My father’s battle with Parkinson’s

Published: May 7, 2012

Watching my mother stand by my father’s side has also taught me what marriage is really about.

I still remember the first time I saw a tremor in my dad’s hand; we thought perhaps it was high blood pressure and immediately took him to the doctor. However, the tremors didn’t stop the next day, or the day after that.

After a few tests the doctor recommended that we consult a neurosurgeon. Upon visiting one, we were informed that my father had Parkinson’s disease (PD) and his tremors would only grow worse with time – there was no cure.

As the doctors broke this news, I tried my best to be strong for my father. Still, when I came home and watched him struggle to write due to the tremors in his hand, I couldn’t hold back the tears. It’s been three years now and even though his medication has helped slow down the process, the disease has spread to his foot.

It has been heartbreaking to see my father go from being the strongest man I knew to a man at the mercy of a disease.

The tremors in his hands cause hindrance in the easiest of tasks, like holding a glass of water. Sometimes, the foot tremors make him lose his balance and a simple activity like changing his clothes becomes a challenge.

Parkinson’s is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. Our nerve cells use an organic chemical called dopamine to help control muscle movement. Parkinson’s occurs when the nerve cells in the brain that make dopamine slowly deteriorate to the point of destruction. Why these cells waste away, is still, unfortunately, a scientific mystery. Without dopamine, the nerve cells in that part of the brain cannot properly send messages and this leads to the loss of muscle function. The damage only gets worse with time.

In the early stages of the disease, the most obvious symptoms are movement-related; shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement and difficulty while walking, to name a few. Later, cognitive and behavioural problems may arise, with dementia commonly occurring in the advanced stages of the disease. Tremors are known to start with the hand or foot, but spread to the whole body with the passage of time. Parkinson’s disease is more common in the elderly, with most cases occurring after the age of 50.

If the fact that it’s an incurable disease isn’t bad enough, the medication taken for slowing down the process  is also known for its negative side effects. These include depression, hallucinations, dizziness, headaches, loss of taste, dryness, loss of memory, purple mottling of the skin, and so on.

The medication was quick to have its effect on my father’s body too. He started getting confused and forgetting things, and had to quit driving as a result. There are days when he forgets if it’s morning or night, and sometimes he becomes so dizzy that he can barely walk. The medication also causes swelling and rashes in his foot.

Ever since I was a child, I have seen my father take care of the outdoor chores. From driving us to school and getting the car fixed to paying the utility bills, he did it all. But Parkinson’s doesn’t allow him to do all this stuff any more. I cannot even imagine what my father must be going through as the smallest of tasks are a struggle now.

Many risk and protective factors have been investigated regarding Parkinson’s: the clearest evidence is an increased risk in people exposed to certain pesticides and a reduced risk in tobacco smokers.

Most people with Parkinson’s disease have idiopathic Parkinson’s disease (having no specific known cause). A small proportion of cases, however, can be attributed to known genetic factors. Other factors have been associated with the risk of developing PD, but no causal relationship has been proven.

Although tobacco smoking is devastating for longevity or quality of life, it has been related to a reduced risk of having Parkinson’s disease. Smokers’ risk of having PD may be reduced down to a third when compared to non-smokers. The basis for this effect is not known, but possibilities include an effect of nicotine as a dopamine stimulant.

Research has shown that people who eat more fruits and vegetables, high-fibre foods, fish, and omega-3 rich oils (sometimes known as the Mediterranean diet) have some protection against Parkinson’s disease. However the reason for this is still being studied.

It is heartening to see that Parkinson’s support groups are sprouting up in Pakistan. The Aga Khan Hospital holds seminars and observes Parkinson’s day, not just for the patients but for their families as well. Its aim is to teach them how to cope with the stress and provide support to the patient.

Parkinson’s didn’t just affect my father; it changed everybody’s life in my whole family. Watching my mother stand by my father’s side has also taught me what marriage is really about, and what is meant by vows of standing by each other in sickness and in health.

God has been kind to us in that my father’s Parkinson’s is still under control. It hasn’t reached the later stage yet, but there is nothing more frustrating than watching your loved ones in pain and knowing that there is no cure.

I have watched him give up his passion for playing golf as he couldn’t continue with the tremors in his hand. And as I have watched him sink into depression, I have realised that nothing is more important in this world than health.

Read more by Nojeba here or follow her on Twitter @nojeba

nojeba.haider

Nojeba Haider

A corporate banker based in Karachi. Nojeba tweets @nojeba.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    Thank you for sharing this. Full credit to you for the simple yet sensitive way in which you described your and your family’s position in this unfortunate happening. Recommend

  • Tony

    Very informative. Recommend

  • Anushae

    Hi Nojeba,

    You article is extremely well – written and touched a few strings in my heart. I hope and pray that some miracle happens and your father recovers. You seem to be a positive person who has learnt some lessons in this great time of trial. Sending you my best!Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/944/sabeer-lodhi/ Sabeer Lodhi

    Touching! But what’s inspirational is your and your mother’s courage and strength in these trying times.

    It’s heartening to see people trying to spread awareness about Parkinson’s and how it should be dealt with. Good luck!Recommend

  • Zeeshan

    It sure is painful for anyone to see his loved one in despair and difficulty. I myself have been a victim of the similar circumstances that you have been facing these days. The difference is that i was just 8 when my father was diagnosed Parkinson. I guess only the strongest willpower people have such diseases including my father, yours and Cassius Clay as well. Anyways My father fought 7 years with ever deteriorating health by each passing day and eventually died of an heart attack. I still remember the time when instead of walking he had to crawl to his bedroom and laugh back at me that what kind of a MAN you are. Men never weep or cry. Always be strong and hold yourself. Its you who have to look after our family now. I still remember the words he said to me on his last visit to hospital in ambulance. Beta i am completely fine its just for your sake that i am going for a treatment. (May his soul rest in peace. Ameen). I hope you stand besides your father as well.Recommend

  • Zubair

    May Allah bless your father. Ameen.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/430/faraz-talat/ Faraz Talat

    As a doctor, I’ve studied just about everything there is to know about the biochemical disorder giving rise to Parkinsonism, as well as all the clinical signs elicited.

    The psychosocial aspect of the disease, and how it affects the patient’s life, is often not discussed in detail. You have shed light on that aspect quite beautifully.

    Many doctors lose sight of the fact that what walks into a clinic is not a disease on legs, but an actual person. And the goal is not merely to study and treat the disease, but to consider the welfare of the person as a whole who is suffering from that disorder.Recommend

  • Umer

    If it’s any consolation my father also died of Parkinson’s disease acquired by a mob of religious extremists beating my father up with hockeys until he, what they thought as, dropped dead. He was found to be alive but developed Parkinson’s disease as a result of beatings on head and died within five years when I was 13. At least your father did not get beaten up by hockeys so it could have been worst.Recommend

  • Amit

    @umer : may your father rest in peace. Very touching and heartbreaking to heard of. @ author : take care of your father. Make him feel healthy and strong and don’t remind him of illness . @ sabeer lodhi : when is your next blog commingRecommend

  • Babar Aziz

    Another brilliant piece Nojeba, keep the good work going :)Recommend

  • Craig

    Nojeba, my father died of Parkinson’s when I was 18 years old. I fully appreciate the observations you have articulated so well in this article. It is terribly sad, and even to this day the man I saw pass away was not the same man who was my loving active funny dad. I hope science discovers a cure. And I applaud you mentioning your mother, she sounded like mine who was faced with many difficult decisions during the course of dad’s illness.Recommend

  • maverick titan

    Thank you so much for sharing this.May Allah give your father strength to cope with this disease.I also read somewhere that Parkinson’s is also triggered by consumption of aluminium and as per my observation, most of our utensils are made of aluminium and badly scratched during the cooking process.Give your father time,talk to him,keep him happy!Godbless!Recommend

  • Nojeba

    thank you everyone for your prayers. @ zeeshan and Umer: Sorry to hear about your loss.May your fathers rest in peace and may God bless their Soul. AmeenRecommend

  • Rajendra Kalkhande

    Dear Author! I wonder if some neurosurgeon advised your father of Brain Implant? I am sure there are some neurosurgeons in Pakistan who do these implants. If you don’t find anyone in Pakistan, please look in India. There are loads of neurosurgeons in India who do this routinely. This is a very high precision procedure. Effect of treatment is almost immediate. Cost used to be around 3-4 lac Indian rupees few years back. I am sure it won’t be more than 5.0 lac even now. Please let me know if you need further help in this matter. I will be very happy to extend all possible help. Many neurosurgeons are doing it in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Recommend

  • Asif Saeed

    Very touching Nojeba. May Allah give you & your family the strength to cope with your father’s health. Take care.Recommend

  • Sarah K

    nojebaaa!!!very well written!! informative and emotional! ur moms amazing!! may Allah give u n ur family strenght to continue holding ur heads up to this imtihaan…and ur dad health and happiness! may they come a with a cure for this disease…tomorow! :) inshaAllah!Recommend

  • Zeeshan

    The thing i wanted to share was that the pain you have each passing day when your loved ones are dying slowly in front of your eyes@Umer:

    Never loose hope and always give as much time as you can to your father. Parents are the only ones who really really care for you.And God has given you the opportunity to payback (although its impossible but still) what they have done for you@nojaabaRecommend

  • http://www.parkinsons.org.pk M.Irshad Jan

    A good crispy write up. Pakistan Parkinson’s Society is holding seminars, patients’ support groups, primarily in Karachi for the past 4 years. Last year we arranged a seminar in Lahore & Islamabad as well which were found very informative for parkinsons’ patients. It is our endeavour that by participating in these meetings patients learn new concepts about disease management & improve their quality of life.

    M.Irshad Jan
    Director Pakistan Parkinson’s Society
    Website:www.parkinsons.org.pkRecommend

  • Mariam Quraishi

    Met you this weekend but dint knew you are passing thru this pain. May God have mercy on you and your family.Recommend

  • adil saeed khan

    Good job Nojeba. you rock. Recommend

  • bilquis ahmed

    BILQUIS AHMED .

    salaams nojeba . . this is naureen’s mom … and i just wish to thank you for writing this article on ”parkinsonion disaese ”’ . .my husband is battling with this disease for the last 12 yrs …and only we, as a family know the devastating effects it has not only on the patient himself , but also those around him …the trauma , , the anxiety and the appalling reality that this disease reduces a man’s ” intelligent mind ” into ‘a cabbage ” and you see your loved one going into deep oblivion …. i being his wife and closely connected t o him every minute have cried bitterly seeing this once loving son , husband and father deteriorating to the extent of hardly recognise his own kith and kin … Recommend

  • Hameeda

    Very informative article on parkinson’s disease. Good to know that your father has a good family support system. I certainly understand that you must be feeling frustrated at times but the positive thought at this stage could be just that you and your mom are trying their best. Recommend

  • Citizen

    @Zeeshan:
    Your story brought tears in my eyes. May your father Rest in Peace. ameen. He was a very brave man.

    @ Author : Very touching . May Allah give health to your father . ameen.Recommend

  • maddy

    IN THIS AGGRESSIVE WORLD UNABLE TO KICK OFF THE PARKINSON DISEASERecommend

  • MADDY

    GOD BLESS UR FAMILYRecommend

  • http://shoaibtaimur.com shobz

    I can totally understand how you are feeling. My paternal uncle first showed signs of Parkinsons in 1992. At that time we had no idea what it was coz it wasn’t properly diagnosed. His family was in denial about it for years even though he kept telling them that they should accept it. His condition has deteriorated so much that he is bed ridden. If it weren’t for the love and support of his family he wouldn’t have made it through so much. Thank you for sharing your story.Recommend