My mom retired just over a year ago from working as a full-professor in Elementary Education. She and my dad subscribe fully to a work hard now, play later philosophy. They have spent almost every vacation traveling to care for and visit family that I can remember. Both her parents passed away in the past year, and this was to be the first summer in a long time to simply travel. My parents made big plans to go out west to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
The trip started badly. My mom's neck and back had become very sore over the last several months. She was walking stiffly and couldn't hold her legs still for long. The plane ride was miserable. My calm, competent mom fell apart on her trip, which sent my not-so-calm dad into a tailspin. Something was wrong for the first time in our lives with my mother.
I sat in the neurologist's office with her the next week and saw the words come out of his mouth, "Parkinson's. Never see people past fifteen years. Medicine. Typical symptoms. Doesn't really matter what kind of exercise. Diet? I don't know."
My mom was graceful. Peaceful. Serene, even. I was pissed. I was not ready to take care of my mother. I still needed her to take care of me. "This is not our doctor," I said.
Three weeks later I am in awe at the everyday miracles that surrounded my family. Based on my daughter's and my own health journeys, I knew there was another way forward. The woman who has cleaned my house for a decade also cleans for a man who has had Parkinson's for twenty-years and still rides his tractor. "Who is his doctor?"
Through a series of loving relationships and good luck, my mom got in to see the very best within a week at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "We got this. You caught it early. Lots of options. Exercise is every bit as important as medicine, maybe more. New stuff coming down the pipe all the time on this one. Good quality of life. Cutting edge interventions."
I sat across from a beautiful Steel Magnolia at a birthday luncheon that week, whom I had never met before. Silver hair, a thin gold chain, and bright red lipstick. She was eighty and held forth regally throughout the meal. Somehow I told her about my mother. "Parkinson's? Oh I've had that for almost ten years." I sat in astonishment. This woman had no signs.
"Who is her doctor?" She asked.
I told her who we were hoping to see at UAB. "Oh that's my doctor. He's fantastic." She said, pulling out his card. "People say there is no cure for this thing. That's not true. There is a cure. It's a good doctor, a good mental outlook, and God!"
The difference in care was astonishing. I don't think the clinic doctor we saw is a bad guy. I don't think he is stupid. I just think he is about twenty-years behind the research institutions. We have to be our own healthcare advocates. We have to do our own research. We have to ask tough questions and READ. Healing is every bit as much a spiritual and mental game as it is a physical one. We have to believe we have the ability to heal.
A good doctor can give you that, but I wouldn't count on it. We have to find that source for ourselves. It exists in our relationships, our beliefs, and deep within our spirits. The change in my mom's outlook and health over the last three weeks has been inspiring. And, it has very little to do with her medicine.
If you want a good place to start learning about aging well, I suggest Brain Maker by David Perlmutter, M.D.
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