My father’s battle with Parkinson’s

Published: May 7, 2012
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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.

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