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You can't do that!... Can you?

Friday December 19, 2014

The phrase “You can’t take it with you” is usually Illustration PDS 121514used to mock those who care too much about money. But why single out money, when it’s only one of a long list of things you give up when you festinate off this mortal coil. Wealth is probably one of the things we will miss the least. As the song says, “In heaven there is no beer. That’s why we drink it here.”

Whether you believe we go on to a higher plane with better friends above, or silently moulder in the ground, the afterlife will be significantly different from the present one. It’s as if there is Cosmic TSA, and when you finally make it to the front of the endless line for the metal detector, they take your bags and throw them away without even searching them. Good-bye laptop, hello harp and halo.

What does this mean for those of us who have Parkinson’s Disease? Like anyone else we have to make the most of the joys of life here below. Right now, while we can. This is not easy. Parkinson’s is a subtle thief, a master of the con game. It can and will intimidate, cajole, and deceive patients to make them give up what they love prematurely.

How does this happen? Often we take the word of authorities. Linda Ronstadt famously proclaimed “No one can sing with Parkinson's disease, no matter how hard you try.” Hold it. No one? Hmmmm...  Ronstadt probably has an entirely different standard of what singing is than the rest of us. It must be wretched for her to have difficulty with pitch, volume and tone when she could produce such glorious musical warmth before. This is one more reason to hate PD. But few of us are ever able to sing like that. Should we sit quietly in a corner?  Nope. The longer you try to sing, the longer you will be able to sing. And much of your ability to make a joyful noise can be restored and prolonged by speech therapy. There are people out there who have become better singers since diagnosis because they work at it.

It was common knowledge among neurologists that people with Parkinson’s, their balance and motor skills compromised, could not ride bicycles. Then video emerged out of Scandinavia of a man with advanced PD mounted confidently on his bike, peddling up and down the street, then dismounting with a delightful hop. And what would they make of Doug Bahniuk, a man with PD, who rode his bicycle solo from Alaska’s North Slope all the way to Anchorage, over 800 miles to the South? Oops. Time to revise that opinion.

There are those like Ronstadt who refuse to produce anything they perceive as compromised by their disease, less than perfect. We needn’t be cruel and demand they confront the diminution of former greatness. But there is more than one quality to measure here. Isn’t spending your days lying low, lingering for next flight to The Great Beyond also a lowered standard? Is that really your limit, or merely the limit someone else thinks appropriate for you? The only way to know is for you to test it. (Within reason. Injuring yourself is counterproductive, and clearly makes it tougher to enjoy life.)

Yes, we must render unto Parkinson’s the things that belong to Parkinson’s. But not a minute sooner than we are forced to. You can’t take them with you. Why would you give them up an instant before you must?

Peter Dunlap-ShohlPeter Dunlap-Shohl
NWPF Blogger

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