The Other Side of Midnight
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On my First Holy Communion day, in May, forty years ago, I went to visit my granny Josie Ryan. As I sat on the edge of her iron bedstead, holding her hand and proudly reciting my Communion prayers to her, we both rocked to the steady rhythm of her Parkinsonís tremor. Her words were almost inaudible and they were also indistinct as her tongue lolled and she dribbled constantly. She was a familiar, yet undaunting sight. Everyone in the family was used to Josieís condition. What still stands out in my mind was that, in spite of her obvious infirmity, she had an irrepressible sense of humour. When anyone asked her, "How do you feel, Josie?" she would reply with a wave of her shaking hand and a smile and say, "Finger and thumb! Finger and thumb!" To this day family members recall her ability to remain stoic in the face of adversity.
When, in late 1998, I believed I had begun to manifest the early signs of Parkinsonís disease and medical opinion was similarly inclined, I already had a role model for how I ought to approach the future. I also knew from reading that medical research and treatment for the symptoms of this incurable disease had moved on considerably from Josieís time. Nonetheless, the future seemed uncertain and potentially bleak. I went through the normal stages of the grief process - disbelieving, angry, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance that Parkinsonís was to become a part of my life even though continuing medical investigations were inconclusive. In situations like this, I believe that even the most optimistic people tend to be fatalistic. Throughout, my wife, Moya and our three children were wonderfully supportive and my family and friends were sympathetic and encouraging, for which I will be eternally grateful. I learned a lot about people during that time. I learned a lot about myself too.
I am also extremely grateful to David and Marie Magennis, and Ann Keilthy, co - founders of PALS, who proved to be, and continue to be, real pals. Their help and support and gentle reassurance are what everyone needs, especially when faced with a future affected by a disease ike Parkinsonís and proving the old Irish proverb - "Faoi scŠth a chťile a mhaireann na ndaoine" - that people live in the shelter of each otherís support.
My symptoms seemed to progress apace and I was increasingly agitated about the future. I now consider myself exceptionally fortunate that I was not given any medication. More fortunately, I was referred to Dr. Tim Lynch, who, after an intensive and searching consultation expressed doubt that my condition was indeed Parkinsonís, even though several of my symptoms still pointed in that direction. Under Dr. Lynchís direction I was referred for further tests - this time psychological assessment for anxiety, depression and sleep disorder. I can still remember my sigh of relief when my G.P. explained that Dr. Lynchís assessment that my condition was psychogenic - based in deep-rooted anxiety. Dr. Lynchís subsequently reassured me that I wasnít going mad, that my symptoms were very real but that their source was not as was originally thought.
Suddenly things began to make sense. Without going into details, I can say that over several years, there had been a source of acute stress in my life. This stress was something I believed that I had dealt with quite well. Truth to tell, I had obviously not dealt with it well and had, in fact, internalised it to the extent that I began to show physical signs that mimicked Parkinsonís Disease.
The outcome for my family and for me has been tremendously positive. Support from family and friends continue. For this I am truly grateful. Following those tests and some psychotherapy, I am well now and have been given a new lease of life. Effectively, I am an escapee from Parkinsonís Disease with all the sense of relief and gratitude that go with that. Deo Gratias.