Sitting in the doctor’s office, everything was relatively quiet in the sanitized hospital-ness of the examination room. There were no pretty pictures to look at; instead, there were only cabinets, computers, and medical equipment. At that moment, all I cared about was getting through this appointment to move onto the process I thought would be coming; instead, I would be getting an earth-shattering revelation.
A year ago, I was just the same old Dan that I always was. I earned my living teaching and tutoring writing skills at a pair of local community colleges. At the schools that I have worked at for 16 years and 5 years, I can also say that I have been able share my own community college experience to let my students know that I got value and a career out of my time in this system, and they can, too. When my workday was done, I returned to the home that my wife Heather and I live at in the middle of Pennsylvania’s eastern suburbs and Amish communities. When I had free time, I could be found hiking, traveling, writing supernatural stories that I have self-published on Amazon, watching baseball, taking pictures, listening to music, going to the movies, and enjoying life with family and friends. I was Dan, and that’s a pretty unique thing to be. I may not have looked like Bradley Cooper or published bestsellers like Stephen King, let alone been able to hit a baseball like Mike Trout, but I was me, and I liked me.
However, for all the positive feelings I had, I had things that I needed to work on. Namely, as a man in his mid-40s, things in my life were changing regarding my health. I had pain issues with the reflected arm, shoulder, and hand pain of spondylosis, which I was diagnosed with at the end of 2014 beginning of 2015. However, the tremor that I had was not “Parkinson’s related” according to the doctor who read my MRI, so I breathed a sigh of relief. Nevertheless, I didn’t know much about what Parkinson’s was other than something with tremors, and I didn’t bother to look into it since I didn’t have it. Rather, I took his word for it, and I continued to live, still finding time for winter waterfalls and reading stories about people who overcame obstacles to be great or just choosing to be the best that they could be. I never knew at the time that these moments of hero worship would be the main factors of wiring myself differently when the correct diagnosis came.
I do not blame / fault the doctor who didn’t diagnose this in 2015. To be honest, I wasn’t ready for the correct diagnosis, so having an extra year and a half worked out well other than not being on medications sooner. When I got the diagnosis, I was as mentally prepared as I could be, and that made a difference for my wife, family, friends, coworkers, and me in being able to get through it “relatively unscathed.” This doesn’t mean that there aren’t still things that hurt about this condition, because there are, but it just gives me a more secure place to operate from. Now, the people closest to me can take my attitude towards my future and know that Parkinson’s hasn’t gotten the best of me.
My appointment came a year and a half later. At that time, the tremors, which had gone from left hand in October 2011 and down toward my left foot in August 2014 were now getting worse, so I thought about getting the spondylosis surgery to get back to normal. However, when my physical therapy appointment in August of 2016 came up, the medical professional who was helping me told me that my issues weren’t from spondylosis. She didn’t diagnose me since she had no power to do that, but she did put a bug in the doctor’s ear to refer me to neurology. In another short month, I would write her and her bosses a thank you letter for her professionalism and knowledge. Here, I felt that showing respect is what we do when someone makes a difference in our lives. Were it not for her dedication to getting things right, I wouldn’t be here right now. Instead, I could be following the same incorrect path or worse.
When I got to my next doctor on September 27th, the one in the non-descript hospital room, I thought I was just going to be jumping through hoops to get to the surgery that I would do between terms. Never in my mind did I think this was going to be a Parkinson’s diagnosis, but in the sterile confines of that medical facility, the doctor informed my wife and me that there was a 90% chance that this is what it was. Of course, we would need tests to confirm it, but yes, this diagnosis was most likely going to be the new normal.
As the words hit home, I sat there too stunned to say anything. First, I still didn’t know what Parkinson’s was, but I did know it wasn’t good. My wife Heather crying assured me of that as I held her tight to protect her from this storm. I’d like to think my strength and positive energy in that moment worked, since she is the most loving caretaker in the world. In sickness and in health is literally a part of our relationship. The doctor, Dr. Efrain Perez-Vargas, informed me that based on how I was handling the diagnosis, I would be OK. I took his word for it and moved on to tell Heather that we would make it through this situation. That’s what we did, and it’s what we still do.
No elephant in this room
From there, we went to talk to my parents about the news. In many ways, they knew as little as I did, which was tremors, Michael J. Fox, Muhammad Ali, and more tremors. In all honesty, for the uninitiated, this is their general knowledge of Parkinson’s, too. As for my parents, they were also quietly positive about the whole thing, which was a good thing to know. Obviously, they, like I, were going to look at the Internet to find out what exactly Parkinson’s encompassed as soon as we could, and they would find things that are big and scary, but that’s life sometimes. The key is to play the role that the fates assign us in the best way possible and to be there for others and ourselves when the poop hits the fan.
Leaving their house, Heather and I drove back to the hospital to get her car and for me to go to the class I was teaching that night. As we drove, I started to feel the heaviness of what was coming, so I informed Heather that I would do a short class and come home to decompress. She agreed, so I went to school early since it was too late to cancel, so I just hung out in the classroom waiting for students to arrive as I looked at Youtube to see what was up with this Parkinson’s diagnosis. Watching Michael J. Fox without medications scared me to death, so I looked at the Mayo Clinic’s website for concerns as I moved to contemplate how I could simplify my class to make it online this week since I was too stunned to teach.
About 30 minutes later, my students arrived, and I mentioned heavy-duty nonspecific medical diagnosis and an assignment to do with revisions sent to students so they could make their papers better. With that, we all left, and I returned to my wife’s arms to watch Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller in Dodgeball, a classic comedy movie that we love to laugh at. As my wife and I spoke to one anther, things felt positive again.
The next morning, I woke up and decided that if this were going to be my position in life, I would educate people and advocate for treatments and understanding regarding this condition and those people who have it, and that’s what I do in my stoic / humorous way. There is no elephant in this room.
Continue on to part two of this story here.