Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Our Local Support Group for Women With PD & YOPD

WOMEN WITH PARKINSON’S DISEASE AND YOUNG ONSET PARKINSON’S DISEASE 

There is a monthly support group for women of all ages and all towns with Parkinson’s disease. 

We made the first Saturday of every month at the Natick Community Center from 10:30 AM till noon.

117 E Central St, Natick, MA 01760

We are not affiliated with any organization and there is no fee to attend.

There’s ample parking and the building is accessible.

The group is open only to women with Parkinson’s disease. We ask that partners and companions wait in the lobby.

For more information contact 
Cindy or Liz on the contact form on the right.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Humpty Dumpty Syndrome in Parkinson’s Disease


Most all patients with Parkinson’s disease will develop Humpty-Dumpty syndrome. It is a syndrome we get from our doctors. Our doctors get it from our health care system. It may be a silly name, but it’s a serious condition.

In Humpty-Dumpty syndrome, pieces of our disease symptoms are referred out, but rarely is there anyone putting all the pieces back together again.

Those of us with Parkinson's disease know how many medical problems come with the disease.

There are the obvious ones, like tremor, rigidity, slow movement and postural instability.

There are problems with functions that should happen automatically, but don’t, like: blinking, smelling, vision, swallowing, digesting, eliminating, sleeping, walking, and balancing, to name a few.

There are problems that come from side effects/interaction of medications we take fo treat these symptoms. Often the side efffects are the same as the symptoms they treat, like: nausea, tremor, shaking, muscle spasm, loss of coordination, dizziness, confusion, hallucinations, excessive sweating  extreme changes in blood pressure, increased heart rate, serotonin syndrome, which in severe cases can cause coma or death.

When you have this many problems, you see a whole lot of specialists. Like Humpty Dumpty, we get broken into pieces, each sent out to a different specialist for diagnosis and treatment. At least all the kings horses and all the kings men tried to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. Rarely is there a health care provider taking responsibility for putting us back together again. 

The job of putting us back to together again usually rests on our shoulders. Most of us are not qualified for the job. We may not be trained in medicine. If our specialists don't talk to each other, we try to pass the messages along for them. We make very poor messengers, having problems with memory, cognition and communication.

The only antidote I know of to Humpty-Dumpty syndrome is to practice relentless self advocacy — first in finding a doctor who will oversee your care, who will work together with you as a team and who responds quickly to your calls when you are trying to put your pieces back together. Secondly, to keep looking for answers and solutions. When you hit a dead end, back up and take another pathway. Lastly and most importantly,  talk to other patients, because until there’s a cure, there’s a community.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Perks of Parkinson’s

Perks of Parkinson’s!!!
When your granddaughter goes to school dressed as a 100 year old to celebrate the 100th day of school, she nails it!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Rookie Mistakes: Seeing General Neurologist for your Parkinson’s Care


I have heard newly diagnosed patients give these reasons for seeing a General Neurologist instead of a Movement Disorder Specialist:

"I'll wait until I'm worse before going to a Movement Disorder Specialist."
I hate to burst your denial bubble, but you already have full fledged Parkinson's disease. You may think you are just dipping your toes in the PD waters, but your whole body has been fully immersed those waters long before you were diagnosed. You don't have Parkinson's Disease Lite. They don't make it.

You'll probably get to "worse" faster if you are seeing a General Neurologist. Studies show that patients who see a GN fare worse than those seeing a MDS.

PD doctors follow you over time. A long time. Perhaps 20-30 years or more. Each doctor has a different feel for interpreting your progression, even though they may all use the same measurement scales. There is a learning curve that takes some time when doctors see a new Parkinson's patient. They have to get to know about your life, your lifestyle, what happens when you are under medicated/over medicated. They learn how you respond to various meds, drug interactions and how your other health problems fit in the mix.

There is no way to transfer this knowledge to another doctor. The next doctor has to ramp up their understanding of you from scratch and they will never know what you were like when you were first diagnosed. Their goals for you might be set relative to other patients diagnosed when you were, rather than against your full potential.

A common time to want to change doctors is mid-stage PD, when your meds don't seem to work as well and your doctor seems slow to make changes in your meds to get you back on track. You see other patients doing better than you and you start asking around for who they see. You book an appointment with their doctor who may have a different approach.

Mistake. I've made this one. I saw the same MDS for 12 years, and then made a change. My new MDS didn't know me from the get go. He didn't know how far I'd slid and what my potential should be. He compared me to how I was doing against other patients who'd had PD as long as I had. Given that I was doing better than most, he was satisfied with where I was at.

I was not okay with that. I don't care at all how I'm doing compared to other patients. My goal is not to get worse more slowly or even to be better than I was. My goal is to get better than I am. I went through a year of hell, being underestimated and under-medicated. It was a mistake to change doctors mid-way.

I did share with my doctor that I was going for a second opinion and he was okay with that. He was curious to know what the second opinion doctor said. I didn't discuss that with my doctor.  I felt like I had to sneak out of his practice, politely and just sent him a note saying I was making this change. I wish I had stayed with my doctor and discussed second opinion doctor's opinion with him. After a year, I was back seeing my first doctor.

If you plan to hold off on seeing a MDS until you are worse, you will be short changing yourself of the value of having one doctor see you from the start.

While on the topic, think twice about starting with a MDS likely to retire during the next ten years or so. You will set yourself up to be changing doctors midway and will have to find a new doctor whose practice is open at the same time as all the other patients in the retiring MDS's practice.

"The MDS is too far away."
Make the drive. Ride the train. Fly the plane. Most of us only see our Movement Disorder Specialist in person twice a year. Four times max. Most contact happens by phone or email and increasingly patients are seeing their Movement Disorder Specialist by video.

"The GN tells them he/she takes care of lot of Parkinson's disease and knows all about PD."

No matter how many patients your GN sees, your Movement Disorder Specialist sees more.

No matter how much GN knows, your Movement Disorder Specialist knows more. GN see patients with at least 100 neurological disorders. A MDS focuses primarily on PD, and movement disorders such as dystonia and tremors. You are much less likely to be misdiagnosed by a MDS than a GN.

MDS have completed a Fellowship in Movement Disorders, an extra 2 years of training after medical specifically in Movement Disorders.

GN do not see patients in the resource rich centers offering patients a team of PD health care professionals that is offered by MDS in one of 48 medical centers around the world, including 34 in the United States" designated as "Centers of Excellence" by the Parkinson's Foundation. A lot of research trials take place at these centers, and doctors are more involved in trials and their patients more likely to be referred into trials.

MDS know better than GN how medications really work. Drugs work differently in patients than they do in clinical trials. In trials medications are looked at separately. In real life patients take many different drugs. When new drugs are approved, it is the doctors who are seeing the most patients that have a more accurate guess about who the new drug will help. New drugs are usually insanely expensive and your MDS is more apt to make the case for your insurer to cover the drug.


When you have PD, you will have urgent questions for your PD doctor. MDS and their clinics are set up to have MDS on call for you 24/7. MDS understand the urgency of patient calls.

It is more important than ever for this generation of patients see a MDS. We are in uncharted water. There has never been as many of us diagnosed young and living longer with advancing PD. We are taking an unprecedented number of different drugs for an unprecedented number of years. Our doctors are learning from us.

There is a new bimodal shift in patient gender. In older people, more men are diagnosed with PD than women. In younger people, more women are diagnosed with PD than men. Women are typically diagnosed a few years later than men. At the time of diagnosis, they have more residual dopamine in their brains. Women tend to have tremor predominant PD, which has a slower progression and yet women do not fare any better than men and possibly worse. Why? Perhaps because women are 25% less likely to see a MDS than men.

No one understands Parkinson's disease. There are no standard protocols for treating Parkinson's disease. Every doctor is guessing. You want to see the best guesser possible. Choose a Movement Disorder Specialist.



Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Don't Buy the Lie: No One Knows How You Will Do



Relentless self-advocacy
Is the key to our survival.
Keep fighting Parkinson’s disease,
our greatest enemy and rival.

Don’t ever let anyone
stand in your way.
Don’t give up fighting
because of what experts say.

People with Parkinson’s need to be wary
of popular opinions masquerading as facts.
Many can undermine your efforts
to turn your disease progression back.

Our goal is to get better,
not just stop disease progression.
IMHO, any doctor who shoots for less
should exit the profession.

To the doctors who tell their patients
Parkinson’s disease does not cause pain
I say, “Tape your left arm to your side and in
6 months let’s meet and talk again..”

Incurable neurodegenerative disease?
PD’s most enduring “fact.”
Don’t buy the lie.
They might soon take it back.

Every cured disease
was once an incurable one.
Scientists are working on PD.
Their work is just not yet done.

Personally, I am certain
exercise is the way
we can improve our function
if we work out every day.

I have friends and family who tell me
they have the same aches and pains I do.
They don’t. I know the difference.
Because I am aging, too.

Depression is a part of the disease.
Depression is not a lack of gratitude.
Any “know-it-all” who tells you you this
is ignorant, insensitive and rude.

So, don’t take to heart
what you’re told is a fact.
Nothing about Parkinson’s
is that white or black.

To all of you with PD,
 those far and those near:
This poem is my way of wishing you
a happy and healthier New Year.


 Cindy Beth Bittker

Monday, January 13, 2020

Plate Spinners: Managing Parkinson’s disease


Managing life with Parkinson's disease is a lot like being the plate spinner at the circus.

Each plate represents the big stuff you HAVE TO DO in your life: kids, work, get food, doctor’s appointments, keep up with meds, exercise.

 By mid stage disease, you have quite a few more plates: seeing multiple specialist doctors, mayhem from multiple medications, making modifications in your work, managing more prominent symptoms, working on relationships as the disease changes who you are somewhat and your relationships to other people, etc. 

You are getting tired of keeping the plates spinning from the earlier phase and now you must keep even more plates spinning!

It’s wearing you down. You recognize you’ve got to get rid of some of those plates or get some help keeping your act going.

 As long as you can keep all your plates spinning, you can do pretty well. But you know that if one of those plates starts to wobble the others will follow and eventually they’re all going to crash. When they crash and smash, you must pick up the pieces and try to reassemble them as best you can. You place them back on their poles and start them spinning again.

But they are now more challenging to keep spinning as they are less stable. It’s a huge burden and requires an incredible amount of discipline to keep spinning your plates. We have to remember that not everyone has help spinning their plates.

A lot of us do not have a spouse, partner or caregiver. We have to spin all of our plates by ourselves. It’s very difficult and more risky to have to depend on a body that is not dependable to keep those our plates spinning. Our plates are more likely to crash sooner and more frequently.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

PD As A Rubik’s Cube: Visualization of life and PD



Imagine that Parkinson's Disease is a Rubik’s cube. Every side of every cube represents a different variable associated with your life and your disease. Moving one cube (making one change in any variable in your life or disease)  effects every other cube (all other parts of your disease and your life.)

Variables might include such things as: the
medications you take, the side effects you experience, non-motor symptoms, how much you exercise, your financial well-being, your worries, your outlook on your life, your support system, your stage of life, responsibilities, mood, how much you sleep, how long you’ve had the disease, your gender, the doctor that you see, other  health conditions, life history, genetics, your temperament, your work, your relationships, your role in the community, and even the food in your refrigerator.

This visual analogy makes it easy to see the complexity of Parkinson's Disease. Doctors may look at symptoms and side effects as something separate from our lives. But the patient reality is that every aspect of the disease impacts every aspect of our lives and vice versa. They can’t be separated. It’s not how patients experience them. It’s just not reality.


Thursday, January 2, 2020

No Humor In This Post - An unedited late night rant about genetics


This is a late night, mostly unedited rant about generic Sinemet and 12 years being in the wrong one.


There’s really nothing humorous I can say about this post. I’m really pissed off and I’m rather shocked.

In medicine an unexpected finding is called an “incidental finding”. In casually researching Parkinson’s disease, which means glancing through the various Facebook groups I belong to, reading up on various sources and feeds, occasionally come across an “incidental finding” also. I ran into one today, on the heels of becoming aware, or rather re-aware, of something I heard on a podcast. It pisses me off more than I can express, that this basic piece of knowledge, which could’ve changed my quality-of-life for the last 14 years, was just not addressed.

As I have written about, the worst of my Parkinson’s is medication fluctuations. Wearing on and off. When our meds are working, we can move but as the disease goes on our meds don’t work anymore. They are either too high or too low. When they are too high we thrash about and cannot stop moving or control movement. When they’re too low we are frozen and it is very difficult to move. Our bodies become rigid and mine twists and rotates to one side.

Everything I do in my life has to be framed within these 2 1/2 hour cycles. Until four months ago, I had 45 minutes out of each 2 1/2 hour cycle where I completely couldn’t function.

These cycles contributed to panic attacks whenever I had to be out in public during my 45 minute off time and had to walk in front of people. It restricted my life. I became despondent and depressed to think that this is gonna be my life every day, only most likely, over time, worse. At times I felt like I was just getting through a day just to get through a day just to get through another day.

 When you have so much off time, and on time is so limited, there’s not much you can plan to do. It’s hard to be with people for a long time and it’s hard to nail the hour and a half when you’re actually closer to normal.

When medicines ware off, faces become expressionless, voices become expressionless and people react to you as though you are as emotionless and stonefaced and depressed as you look. The more people reacted that way the more you kind of become that way. You look around the world and you see a bunch of exuberant faces and people who can maintain their moods for more than an hour and a half. And you can’t. And it’s not mind over matter.

This is more than fits in a post but gives you an idea of why am so pissed off.

In a podcast link below, the title being “When Life Gives You Parkinson’s”, I listened to an episode on the shortage of Sinemet in the world. Within the podcast was a brief interview with  a
Patient who explained why the variation in different manufacturers of generic Sinemet is so impactful  for treating Parkinson’s disease. Taking one generic over another may not matter in some illnesses, but it matters a lot and Parkinson’s do to the nature of the disease.

https://open.spotify.com/episode/6Q2MExzHN67xQ6CZTGvDBA?si=1iZ4qWNOTIiOEoGDLLr84g


For the last 14 years plus and I have been taking Sinemet I have asked for a specified generic, “sun pharmaceuticals.” “it is an oval shaped pill and I could swallow it better than the typical round ones. Countless times the pharmacy has made a mistake and given me the round pills by various generic manufacturers. I sent them back each time.

After listening to the podcast my mindset had changed and when CVS, once again, gave me the wrong generic, I did not give it back. I used it. And I was shocked that my ofttimes were significantly better. Where as before, I was off for about 45 minutes of every 2 1/2 hours. (I take meds every 2 1/2 hours.)

For some reason I was actually stretching near my next dosage. Sometimes I didn’t wear off at all. It was such a significant difference that I started to You’re out what was causing the change. I thought maybe it was my training, maybe it was receiving care from an aid and the reduction of stress from that, and maybe it was from a change I had made in the mirtazapine I take, Which has resulted in my being better able to sleep.

This change may some ramifications in my eligibility for the clinical trial I think I’m starting. Because At the time I was referred, I was on the oval shaped generic where I had a lot of off times. And since that time I have had far less off periods and the trial requires and I have 2 1/2 hours of us. Per day.

I was reading a post on “StrongHER Women“ a private Facebook group for women with Parkinson’s. A patient posted about being switched to Sun Pharma brand  generic Sinemet and was experiencing more off times. She wondered if it was possible that was due to the generic. I was blown away because it’s confirmed my experience that I had a lot more often times on that generic.

I’m pissed off  that all these years that I’ve been struggling with off times, why was it not suggested to me that I try another generic. In fact why aren’t  all patients advised to try a different generic from time to time just to see if they do better. There’s no hesitation to offer deep brain stimulation surgery. or add  layers of new medications. Why don’t doctors from time to time  try patients on a different generics?


This is a huge reminder to everyone with Parkinson’s that your story, your questions, matters to all of us. It may save some of our lives and that’s not an exaggeration. We are winging this disease. No one knows what causes it. No one knows how to treat it. And no one has ever had any experience with our generation. patients, diagnosed young, whose disease is advancing, and who are still relatively young. who have taken an Unprecedented number of different drugs for an unprecedented number of years as we have.

I wanna make a note of this because the “incidental information“ I found, is not the kind of information that’s gonna be repeated through various Facebook groups and news channels. This is one woman’s experience who happen to post about it. And I happened to read it. And it may happen to change some lives.

We have to learn from each other. We have to share of the itty-bitty’s of our life. We have to ask the questions.The information I get from one patient is far more life-changing than 10 multi billion dollar studies of Parkinson’s medications.

To all of you who post and share and ask, thank you. You are lifesavers. To those of you that don’t, please start. Please know that everything you contribute and everything you share, could make a difference in someone’s life.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Just Sayin': What would a ‘normal person do if this happened to them?

Parkinson’s patients live every day with a lot of symptoms. I think if they happened to a normal person, they would be in the ER. Like.....What if you went to Trader Joes, got a cart in the parking lot to use for stability and went shopping? Your'e cruising the aisles, picking up items and making tough decisions. 

You bend down to get meringue cookies from the bottom shelf and get so light-headed, you think you might pass out. There are no chairs at TJ's, FYI, except for the toilet. You make a beeline to the restroom, where regroup, and go back to the aisle with the meringue cookies. (just sayin'.) 

Last but not least, you hit the frozen food aisle. You try to pick up a box of frozen bake at home chocolate croissants (just sayin'), and you can't make your hand grab it. You feel like that machine at the circus with the claws you operate to pick up the toy, but they don’t do what you think you are making them do, and mostly you lose your money and don't get the toy.

You are starting to have really bad back pain and you can't stand straight up. You are bent over on your right side. Your torso starts rotating, too. You look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. You now have Pisa Syndrome. (It's real. I didn't make that up.) It's hard to walk like this - try it. (and just for funzies, duct tape your left arm to your left side, so it won't swing.)

Pushing your cart up aisle toward the check out area, you try to take a step and your legs won't pull your feet off the floor. Your hip flexors (or whatever holds you hip in place), won't lift up your legs. Nothing will recruit the muscles needed to take a step. 

So you lean into your cart and press go. You're walking like a toddler just learning to walk. On your tippy toes, taking tiny little steps - but fast -- and forwards. You have no steering and you have no brakes. You're picking up speed, and head toward the checkout lane in front of you. You have no choice. You can't turn your body.

Like a newbie walking toddler, who stops their Frankenstein walk, arms outstretched, by running into a wall, you push your cart, arms outstretched, and hit the checkout stand. Crashing into the end of the check out counter, you drape your body over your basket while you try to recover your balance. 

While you are trying to lift yourself off the cart but before you are fully upright and balanced, the cashier takes the cart out from under you to his side to ring you up. Sans shopping cart, you shelf-surf around the end cap filled with must-have items, like Sour Jelly Belly’s (just sayin’). You reach for your box(es) of Sour JB’s, make a minor miscalculation in the distance from your arm to said JB‘s and take out the entire display. 

Making a feeble attempt to pick them up, customers from 360 degrees around you who had been trying to determine if you were drunk or having a heart attack, dive in to pick them up for you. 

Your feel a panic attack coming as you realize you are not flying under the Parkinson’s radar anymore. The jig is up. Your mind drifts into the future. Like Ebaneezer Scrooge, you see the ghost of Parkinson’s disease future. "If this is what it's like now, how am I going to handle this when I get worse?"

Your thoughts are brought back to the here and now when you feel a vibration on your rear end. It's your cell phone. You keep it in your pocket so you can't miss your medication reminder. (Also because you keep an emergency dose of medication taped to the back of your phone in case your purse ever got stolen.)

You are so relieved. It's your meds that have worn off. Now it all makes sense. It's the usual. You laugh at yourself that you were so wrapped up rationalizing your decision to buy both the meringues AND the frozen, bake at home chocolate croissants, that you forgot your plan to take your meds 15 minutes early so you wouldn't wear off while shopping at Trader Joe's. 

While leaning on onto the edge of the cashier's counter for stability, you get an early start on sliding your credit card out of your wallet, before prime time, when the cashier asks you to slide your credit card in the slot. Under that kind of pressure, your fingers develop stage fright, operating like the claw-toy-pick-up-frustrating-money-wasting-machine-at -the-circus, as you feel the impatience and irritation of the lengthy line of shoppers behind you.

You know the drill. Don’t make eye contact. You’re almost at the finish line, you tell yourself as you plan your best exit strategy out to your car. Car is your home away from home where you can sit, wait the half hour for your meds to kick in. And eat those meringues. 
What would you do if this happened to you at Trader Joe’s? 
Most healthy people would be in an ambulance en route to their closest ER, leaving behind a shopping cart with defrosted, mushy bake at home chocolate croissants.

For those of us with advancing Parkinson’s disease, this cycle repeats every 3 hours, every day, year after year, until things get worse. Sounds awful and frustrating, but for people with Parkinson’s, this is a good day and a successful mission. We are grateful for the hours our meds are working, knowing we are destined to lose even this, unless there is a cure or life long treatments.

Friday, December 6, 2019

PD SUCKS, But Life Doesn’t


My friend, Derek, was my BPDF (Best PD Friend). I thought he would be my BPDFF.  We met in a support group in 2006, a year after we were both diagnosed. Our symptoms, progression, response to medications was always in synch. We supported each other step by step for 12 years. Derek died unexpectedly 6 months ago of “complications of PD,” that being an inability to bring up his BP during a cardiac problem due to PD meds. Doctors tell us we don’t die from PD. We die with PD. I’m not sure that distinction much matters. None of us can predict our future. Worry is not preparation.  Derek smiled all the time. We’d joke that his facial expression just froze that way. Make sure you love and laugh every day! This picture reminds me that PD SUCKS, but LIFE DOESN’T.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Call Me Unreliable: People with Parkinson’s disease are always late


Before I was diagnosed with Parkinson's I was punctual, if not early for every appointment or event. I didn't even know how to be fashionably late.

Having always been a bit of a spacecase, It wasn’t unusual for me to be a whole day early and on occasion, a whole week. But still on time. Wrong day. Right time.

Over the past 8 years or so of the 15 years I have knowingly been living with Parkinson's, my on-time performance has slid from being unreliable (often late), to being reliably late all the time. I am getting later and later by the day.

Some of it is due to medication fluctuations. A lot of it is due to being distracted. I am like a three-year-old who knows, step-by-step the tasks that need to be done to get ready to leave the house, but like a three year old, I get distracted by something that catches my attention, and although I know the clock is running, I suspend time in my mind.

For those of you that are over three years old and do not have Parkinson's, you can relate this example: When you are at your computer, and you are waiting for a page to load, and that that little swirling circle keeps going round and round, doesn’t it feel like that time is off the clock while you wait the page to load?

It’s kind of like that, but worse.

Parkinson's gives us lots of reasons to be late:

Moving too fast and uncontrolled with dyskinesia, makes us late because we drop a lot of things, lose a lot of things, smash into a lot of things, and forget a lot of things.

Moving very slowly, if at all, when meds are low, we get very little done. Rushing us causes a stress reaction that makes us freeze. We get stuck. Another time out.

If we get it all done, it takes us forever to walk to the car or get to our destination.

Of course there is always the last trip to the bathroom. Until the next last trip to the bathroom.

People are becoming increasingly frustrated with me.

But today I realised I am becoming increasingly frustrated with people. A lot of people. All the people who send me text messages.

Today I ran a tally of the time it takes for me to respond to text messages. People with Parkinson’s are on a different time clock than normal people.

From most people, who sent me a text, it takes about 10 seconds and they do this while simultaneously doing something else.

It takes me 3-5 minutes to respond to that text. I have to stop what I'm doing. I can't multitask. I have to find a comfortable place to sit. I have to prop my elbow up so I'm not bending  my neck way over while I text.

If I type with my fingers in my tiny little iPhone section, it takes me quite a while to type one line of text. I seem to be pressing the key to the left of the one I want.

I have to drink some water so my voice is not too scratchy for my voice recognition app to work. Sometimes those apps are even more time consuming because they make more mistakes than typing.

I have to reread and edit before I hit send. I have so often sent such erroneous text messages, because my PD fingers hit send send button before im ready, that I mostly now write my text in notepad first. A short text takes me a good 3 to 4 minutes.  I have to add another minute for getting out of the chair and remembering what it was I was doing.

Then I get started, another text! Repeat cycle.

This morning between the hours of 9 AM and 3 PM I had lost an hour and 3/4.

No wonder I get behind so much every day and no wonder I’m late all the time.

I’m done texting. I could use that time for course stabilization exercises. Hydrating. Taking a shower. Calling a friend. Knocking something off my to do list.

I can’t really control any of that, but I can control the time I spent texting.

So, please be on notice that if you need me, call me or email me. If you text I’ll respond later, usually in the evening when I’m wiped out and sitting down for awhile.

In the event of an emergency, call 911.

cindybittker@gmail.com

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Billy Crystal Method of Staging Parkinson’s Disease



The Billy Crystal “You Look Mahvelous” Method of Staging Progression of Parkinson’s Disease Stages.

I was being driven in an Uber today en route to my most frequent destination lately, Mass General Hospital. I was with my new aide, Juliet. He owns a home care agency and knew Juliet. They were talking shop and unsolicited, he said the he figured I had either PD or MS. AND he added a later stage of MS. Thank you, Mr. Uber Driver. (There goes your 5-star rating.)

But I still tipped him, because he’s in good company these days. No one tells me I look great anymore. Or that they would never know I have PD. If I’m not dyskenetic, however, they think I’m doing better. They see the excess movement and the wriggling as being worse, and the lack of motion as doing better.

I started thinking about how observers who know neither us or about Parkinson’s disease nonetheless put us into a stage of the disease based on how we look, and devised a new method of staging Parkinson’s disease.
I’m calling it The Billy Crystal “You Look  Mahvelous  Method of Staging Progression of Parkinson’s Disease Stages.

Stage 1: “You Look Like Hell.”
Shortly before and after diagnosis.

Stage 2: “You Look  Mahvelous”
After optimized on medication.

Stage 3: “You Don’t Look So Good”
The doo-doo starts to hit the fan as meds are starting to fizzle, and the transition from person with PD to patient with PD begins.

Stage 4: “You Look  Mahvelous”
This might look like a repeat of Stage 1. It is not!
At this stage,  when someone tells you, “You look marvelous,”  you smack them upside the face.They think this comes easy. They think you have PD-Lite. They don’t get that  you look like this because you are are working your ass off. That’s the difference!

Stage 5: Ain’t nobody sayin’ nothing ever, about how you look.
Dyskenesia’s are not well received by the public. At this stage you don’t care anymore about how you look to others. Your work is to BE MAHVELOUS!!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Talking to Bellybuttons: Being self conscious out in public


Sign language for "Love"

I am writing this post to honor the memory of my sister, Terry Bittker, who throughout her life advocated on behalf of people with disabilities.

My sister had disabilities that were hard to put neatly into one diagnostic category. She had some health problems from birth, some she acquired along the way, and some were long standing but unrecognized.

Terry's constellation of problems didn't have a diagnosis, didn't fit into an identifiable group, didn't have a name. She wasn't like anyone else. Terry understood the difficulty of living with advancing Parkinson's Disease in a world where very few people understand what that means, more than anyone I know who doesn't have the disease themselves.

Terry's medical and health problems were not the greatest challenge in her life. They should have been, but they were not.
Her biggest challenge was finding a place she fit in, finding people like her. She wasn't completely normal, and she wasn't completely abnormal, something I now identify with as my disease advances.


Terry with her dog nephew Jasper.

Over the past few years she had mobility impairments that kept her housebound, for the most part.  She used an electric scooter to go out. The physical world if full of barriers when you can't stand up, walk, or go up a stair. It's nearly impossible to negotiate someone else's house. If you could enter, very rarely is there a home bathroom that can accommodate the needs of a disabled person. I have similar limitations from PD. Unlike Terry, I can still maneuver through a home, but can be uncomfortable, embarrassing, fatiguing, and sometimes unsafe.

We are/were loved by lots of people, but when you are homebound, single and live on your own, it can be a very lonely life. Nothing takes away your quality of life more than loneliness.

Terry longed for ways to reengage her life, to socialize more, to go out more, to  be with friends more. I have been more homebound and more lonely over the years, but because I have Parkinson's Disease, I am part of a community. I have support groups. The symptoms of PD are massive, diverse and affect every part of my mind and body, but they are all contained in one named diseased, shared by one million people in the United States alone. Parkinson's Disease has expanded my connections to others. I am not alone in my disease. Terry was.

Terry had a stubborn determination which served her well. She overcame developmental and educational obstacles. No one caught that she was hearing impaired unit the 4th grade. She missed 2/3 of every sound, word, conversation and lesson in her life. My sister graduated from Gallaudet College. She received her Master's Degree in Social Work from the University of Maryland, acquiring the skill set she needed to help disabled people get the accommodations they are entitled to by law, and to get them at no cost.

Still, those accomplishments often did not give her the acceptance and inclusion she deserved. The world can be very unkind to people they don't understand. There are people who don't even try to understand someone different from themselves or someone they cannot put into a category they already know.

Many are impatient, frustrated, and even angry when such folks get in their way or interfere in the pace of their day. Some reject, ridicule or feel repulsed. Many with great compassion and the kindest of intentions, give a smile. But it's not a peer-driven, "Hey, how ya doin" while you're passing by kind of smile. It's a smile that comes from pity.

From those who gave her automatic disapproval and withdrew to those who gave her unconditional approval and attached, my sister was often not seen for who she was. And that's their loss.

The people who saw Terry for who she was, developed lifelong friendships. Terry had the longest and strongest friendships of anyone I've ever known.

Growing up, we didn't know there was anything wrong with Terry. We wanted her to do what we, her two older sisters, did. Often she couldn't and we would be frustrated. We didn't always defend her or protect her from others who would humiliate her, belittle her or shame her.

As a young adult I could be impatient with her. She was time consuming. She often did not get top priority in my life-listening-time. I didn't always appreciate the significance of her accomplishments.

My sister holding her great nephew

As a new mother, I didn't trust anyone to hold my babies or care for my kids, but trusted some others more than Terry. She knew the score, and for the past 36 years, at least once a month, I heard about it!

It wasn't that Terry carried a grudge. It's that she knew right from wrong. Terry had boundaries. Limits. When you crossed her boundary, you knew about it. Our family used to say "Terry tells it like it is," when she would blurt out what everyone was thinking but no one was saying.

To "Tell it like it is" you have to "See it like it is." Terry developed a keen eye for discrimination, intolerance and unfairness. She also developed thick skin, was tough, and didn't hesitate to speak her mind. She would call anyone out when they were not doing right by the disabled.

Parkinson's disease is not a disease for the self conscious. My sister was not self conscious. She demanded to be recognized with dignity. I remain self conscious, often trying to hide the indignities of my disease.

I no longer feel comfortable in groups of normal people. I have panic attacks when my movement freezes up and I have to walk in front of people I don't know. I only feel comfortable with other people/ patients With Parkinsons, with family and close friends.

Terry's last birthday at 60.

Terry understood what it's like to walk into a store and have everyone look at you, wondering what is wrong with you. She understood what it's like to have people avoid you, like when I am breathless, dyskinetic, thrashing about, walking like a drunk person with words spilling out of my mouth faster than the thoughts they represent. I can't do what I used to be able to do. I over promise and under deliver. I'm not who I was, in many ways.

It embarrasses me that often, I have to sit and cannot stand. I avoid parties and group meetings where there is a cocktail hour and people stand, mulling about the room.

I absolutely hate when I am sitting down and someone comes over to talk to me and STANDS in front of me. They don't know that I am unable to lift my head to look far up enough to see their face.

Thus, I get stuck talking to bellybuttons.

I wish everybody would sit down whenever they talk to a person who is sitting down because they are unable to stand. No one wants to talk to bellybuttons.

When talking to a bellybutton, I should speak up. Terry would.

She would not have made whispered requests, like I do - embarrassed, apologetic, as though I'm asking for a favor.

She would have said it like it is. "I do not want to talk to your belly button. If you want to talk to me, sit down!"

You would have gotten that right, sister! And now, I will too.