. About a half-hour into the exam I was asked to walk up-and-down the hall. When the doctor and I returned to the exam room I asked, “I have it don’t I?”
The next two and a half hours are a blur. I remember tapping my fingers together, being asked to count backwards from 100 to zero by seven, and writing sentences. But that’s about it.
I do, however, remember the nod.
When I left the office I couldn’t find my car. Out of frustration I hit the panic button on my fob and followed the sound of the horn. There’s something ironic about hitting the panic button just after I had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
As I drove out of the parking lot I knew I had two options. I could go home, face my oldest daughter, and tell her the news. Or I could go eat pancakes. I’m a diabetic so managing my sugar level is important. Armed with those choices the decision was clear – pancakes.
I was diagnosed on a Friday. That weekend all I could think about was dying. Robin Williams hung himself a few days after his diagnosis. I’d be lying if I said that thought didn’t cross my mind.
By Monday, I was mad. I was, and still am, too young to die. My kids haven’t graduated from college, and none of them are married. I decided I was going to live. But I didn’t know how.
I’m a journalist, which means I’m really good at research. I became a consumer of all things Parkinson’s. I read everything I could get my hands on. I learned that Parkinson’s is not a death sentence. The two words that popped up time and time again were: keep moving.
I learned how important physical activity is for people with Parkinson’s. Walking, dancing, tai chi, Pilates, yoga, Rock Steady Boxing, and swimming are all excellent forms of exercise for us. They help with balance, flexibility, cardio fitness, and most importantly, they work the mind.
I learned there’s no such thing as a “Parkinson’s diet.” How, what and when we eat is individualized. I worked with my doctors and a nutritionist to find a diet that works for Parkinson’s as well as diabetes. Generally speaking, people with Parkinson’s should have a well balanced diet of protein, veggies and fruit. It’s also important to make sure you’re not vitamin deficient so I have my blood tested once a quarter.
Today I’m doing well. When I started this journey I couldn’t swim – I was afraid of the water. I hadn’t been in a pool for more than 45 years. Now, I can swim 25 yards in 19 seconds. My daughter, who is on her high school swim team, can cover the same distance in 14 seconds.
She and I stand in the pool together as she teaches me techniques that help me swim more efficiently. My other daughters swim laps with me to help with my endurance. My teenage kids could be out with their friends, but they choose to spend time helping me save my life.
Now I can do a two-minute plank, and know what a Reformer machine is. This may not sound like much, but they’re huge steps for me.
My left foot is beginning to drag. At times I don’t eat well with a fork. If I sit too long it takes me a few seconds to steady myself when I stand up. I’ve concluded that the devil invented ATM buttons. I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it, and no one has ever said no.
And about that nod? I don’t worry about it anymore. While I wouldn’t call it inconsequential, maybe it was a nod telling me that I can live well despite the disease.
Kevin Woo is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. His writing portfolio can be found at www.kevinjwoo.com.