never knew I could paint.
For me, it was a good day if I could
just feed myself or take a few steps without
falling. When you have Parkinson’s disease,
PD) the idea of picking up a paintbrush
as remote as entering a figure-skating
Now I paint constantly: landscapes,
abstracts, still-life studies and my favorite
fat ballerinas. In all, I have completed
more than 60 paintings in the few months
since I started.
Some have remarked that I am making
for lost time, and
that is certainly true.
The last 17 years of my
have been spent in
losing battle with a
disease that gradually
stole my most basic
capabilities, all during
time when I was
struggling to raise two
daughters as a single parent. Through the
years I lost the ability to walk, talk or use
hands. I tried every known therapy for
treatment of Parkinson’s, and when all
them failed I even tried suicide.
Last summer, at the age of 43, my life
began again at Robert Wood Johnson
University Hospital, thanks to a surgical
procedure known as deep brain stimulation,
which involves placing electrodes in
brain. With the activation of a pacemaker
connected to the electrodes — literally
the flick of a switch — I regained abilities
I thought I had lost forever.
Helen Keller once wrote an essay titled
Three Days to See” in which she imagined
what she would do if granted a brief
interlude of sight. I have been granted an
interlude to experience the full use of all
blessed faculties, but it is unknown
how long it will last. There is no cure for
Parkinson’s, and over time the beneficial
effects of deep brain stimulation have been
known to wear off.
And so I paint, while my hand remains
steady and while there’s still enough light.
People say I’m pretty good at it. The only
critics I try to please, however, are my
daughters Tiffany, 14, and Vanessa, 13,
and my lovely mother, Clara. Throughout
their lives, the one image they had of their
mother was one of sickness. Now when
they bring friends by the house, they tell
them proudly, “My
mother’s an artist.”
That is all the praise I
will ever need to hear.
One day recently I
took a break from
painting to clean my
house, a chore I have
been putting off for
some time. Only those
who have suffered physical impairment can
truly understand the sweetness of having
their capabilities back. Few people, I imagine,
can know the delight of mopping a
floor as I do. The floor of my house is
marked by numerous scratches, which are
traces of my illness. I made them with my
shoes while I was “kicking,” a symptom of
Parkinson’s also called restless legs.
I am a little scared about what the
future holds for me, but I am determined
to cherish every second of my life.
Helen Keller ends her essay with an
admonition to “use your eyes as if tomorrow
you would be stricken blind.”
To that I would add this thought: It is a
privilege to be alive and in good health.
Take time to appreciate the beauty of the
morning, the shape of clouds and the
embrace of those you love.
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