April 2023

I Feel It in My Bones

One minute I was up, confidently and in retrospect, arrogantly moving through a restaurant dining room. The next instant, for no discernible reason, I was flailing the air, looking wildly, desperately, for something to grab to prevent the sudden unfolding of a disaster. 

No luck, or rather, bad luck. 

My hands slid down a bare wall that offered little resistance, and my full 175 pounds fell on my left knee. There was an explosion of pain and profanity as I collapsed to the shiny tile floor and my kneecap gave way, breaking in two. 

The doctor repaired the break with a pair of screws through the bone, and along with the hardware in my wrist and my brain implant, I have taken another step toward cyborg-hood, part man, part metal. 

Thanks to Parkinson’s Disease, I now have broken my left arm, my left wrist, and my left knee. I am reasonably sure that, given my falling frequency, I have future broken bones in store. This is an old Parkinson’s story. Falling is all too common as balance degrades and “freezing” becomes more frequent. The question is how much farther down this path can I go? How many more plates and screws can be added before I am no longer myself but rather something or someone new and different? Someone who clanks as he walks.

I’m becoming the human incarnation of The Ship of Theseus, the paradox inspired by the Ancient Greek hero Theseus, slayer of the Minotaur. The paradox runs like this, according to Wikipedia:

 “The Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment about whether an object which has had all of its original components replaced remains the same object. According to legend, Theseus, the mythical Greek founder-king of Athens, rescued the children of Athens from King Minos after slaying the minotaur and then escaped onto a ship going to Delos. Each year, the Athenians commemorated this by taking the ship on a pilgrimage to Delos to honor Apollo. A question was raised by ancient philosophers: After several centuries of maintenance, if each individual part of the Ship of Theseus was replaced one at a time, was it still the same ship?”

And, with enough titanium replacement parts and enhancements will I remain the same me? Or will I become something or someone different? The fact is, I must become someone different. It’s time for a bit of maintenance on my attitude. I can’t go on risking falls when the consequences are so significant. It’s more pain, inconvenience, and expense than I am prepared to handle. It’s also unfair to my wife, who has to add shuttling around a helpless oaf to her caregiver duties. So, what can I change to avoid future falls? 

I must abandon my reluctance to use walking aids like trekking poles, walkers, or that ultimate sign of person in distress, a wheelchair. I need to redefine the use of these implements from signs of weakness to keys to freedom. Without a shift in attitude, this Ship of Theseus is going down with all hands. 

“It is the work of the creative to be a prosthetic imagination for the distracted and the dull”
–Maxwell Hubert Maxwell, playwright, butterfly collector, amateur surgeon and snob.

by Peter Dunlap-Shohl
NW Parkinson’s Blogger