By: Leo N. Ardo
It’s 5:00 a.m. on any morning, and Janice’s body is stiff and her mind is tired from a fitful night’s sleep. She has been lying in bed awake for about sixty-five minutes attempting to muster enough energy to leave the warm bed to take her four medications. Experience has taught her she has about fifteen more minutes or the whole day will be unpleasant.
A leg is poked out past the sheet. From the knee to the heel is placed alongside the mattress and used as a lever to pull the bottom half of her body to the side of the bed. A push with the right shoulder and arm brings her body upright, where she sits for a couple minutes to be sure her balance is steady.
Luckily the journey to the kitchen is uneventful. A couple balance checks, but she manages to avoid any falls. Several month’s ago she kept the medications by the bed, but there is a delay in their effectiveness–Especially, the first dosage. The temptation to return to bed waiting on the medications to ramp-up is too high for Janice. Her day is more productive if she struggles through the thirty-minute ramp-up period.
The two small pills are swallowed at the same time. Her throat muscles, affected by her condition easily push multiple small pills. The two larger pills are swallowed one at a time because occasionally one gets stuck in her throat. When this happens there is a mad dash to drink more water, tilt the head, and swallow hard hoping to dislodge the pill. It happens a hundred times a year, but her confidence is shaken by the degenerative nature of her disease. She can never count on predictable performance, and once went seven days without a stuck pill, but on the eighth day it blocks her airway and panic set in before the fourth heavy wash dislodges it.
To help her understand, Janice has created an image of batteries that fuel little pumps feeding lubricant to her muscles and joints, and electrifying fans blowing away the fog. Depending on the time since the last prescription, she has somewhere between three and a half to four and a half hours before the batteries must be recharged.
The clock has started on the short, useful life of the medication. Hunger pains and gurgling noises are presenting themselves, but one of the med’s requires a two hour protein-less period—An hour before and an hour after. Experimenting has validated she can have the non-protein portion of her breakfast now, and the protein in thirty minutes. She will read while the drugs pass to the small intestines where they are broken down into the chemicals that allow her to look normal, and suppress her symptoms. Later today she will have to deal with the side effects of the drugs. For now, she brews a cup of herbal tea.
The slow nature of her disease distorts her perception of normal being. Occasionally something reminds her that everyday her condition worsens. Today it is a shaking cup of tea. Four drops escape the cup and land on her pajama pants. Her left hand is required to steady the cup.
Twenty minutes pass, the drugs kick in: the mind fog is clearing, the muscle stiffness is subsiding, her focus is returning, and the shaking is disappearing. Today will be a good day.
A soothing hot shower signals the end of the day’s easy part.
The meds are arching through their life cycle. Today, a three-hour period of “normalcy” will take place four times. For Janice, it is three hours which she is physically, mentally, and emotionally at her best, if she is careful; and yet, she will experience the most misunderstanding of her condition by family, close friends, co-workers, and the general public.
Stress is her enemy. Any physical, mental, or emotional stress produces the same effect of draining her batteries. The body’s defense for stress is adrenaline. Janice knows from her research that adrenaline is made from three amino acids plus dopamine, which makes up half the chemical cocktail.
When the batteries discharge early, the muscles stiffen and mental fog develops. She looks normal, but inside, her body and mind are battling against the lack of key chemicals. She sees herself as an expired carton of milk—Looks like all the others, but inside it is very different.
A feared side effect of taking too much medication requires her to stay on a strict medication schedule. From now until twenty minutes after the next dose, her desperate body is draining the batteries too fast as it consumes the temporary reserves of medication. She knows by the early warning signals of a soft voice and word search that she has about forty minutes of battery left.
She hates this part of any day. Everyone sees her as: normal, a knowledgeable resource for solving problems, someone with mental clarity, having endless capacity, and a multitasking octopod. They have come to rely on Janice’s experience, expertise, and skill. However, Janice is working harder each day to continually meet these expectations (an activity that creates stress, thus draining the batteries faster).
A number of symptoms begin to take-over as the batteries near exhaustion. The voice in her head continues at the same volume, but the spoken voice fades frustrating listeners to ask for repeats, which drains the batteries faster. The key words are clearly written on the inside of her forehead, but they will not leave their sanctuary. Words simply won’t surface creating a strange pause in her speech. Her handwriting becomes very tiny, but completely legible, with a magnifying glass. She has difficulty following, or participating in, multilayered discussions. Her ability to multitask is impaired. Short-term memory tasks are easily misplaced by another thought while in pursuit of the now lost original task.
Janice survives to the next prescription appointment. Twenty minutes later she is “normal” again.
On the way home, Janice almost rear-ends a small SUV with a dog in the back. Luckily, her reaction time was good enough to avoid the collision. But, now she needs to pull into a parking lot and wait through the ten-minute shake down that follows an adrenaline rush. It is the sudden consumption of dopamine that creates the shakes.
* * * * *
This short story is dedicated to a dear friend with Parkinson’s Disease, who wishes to remain anonymous. Thank you for taking time to help us understand.
Leo N. Ardo: – I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. I enjoy photography, fly fishing, biking, and embellishing our travel experiences in journals titled Exaggerated Tales of an Ordinary Man.
We call Utah and Wyoming home.
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Hoping life blesses you with good stories!