This I Believe

May - Little Rock, Arkansas
Entered on March 29, 2009
Age Group: 50 - 65
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I believe in “raging,” in not going gently, in not giving in to illness or infirmity. When I received the news that my body – not yet even fifty years old – had led me into the dark night by developing Parkinson Disease, I was initially stricken with grief.

As a neurologist myself, I knew all too graphically the havoc wreaked on one’s mind and body by this devastating disorder. Early in my training, I had seen the full potential of the process and could not even begin to picture my body so afflicted. When the symptoms began, I tried to disguise my difficulties. However, as I grew worse, I could no longer hide. Sitting with me in his office, my neurologist friend gently told me that I needed L-Dopa. It was unequivocal. I had Parkinson Disease. I couldn’t even say the words. My brain roared in disbelief. But, I made the decision to fight for every nerve cell and muscle fiber. Having lived for more than a decade with the diagnosis, I continue to battle it tooth and nail. I am “burning and raving before the close of my days.”

I am the first to stress that not giving in to such a horror does not mean denial. Ultimately, to maintain my grounding, I had to look the devil in the eye, even though one result was a reactive depression that itself had to be dealt with.

However, with therapy, love of family and friends, and the love of God, my soul has been able to move on. Luckily, I have had well-founded models of tenacious spirits: my first boss, who grew in the 1950’s South as a handicapped Black female, yet built a department in a local university; my father-in-law, also with a withered leg due to polio, yet a marvelous husband, father, and grandfather. Practically, I have had to make accommodations due to effects of the illness, such as decreasing my workload. You cannot deny that something is terribly wrong.

Yet at the same time, no good results can come from excessive analysis of my own belly button lint. Giving in to any disease can mean self-absorption, stagnation, and functional if not literal death. Instead, my hand to hand combat with this disease has returned me to activities I had loved but ignored: piano, exercising, reading, writing, and church. I reach out to and cherish my family and friends. I try to challenge every element of my damaged neuronal system, and I try my best to focus on serving others. To turn up my toes to the sky is to let the illness conquer me. It will ultimately win, I know, but I plan to go a full nine rounds before it delivers its knockout punch. I will not go down easily. As said so poignantly by Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Yes, I will rage. This I believe.