Don’t call me Adolf

hitler by heavyweighthowe, deviantart

There’s an article that has been floating around for the past few months wherein the authors conjecture that the atrocities of Adolph Hitler may have been linked to his having Parkinson’s Disease.  I read this piece in Discover magazine. I’m curious what you think of it. Could he have indeed been suffering from Parkinson’s? Obviously, this couldn’t be rationalized as an excuse for his actions but where does this line of enquiry take us? Might it suggest that we who have PD share similar characteristics?  What do you make of the purported link? Here’s an excerpt:

Did Parkinson’s Disease Influence Hitler?
By Neuroskeptic | June 30, 2015 

A new paper from a group of American neurologists makes the case that Hitler suffered from Parkinson’s disease for much of his life, and that some of his most fateful decisions were influenced by the neurological disorder. The article is by Raghav Gupta and colleagues and it appears in World Neurosurgery – a journal with an interesting political history of its own.

Gupta et al. note that “The possibility of Hitler suffering from Parkinson’s has long been the subject of debate… [a researcher] Lieberman suggested that Hitler suffered from Parkinson’s as early as 1933: video evidence depicts that Hitler exhibited progressive motor function deterioration from 1933 to 1945”.

That Hitler suffered from Parkinson’s at the end of his life is not a new idea but Gupta et al. say that Hitler’s disease may have impacted large parts of his career, making him impulsive and reckless, and ultimately making him lose WW2. They suggest that “Hitler’s condition may have led him to attack Russia prematurely [in 1941]… Lieberman has suggested that the decision to invade Russia without and before defeating Britain on the western front and waiting for reinforcements from Japan, was not only reckless but also was influenced by Hitler’s failing health”.

The authors also cite other bad decisions of Hitler’s such as the failure to defend Normandy in 1944, and his refusal to allow his forces to withdraw from Stalingrad in 1942, as products of the dictator’s “volatile temperament” which, they say, may have been exacerbated by his Parkinson’s.

But military incompetence is not the end of it. Gupta et al. go as far as to suggest that Hitler’s inhuman policies were influenced by his disease. “Hitler often accused, deceived, and betrayed others for personal gain and was especially known for his lack of remorse and sympathy, which can be further associated with his Parkinson’s… The character traits which define Hitler as a notorious political leader and brutal dictator, one who carried out innumerous war crimes in the 20th century, may then be directly associated with his diagnosis”. Gupta et al. seem to be suggesting that Parkinson’s can make people, literally, prone to becoming like Adolf Hitler. I don’t think this will go down well with Parkinson’s sufferers. The authors go on to say that “Hitler’s inhumane personality, marked by a true lack of sympathy and remorse, can also be ascribed to his condition, often compelling him to act in ways that we today characterize as brutal, callous, and unethical”.

I’m crushing your head

Waiting.

I’m getting better at waiting.

Waiting for a doctor. Waiting at the lab. Waiting for test results. Waiting for class to start. Waiting on my kids while taxiing them around town. Waiting on medications to be delivered. Waiting for someone to call. Waiting.

In days of yore, when I tried to run my life with a honed efficiency, waiting used to frustrate me.

Today, I’ve become much more patient in this regard. I’m also generally much better prepared for waiting. I travel everywhere with my smartphone and a book.

Recently, I found myself in downtown Toronto waiting to meet up with someone. For the first time in a long time, I had neither my phone with me nor a book. I had no pen or paper to write. I had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do but wait. As I sat there waiting, I actually enjoyed “people watching”. The steady stream of business men and women, young students, some tourists, homeless folks, bicycle couriers, etc. The odd person would exchange glances with me – perhaps drawn to my “frozen mask” or my dyskenesis but most just walked on by as you might expect.

I didn’t have to wait too long. Perhaps 5 or 10 minutes before the person I was to meet arrived. Yet, in that short period, I came to realize that, at times, I can actually enjoy waiting. It’s a small window to slow things down. To take a physical or mental break. Just enjoy checking things out as the world passes by.

Or perhaps, crush a few heads.

you say it’s your birthday?

images-1

For my 16th birthday, I got a drum cake. For my 18th, I had my first legal beer. For my 40th, I was feted at a great surprise party.  For my 50th, my wife and I celebrated – along with a number of family and friends from throughout the decades of both our lives – at a “50/50” bash.

But this year I had bigger plans. 57. Yeh, 57. That would be my lucky number!

Just think of it! Heinz 57 – 57 Varieties of flavour! 1957 – the year I was born! 57 – the number of years I’ve lived! 57 – the number on my high school football jersey!  57 – the number of times I’ve thought about how to pay homage to such a significant number while having some fun with it as well!

Seriously, I was born in 1957 and this year marked my 57th year. While this might initially not seem like much of a milestone, it was one I felt compelled to mark. This time, however, I wanted the focus not to be so much on personal indulgence or favour but on some kind of service.

I considered a number of large-scale fundraising efforts for Parkinson’s – from a marathon 57 mile walk (nah, Terry Fox did much better than that), a 57 day cross-Canada tour (I can’t be away that long – who will look after the dog?), a 57 stop tour of independent coffee roasters (I’m on doctor’s orders to reduce my caffeine). I worked through a number of these scenarios, bounced ideas off of friends, and in the end, found myself too weary to pursue such grandiose plans. I became convinced that there really wasn’t much to my obsession with the number “57” and it felt a little too contrived. And it didn’t help that my PD kept reminding me of its ever-present habitation in this old frame.

And now, as of today,  the clock ticks by on the end of my 57 years. The opportunity has passed me by. I have made peace with myself on this one (albeit one tinged by a minute sense of failure).  After all, it is just a number. I’m 58 today. Nothing special about 58. Or even 59 for that matter. But 60 –  just wait for 60!   Do I have some plans in the works for the big 6-0!

Macho Man

Unknown

It’s a good thing I never wanted to be  a Macho Man. Parkinson’s Disease has assured me that, if I had any such desires, I would be an abysmal failure.

First, my physique, which has never been considered chiselled by any stretch, is now collapsing in on itself. While I have less dyskenisis due to successful duodopa pump therapy, this has resulted in weight gain.  I’m up 25 lbs. from where I’d like to be. It has also left me with a foot long cord protruding from my gut (I understand there is actually about another metre or so of the cord internally). No Charles Atlas bathing suit competitions for this lad.  Joggin’ in the mornings? I don’t think so. Workouts in the health spa watchin’ muscles grow? No, no.

So, physically, you see it is impossible for me to “strut my stuff” with such bravado and machismo. Perhaps more damning though is at an emotional level.

I have always considered myself, as an adult, to be a somewhat more sensitive type of person. Yet, as Parkinson’s has progressed, I find myself to be more than sensitive. Uber sensitive I’d say. I am so easily lead to tears – be it from an old song, a scene from a favourite film, or some television drama. I don’t know why or precisely what triggers it  but, for my family, it’s somewhat predictable. I get these “Oh, yeh, here’s the part where he’s going to cry” looks directed my way and usually they are right. I begin to well up, then tear or weep for a short time, and then I’m fine. I’m not reduced to a blubbering fool (yet) but without a doubt, I do cry.

Now, look closely at the video. You might have to watch it twice but I am pretty sure you’ll find that none of these macho men are crying.

 

Perhaps you don’t recoil at the thought of a man breaking down in tears. Perhaps, I am  just part of a positive evolution of a more modern, sensitive male. Perhaps I am exposing a hitherto disguised foundation in social work (it’s true, I have a Masters in Social Work). Regardless, there is no sense in denying it.  I’m a cry baby.

a lesson for the teacher

classroom angel, loveandpeacetotoro, deviantart
classroom angel, loveandpeacetotoro, deviantart

It’s Labour Day weekend and time for the back-to-school special edition of my blog. This story dates back some 15 years ago to when I started a new career as a teacher and a new life living with Parkinson’s. The following article first appeared in the April 2015 edition of On the Move, a UK publication by and for people with Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s Disease is a brutal condition. Just when medications seem to have offered some control, along comes another symptom to challenge you. Just when you feel you are coping reasonably well, another issue surfaces to steal away just another part of your life.

It takes away your control. It takes away your independence. It takes away your confidence. It takes away so many of the things that bring you pleasure and joy. It takes a lot.

Yet, it also gives as well. And give to me it did!

When I was initially diagnosed with Parkinson’s some 15 years ago, I had just embarked on a new career as a primary school teacher. I was 42 years old, had three young children, a good wife and a decent home. By all indications, you’d likely say I was leading a “successful” life. Just three weeks into my new job, my doctor delivered the news – I had “normal or regular” Parkinson’s.

At first, I knew little about this condition. I knew enough to be concerned, but the more I read in the next few days, the more dis-spirited I became. Crushed. Devastated. Defeated. It didn’t help that I was reading mostly about end-stage Parkinson’s at the time. I was a mess. My principal suggested I take a few days off to digest the news – right after, that is, I prepared lesson plans for those days to leave for the supply teacher. So there I was on a Wednesday evening after school, in my classroom alone, weeping and preparing lesson plans so I could have a few days off. When I returned the following week, my students were of course happy to see me and it was good to be around 8 and 9 year olds so full of life and energy. Yet I remained mired in a state of depression and self-pity. Why had this happened to me? What will this mean for my family? Will I even live to see my children grow up? These questions (and more) were foremost on my mind as I went about my daily routines as a teacher.

One such routine was yard duty. Many of my colleagues hated this but I always loved it. Even on bitter winter days, I loved being outside with the kids in the fresh air. Granted, that first week back, in the dreary state of mind I found myself in, yard duty was not the first choice I would have made. The bell rang. I put on my jacket, my hat and my bundle of self-pity and headed out to the yard. There is always a crowd of kids who want to walk with the teacher and on this particular day, one of the young boys – a particularly chatty kid – took hold of my hand and loudly declared “I want to walk with you today Mr. Kendrick!” I mumbled some form of consent and off we walked with him telling me about his day, about his family, about his friends…it was all a bit blurry though as he talked ad infinitive and my thoughts drifted elsewhere. Why has this happened to me? Why Parkinson’s? Why?

Suddenly, I became acutely aware of my arm shaking. This wasn’t my normal tremor but a vigorous shaking. I looked down and indeed my arm was violently shaking. But it wasn’t me that was shaking. It was this young 8 year old boy. His tremors were worse than mine. In fact, the tremors were but one of several challenges he faced in his life. He had been diagnosed with numerous physical and mental health disabilities at an early age and would have them for all of his life. Yet, he was this bubbly, vivacious, chatty boy who was happy just to be walking with me that day.

There’s a lesson I wouldn’t have learned without Parkinson’s. I quickly came to value the 40+ years that I had lived to date with good fortune and good health. Hopefully, there would be many more to come – even if they were more limited in a way. I was, as Michael J Fox says, a “lucky man”! Parkinson’s gave me a chance to be a better person – to be more appreciative for the people and things I have in my life. It gave me the ability to see out of a shadowy world of self-pity. It gave me the chance to live life more fully. It just took an 8 year old boy to shake me up a little!