Turning thirty is traditionally viewed as the end of youth. It brings the beginnings of gray hair, deep wrinkles, and, for those completely abandoned by God, balding. I didn’t feel old at thirty and I had no reason to. I had none of the markers of adulthood. I had roommates, I was in grad school, I had nothing that resembled a 401k -or savings of any kind- and I was living in Seattle, the Mecca of aimless thirty-somethings. Truth be told, my life at thirty wasn’t different than my life at twenty, except my ability to get into bars without bribing gargantuan men dressed in black- something I was doing a lot of. Romantically, my life at twenty was far more “adult” than my life at thirty, seeing as how I was just out of a long-term relationship where we thought we heard wedding bells that turned out to be tornado sirens. I closed out my twenties with a couple of one night stands, a broken short-lived attempt at a long distance relationship and an odd infatuation with a short haired girl who rode the 44 bus line on a constant loop while wearing oversized headphones that played some sort of Norwegian death metal. The only thing that marked my age was that I was feeling tired and I was suffering from sleep injuries; you know, that thing that happens when you reenact Edward Norton’s quitting scene from Fight Club in your bed. I chalked these up to aging, until I started to drop my foot while walking, causing a cartoonish swaggering walk like a too cool television street tough, and an inability to walk far without feeling as if I was going to topple over on my side. Still, I ignored this, and my constant shaking left index finger and chalked it up to stress. I didn’t piece together that something was wrong with me until Parkinson’s hit me like a brick wall.
Well, not a brick wall, it was the drywall at the end of the stairs leading to my basement. While shuffling down my stairs I lost my balance and fell, my arms filled with laundry- the absence of a laundry basket yet another indicator of my missing adulthood. This fall sent me plummeting with ungodly momentum (okay, so it was three steps) into the wall, causing a bruise, a dented wall and the realization that this wasn’t just getting older or stress. After my Pratt fall, I did what every normal person would do, I assumed I had a brain tumor and went down a Web MD rabbit hole. After an all-night virtual med-school cram session, I decided that it was either the aforementioned tumor, Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s. Armed with my self-diagnosis, I sought out a medical professional for confirmation. After six blood tests, seven doctor’s visits, and an unfortunate twenty-four hours spent urinating into what looked like the world’s worst container of apple juice, I was sent to get an MRI and see a neurologist.
I hate elevators, I hate close-talkers and above all, I hate MRI’s. To understand my hatred of MRIs, you have to know that when I was eight years old, I guess I must have pissed off my sister something awful because she locked me into a Fischer Price football shaped toy bin for three hours. Ever since that three-hour nightmare, I cannot handle tightly enclosed spaces for more than a couple of minutes– effectively ending my submariner career before it started. That being said, you can understand how excited I was to be locked in a tube for an hour. This was made worse when the attendant informed me that he would have to strap my entire body down to minimize my shaking. Also, I didn’t realize it at the time, but my head had begun to shake a slight “no” when I was stressed. Due to my constant state of disagreement, the attendant also had to place a plastic cage across my head and face. My first, and only, one-man portrayal of “The Man in the Plastic Mask” left me unable to speak to the attendant. This was especially difficult for me because I couldn’t yell at him when he decided that it would be soothing to play Bon Iver over my MRI headphones during the scan. I have nothing against the record, but when “Re: Stacks” plays while you contemplate having your own personal brain tumor, your life takes on an eerie resemblance to a Zach Braff movie. After about an hour of wondering how the plot of my now in motion indie movie would move forward (reluctantly visit my hometown, a road trip with a series of odd and/or wise characters, gathering all of my old friends to dance along to Motown songs while cooking, etc.) I was freed from my non-magnetic prison and sent home to wait for the results. Two weeks later I was informed that I did not have a tumor and was sent to see a neurologist.
Next to MRI’s and Walmart on payday, a neurologist’s waiting room is my least favorite place to be. The atmosphere is tense, fueled by the fear on everyone’s faces, thinly hid by smiles that don’t extend past the corners of their lips. Optimism is a mask everyone feigns as they wait for bad news. Everyone except the nurses. This is a Thursday for them; nothing more. After a twenty minute wait in the exam room, my doctor walks in with a look that says, “Why is this guy here? What kind of hypochondriac managed to get past the safeguards of MRI’s and piss jugs?” Still, she asks what I believe the problem is. I hesitate to say it out loud but I manage to mutter that I think I have Parkinson’s. She gives me the “uh huh, sure, buddy” look and tells me that it is nearly impossible due to my age and that it is most likely stress. She then proceeds to do a series of tests on my hand movements, walking and body stiffness. As the tests wear on she starts to look me in the eye less and write in her notes more. Eventually, after a test where she literally tries to pull me down from behind (an apt test for such a disease), she quietly breathes out and says “You have Early Onset Parkinson’s.”
After proving myself right, I had a brief flare of “I told ya so!” followed by an intense bout of “fuck.” The sort of “fuck” that rumbles through your legs and clears out your guts; leaving you in a new life. Your old life is, just that, old. It is no longer relevant what you wanted to do or be before. Everything is brought into flux as you consider your inevitable decay.
I don’t mean to be morose, but this is the reality of a Parkinson’s diagnosis. Your body is going to break down. It can take its sweet time if you’re lucky, but it will take things from you whenever it feels like. Only a year after my diagnosis I have had to increase my medications three times, I am relegated to a cane at the end of my days and now my right index finger likes to keep beat with the shaking of my left hand. I have had someone I was dating abruptly quit speaking to me when I could no longer hide my shaking hand under the table without it looking obscene. I have had to call nights early and sneak away back home because I knew my medicine was going to wear off and I would become Keyser Soze in reverse. Shifting from abled to limping. Dragging myself home. This disease will shape every decision I make for the rest of my life and it will not be an easy one, but, hey, at least it’s not a tumor.
To show it’s not all bad, here is a list of the benefits of Parkinson’s disease.
I don’t need the batteries in my electric toothbrush.
I am no longer asked to help people move. Especially boxes marked fragile.
The ability to rationalize Postmates deliveries from less than a mile away.
I finally have the proper props needed to re-enact the “guy with a cane” spoken word parts from Boyz II Men videos.
Any excessive online shopping can be blamed on compulsive behavior medication side-effects.
Any excessive behavior in general can be blamed on compulsive behavior medication side effects
ANY excessive behavior….
Weight loss is something my neurologist doesn’t want to see.