December 2022

Losing a Step

The moment it happened, I didn’t feel panic. No ominous music disturbed the calm of my afternoon walk, no menacing shadow fell across my path. No one whispered “run!’ urgently in my ear (Much good that would have done, with Parkinson’s, running is not my strong suit.)  The temperature did not drop. The birds continued to sing as if nothing happened. 

And that was the problem. Nothing happened when I attempted to skip, that carefree form of travel usually engaged in by small children. Skipping is as much an expression of joy as a means of getting from point A to point B. For the life of me I couldn’t do it. No pep in my step, No pop in my hop, Just weight on my gait.

I wasn’t that worried, I figured it was an off day, and that I would be able to skip the next day, or the day after. But to my chagrin, my skipping days appear to be over. I have not been able to skip since.  One day I was skipping fine, the next I was having a little difficulty, shortly afterward, I could not skip at all. I’ve tried many times since to squeeze out a skip, only to meet with humiliating failure.

What’s so bad about this? Does the world really need a 63-year-old man skipping along the river path? Isn’t it a little unseemly for a late middle-aged guy to be frisking around like a Spring lamb? Senior skip day isn’t meant for senior citizens. Why not just grow up and get along with walking, which is good enough for everybody else over five years of age? 

Here’s the thing. Skipping for me was not just an expression of joie de vivre, or even mainly that. It was part of my coping strategy for dealing with Parkinson’s. By altering my gait between walking, skipping, giant strides and walking backward, I was trying to retain my ability to walk, through the creation and maintenance of alternate pathways for processing movement in my brain. And you thought I was just being frivolous.

This was an unusual experience for me, an abrupt surfacing of the PD beast. Normally for me and many others, PD moves slowly, gradually, almost imperceptibly insinuating itself into our existence with a cat burglar’s stealth. But the loss of my skipping ability took only 3 short days.  Unlike the usual subtle approach, this was a direct message from Parkinson’s Disease that it was foreclosing one of my options. And with the message there was a menacing sub-text:

If I can take skipping from you today, what’s to prevent me from taking walking from you tomorrow? 

Well, it’s time to cue the ominous music, check out the shadow falling across my path, and find out what happened to the birds that were just singing. Somebody please urgently whisper “Run!” in my ear. 

Just don’t ask me to skip. 

I’ve lost a step to Parkinson’s. What will be the next thing to go?

by Peter Dunlap-Shohl
NW Parkinson’s Blogger