Friday, October 28, 2011

Is it Parkinson's or is it klutziness?

The tremors came first for me, but my first neurologist thought it was Essential Tremor Disorder. Then, when I turned 60, came worse tremors and what seemed to me to be a new kind of fall. Here's where the riddle was, though. In Yiddish, we have a word klutz which more or less translates as a clumsy person. But the beauty of Yiddish is its names for people according to such characteristics.  The Yiddish--klutz, nebbish, schlamazel--says it all so colorfully that the Yiddish is absorbed into English and even non-Jews no longer need a definition of "she's a klutz."

I really know from klutz (Yiddishism).  I am convinced that the word was derived from observation of an ancient Hoffman ancestor back in Germany. So why should I think that falling over sideways while standing in the driveway would be cause for alarm? Or tripping over air? I would get defensive to hide my embarrassment: "And just how many great  female Ashkenazi Jewish athletes have there ever been? "

My new neurologist asked about falling, and I confessed that it happened too often. And it happened for no reason-- the sideways thud where my feet wouldn't untie themselves and nothing would balance me. In short, all the movement questions--and their painful answers--came down to four significant indicators of Parkinson's Disease in Primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease:

  • Bradykinesia – slowness in voluntary movement such as standing up, walking, and sitting down. This happens because of delayed transmission signals from the brain to the muscles.  This may lead to difficulty initiating walking, but when more severe can cause “freezing episodes” once walking has begun.
  • Tremors – often occur in the hands, fingers, forearms, foot, mouth, or chin. Typically, tremors take place when the limbs are at rest as opposed to when there is movement.
  • Rigidity – otherwise known as stiff muscles, often produce muscle pain that is increased during movement.
  • Poor balance – happens because of the loss of reflexes that help posture. This causes unsteady balance, which oftentimes leads to falls.

It's important here to remember that symptoms don't always manifest at the same time and are as unique as each individual.  As we explore memory loss, the movement disorders attack with a vengeance. Several things simply flew out of my hands during class on Tuesday.  Then I almost fell in the cafeteria when I lost my balance, and my feet wouldn't compensate. This was also the day I forgot my wallet, a problem compounding my forgetting to get gas the day before.  This  week I battled defeat.  No new tests have been performed yet, but I can't leave it all up to modern medicine. I am responsible for challenging mind and body. MaryAnn and I are studying Hebrew, I read that Pat Summitt is back coaching the Lady Vols, and I retired from teaching effective December 31st. I will stick my neck out and keep going.  

So many mountains to climb and things to see...
(courtesy Toni McLaughlin and Be, Soultone)

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