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A Non-Progressive Progression Update

Over my political career of the past 14 years, may it be said that the only thing progressive about me was Parkinson’s. Pardon my dark humor but a sense of the absurd is necessary to survive the day-to-day mundaneness of such a long-term progressive disorder. 

People who are unfamiliar with Parkinson’s Disease may think that individuals who suffer from this ailment are humorless due to their relatively unresponsive facial expressions or their lack of vocal volume. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Parkinson’s, being a movement disorder, impacts the facial muscles of the sufferer resulting in a masking effect. Given that dogs are notorious face readers, it makes me wonder about the adverse effect that facial masking has had on my relationship with my dachshund. He must know that I am laughing on the inside but maybe that explains his unsolicited growls.

I have always found the name of the disorder to be ironic. Why does Parkinson’s Disease carry the name of the doctor that “discovered” it rather than the patient who presented him with symptoms? 

The disorder was around long before Dr. James Parkinson first described it in his 1817 publication An Essay on the Shaking Palsy. The evangelist and physician Luke noted that Jesus healed a man “taken with a palsy” after the poor fellow’s friends lowered him through the roof of a crowded house where Jesus was teaching. So, we could call it Luke’s Disease though I would settle on never having to hear its name again. Nomenclature aside, Parkinson’s is a dopamine deficiency disorder. (As a neurotransmitter, dopamine controls movement along with a host of other brain functions. In Parkinson’s the cells that produce dopamine gradually die off.) 

Since my initial diagnosis at the age of 39, I have availed myself of the various drugs and treatments including undergoing deep brain stimulation surgery (DBS) in 2019. Early on I even tried dopamine-rich fava beans until a friend pointed out that Hannibal Lecter ate those with the liver of one of his victims in the film Silence of the Lambs. So much for the holistic medicine approach. 

DBS worked much better than the fava beans and almost eliminated the major motor function symptoms that I suffer from – slowness, cramping and rigidity. DBS also allowed me to drastically cut back on the amount of medication that I take. However, DBS does not stop the progression of Parkinson’s nor does it alleviate many non-motor function symptoms such as pain, fatigue, speech issues, low blood pressure, cognition issues, apathy, depression, etc. – symptoms that I have been able to mostly avoid in the 16 years since I was diagnosed. 

Parkinson’s disrupts life on a daily or even an hourly basis. It disorders movement which disorders time. Parkinson’s reduced to simple metaphysics . . . or maybe medical-physics.

Before I had DBS, I experienced “on-off” periods where the medication would stop working without warning. The unpredictability was unsettling to say the least. One moment I would be walking down a sidewalk and suddenly my ankle and foot would twist into a painful cramp that might release within the next sixty seconds . . . or sixty minutes. Now exponentially expand this example to include all the symptoms mentioned earlier and you will understand the individuality and complexity of Parkinson’s. 

In any event, it seems that my future walk with Parkinson’s will take me deeper into the dopamine nexus between the brain and the mind. I am very conscious that to prepare for such a journey requires me to make realistic choices about how much energy I possess to commit to my current responsibilities of family, business and politics.

So, it is with some reluctance that I announce my decision to not stand for re-election in 2022. Please know that my decision has not been entered into lightly but advisedly, reverently and after much consideration of the time and commitment that the citizenry of District 18 expects from their representative.