Editor’s note: This is The Dopamine Chronicles No. 2. Click here to read No. 1.
There’s a game we play with ourselves concerning health matters. If someone we love exhibits symptoms of a chronic or life-threatening illness, we are quick to insist that they see a medical professional at the earliest possible convenience. However, many of us, exhibiting those same signs of trouble, often take the same route of denial I opted for.
In the days and weeks and months that followed the viewing of the reunion video, I resumed the tedious business of living and lying, and I learned creative methods to disguise the odd bouts of quivering in my arm and hand. Shaking and quaking, I would come to call it. As a single parent of a teenaged son who depended upon me, I wasn’t about to go out of my way to expose the fact that some unknown force was slowly taking control of my body, unnecessarily compromising my ability to provide for him. After all, it was probably nothing serious, I convinced myself; nothing worth fretting about. For a time, I considered the possibility that the issue might be simple anxiety. Maybe I just needed to relax.
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Living a life with my head buried in sand didn’t work for me for very long. My natural curiosities eventually lead me to begin privately researching the medical possibilities. My local public library became my most valuable diagnostic tool. For several weeks I unearthed my head from the sand and buried it in medical journals and neurological studies. Ultimately, Michael J. Fox’s memoir, “Lucky Man”, proved to be the most valuable resource. His detailed descriptions of the symptoms he experienced in the early days of his Parkinson’s journey closely paralleled my own, and helped direct my further research on the topic.
The most surprising thing I learned about Parkinson’s disease is that there is no diagnostic test for it. Well, let me correct that. There is one rather impractical test; it’s called an autopsy. I wasn’t very interested in pursuing that option.
Years passed. The tremors persisted. No one seemed the wiser. Nobody. This included my teenaged son, and he slept in the next bedroom. We shared supper time and episodes of Jeopardy four or five nights a week. Then again, he was a normal teenager growing up in the nascent days of the Internet, and his species tended to be lost in their own worlds at that age.
In the winter of 2002, I vacationed in Sweden. Upon my return, my sister Janice – always enthusiastic to see my family and holiday photos – kindly chastised my use of an Instamatic camera. “You go to these fabulous places, and always come back with shitty photos! When are you going to get yourself a real camera?”
And she was right. It was time for a sizable equipment upgrade. So, I saved about $500 and the following summer I purchased my first SLR camera, a Canon EOS. The fancy lenses and filters (my pre-digital budget age) would have to come later.
Shortly after the camera purchase, my friend Lisa – who was on assignment in Atlanta – invited me down south for a road trip to Savannah, Ga., where we would celebrate a long Independence Day weekend together. Having recently read John Berendt’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, a fascinating nonfiction best-seller about a notorious real-life crime and its aftermath in the historic city, I jumped at the opportunity to visit one of the crown jewels of the American South.
Savannah is a magnet for photographers. The Mercer House and the Bird Girl statue in Bonaventura Cemetery are but a few of the attractions that draw visitors to a city that benefited from the full restorations of hundreds of homes and properties and park squares during the ’60s and ’70s. With its close proximity to the Low Country, there is an abundance of both man-made and natural beauty. Armed with my new camera, I looked forward to a weekend-long photo safari in the Deep South.
To my horror, the constant tremors in my left hand and arm made it impossible for me to hold the lens steady. I adjusted the shutter speed, and tried a few stabilization tricks to minimize the shaking, but my heart sank when I saw the compromised results a few weeks later. I knew it was an opportunity lost. My friend and I had created some wonderful memories, but I hadn’t captured them visually in the way we remembered.
I returned back home to the Bay Area. A few weeks after Savannah, I was at my office, doing what I did, which meant conducting a supplier meeting or negotiation session of some sort. In the lobby, my hands were shaking as we closed our meeting. The supplier representative asked me about my arm, and what in the world did I do to injure it. I was momentarily at a loss for words, for if he wasn’t the first to notice, he was certainly the first to ask about my “injury.” I stammered something idiotic and unprepared and false about jamming my shoulder by diving into the shallow end of a swimming pool. The ruse appeared to work, but I wandered back to my desk in a daze, and the guilt from my lie welled up briskly within me.
I chastised myself. “I can’t do this!” I was finally determined to get to the bottom of this nonsense. If an outright lie had become my new line of defense, the time had come for a real answer. The time had come for the truth.