Read an Excerpt
SHAKIN' NOT STIRREDFINDING PERSEVERENCE THROUGH PARKINSON'S
By DAVID CHEDESTER
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 David Chedester
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFLASHBACKS THAT I WILL NEVER FORGET
As I got into my car to drive off to my neurology appointment, I had a painful flashback that popped into my mind before my legs would even allow me to press on the gas pedal of my car. It was a clear picture in my mind that I will never forget, and I'm sure my father felt the exact same way. This was going to be a complete life-changing appointment for me, and all I could think about was a phone call I received my junior year of college, back in 2004 where I played baseball at Greenville College in Illinois. I had gotten a call from my mother telling me that Dad was at work and had back-to-back grand mal seizures on top of the mountains where he worked. My father was a Civil Engineer who worked all his life in the coal mines, as well as surveying land up in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.
He worked extremely hard to provide for our family, but had an alcohol and drug addiction that he battled for nearly 30 years. Mom wasn't sure if he was going to be okay, but she did her best at assuring me that he would be fine. I took the news extremely hard because for the past few years leading up to his seizures, I hadn't had much of a relationship with him. Looking back on that period of time, I wish we would've been closer. Our family had fallen apart during my final 2years of high school, and I always held a grudge against him and my mother. While there is nothing more in the world I would do to take that time back to have a relationship with him; I can't. I was young and dumb. After talking with mom for a while, I made my way from my dorm towards our indoor baseball practice facility. I met with our hitting coach, Brock Friese, later that day before practice to tell him the news, and that I had made the decision to walk away from baseball and school for a week to isolate myself from everyone. Coach Friese tried his best to talk me out of my decision, telling me that this was the time I needed my friends and teammates the most. However, I didn't take his advice, nor did I feel like having a lecture on how I should be acting responsibly. Coach also knew that I wasn't a religious person, but he did politely ask if he could pray for Dad and my family. I looked at him right in the face and wanted to strangle him.
"Coach, God doesn't exist. All these times we pray before and after practice and games, it means nothing. It never helps. If God was such this great person that you talk about, then why has he let this happen to my Dad? Why's he let this happen to me and my family? Oh yeah, some God he is."
Coach Friese sat and watched me go on this tirade for about a minute, until I finally finished acting like an idiot. He looked up at me and apologized for me feeling that way.
"David, I understand you're upset, and you can choose to stay in this room and listen to my pray or you can leave. Either way, I'm going to pray, and trust me,
God will listen."
This was the other thing that killed me. Here I was acting like a complete idiot, discriminating the MAN that all Christians believe in, and it had no effect on Coach at all. After listening to me say all that, he still wanted to pray. How could I walk out at that point?
So I sat across from Coach Friese with my head down, listening to him as he prayed for my dad and my family.
The room that we were in was Coach Carlson's office—Carlson was our head baseball coach. His office had a huge window on the left wall that overlooked our recreation center where we practiced during the winter months, or whenever it was raining outside. I just happened to peek out the window while Coach Friese was praying, and I saw the entire team kneeling down, hats off, as Coach Carlson lead a team prayer as well. This really moved me to see how quickly the team and coaches had gathered around to help me during this tragic time. I knew that Dad was a strong man but wasn't sure how he would respond to this tragic event. I knew Dad had been messed up on drugs and alcohol for a long time, and actually thought that his body just had enough. In the back of my mind, I wasn't sure I'd ever see my father again.
I spent nearly a week isolating myself from all my friends and teammates, only allowing my girlfriend at the time to see me. I drank heavily during that week, hoping to use the alcohol to help me escape from the problems that were going on. I was smarter than that to act in such a way, but I just wasn't mature or strong enough. I knew the alcohol would only be a temporary scapegoat at night, and the same problems would be awaiting me in the morning, along with a pounding headache.
I worried a lot about Mom and Dad during that week. They had split up during my senior year of high school and hadn't really spoken to each other much. In fact, I hadn't spoken to my Dad for a long time because of the anger I still had about them splitting up. I wondered if this situation, this emotional point of family tragedy would bring us together again, or push us farther apart. While it took many months for us to get closer and rally around Dad again as he slowly recovered, years later our family would again be decimated. After weeks of rest, he ended up being okay, but life for him and our family would be very rocky for the next year.
It was a true test for us, and yet we came together as a family, which should be what most families do. A little more than 16 months after Dad's seizure attack, he once again would go through another traumatic event in his life. He would receive news from a neurologist in Knoxville, Tennessee, that he never would have imagined hearing. He had developed Parkinson's Disease. Dad had been suffering from chronic fatigue for a few years, and he slowly developed a tremor in his right hand. That's what led to him seeking the advice of a neurologist. Parkinson's wasn't very familiar at all to me, nor anyone in our family. I had no clue what signs or symptoms came along with this disease, or if it was even life threatening. I just knew that when Mom called to tell me about it, I was very upset. I mean, who wouldn't be, right? Anytime you hear of someone being diagnosed with any illness, you always assume that it's something terrible or life-threatening. When Dad had the seizures, I was away at college, 10 hours from home, but I at least had my friends and baseball teammates/coaches to turn to for help. However, when Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson's, I was living in North Carolina, all alone, and had a tough time dealing with the news. It was almost as if God wouldn't leave our family alone.
Or at least that's how I felt at the time.
For all my life it just seemed as if the world was always shitting on me, and our family. With Dad having PD, this was just something else to add to a long list of misery that followed my life. I spent a few hours reading about the disease and educating myself about what it does to the body. Little did I know that not only did this effect the physical appearance of the body (constant tremors, mask face, difficulty walking), but it also led to clinical depression and anxiety. My father had lived such a tough life that I couldn't help but feel sorry for him after reading about Parkinson's.
But it was during Dad's early battle with Parkinson's that I recalled a few sentences from one of my college Anatomy & Physiology textbooks that made me fear that I was starting to develop the same illness that Dad had been diagnosed with. My appointment with a neurologist was because of the same symptoms Dad had developed when he was 50; chronic fatigue and a tremor in my right hand. These were 2major symptoms that I read about in that book, along with another paragraph that shocked me. While I can't remember exactly how it was worded, I will just give you a paraphrase:
Scientists believe that while genes do play a part in developing Parkinson's Disease, they still aren't sure whether it's a major or minor role. If someone in the immediate family has developed Parkinson's Disease, than they have a significant increase in chance to pass the disease to their children. However, the Disease very rarely shows up before the age of 50. There are cases where the disease can show up at early ages, but it is extremely rare. It is also possible that a blow to the head causing any type of damage or trauma to the brain could trigger the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease. Person(s) can be born with pre-genetic disposition of having Parkinson's Disease, but an environmental factor or trauma to the brain must cause the disease to show up.
My mouth stayed wide open as I continued reading on about the symptoms and what the chances were of my brother, sister, or I developing this disease. How old is the average person before they start to see signs of the disease? Will Parkinson's Disease cause death? Are there medications out there to prevent the disease from occurring? Is there even good medication to treat the symptoms? The questions kept popping up in my brain one after another so quickly that I could feel my heart racing, close to bursting out of my chest. I knew that Muhammad Ali had the disease, and that Michael J. Fox had recently come out saying he had the disease as well. Were Dad's symptoms going to get as bad as Ali's? If I had Parkinson's, is that what I would be like as I got older? What if I ever decided to have kids, or my brother or sister wanted them? What were the chances of them passing on the disease?
I couldn't stop the questions from piling up in my head. While I was extremely concerned about my father, I couldn't help but be scared for myself at the same time. My right hand had been slightly shaking for over 5 years, but I never went to see a doctor about it. Now that I had learned about Dad having the disease, the thought immediately popped into my head that I could have it as well. Dad was just over 50 years old when he started showing signs of Parkinson's.
I was only 18.
THE DOCTOR WILL SEE YOU NOW....
That day I was referring to in the prologue was a day that my life completely changed forever. It was a follow-up appointment with my doctor, but not just any doctor: my neurologist, Dr. J. Gordon Burch. He was a neurologist in Roanoke, Virginia, who came highly recommended by several doctors from around the area. I was seeing Dr. Burch because for the past 9 years of my life, I wasn't able to keep my hands from shaking. What had started out as a twitch in my right pinky slowly had progressed to my entire hand. Also, the tremors had progressed from my hand all the way up to my elbow. What worried me even more was that the tremors weren't just on my right side of the body, but both sides. Not only was I having hand tremors, my speech wasn't as clear as it always had been. Mom and Dad always bragged about me having the "gift of gab", but lately I wasn't able to respond to someone as quickly as I once did. I'd have what I wanted to say in my mind, then my lips and mouth wouldn't always cooperate with me to say anything. My balance wasn't what it used to be, and my photographic memory that professors at my college used to brag about to me had dwindled all the way to nothing. Recently there were even times where I couldn't remember what I had eaten for breakfast.
I recall a few times where I would be sitting in my recliner at my apartment, get up, walk into the kitchen and just stare with extreme confusion. I didn't even know why I had walked in there. During my college years I could've recited without a pause every muscle and bone in the human body without looking at a textbook or skeleton. Now I couldn't even read two sentences out loud without pausing or becoming confused.
I was really nervous about seeing Dr. Burch, so I spent the night before that appointment by myself at my apartment. I sat alone with computer in my lap, watchingYouTube videos of inspirational speeches, trying to stay positive and build up some pride. For the past 5 months of trying several different medicines, eliminating the possibility of my condition being any number of diseases, Dr. Burch had finally nailed it with my first prescription of Sinemet (a combination of Carbidopa and Levodopa). This is without a doubt a drug that no one near my age should be on, but I had been taking it for 2 months and it really had made a huge impact on treating the symptoms I had been struggling with. Since I had called in for several refills on the medication, Dr. Burch moved up my next appointment to see him. This was because he knew the inevitable outcome and diagnosis due to the response my body was having with Sinemet. I had learned to accept what was going to come from that appointment though still had times when I struggled with the realization of what my life would now be like. I was extremely depressed that night, and had been battling depression for the last 7 months or so.
Any number of my friends or family seeing me over that time frame could probably tell you how clear it was that my life was in shambles.
I recall a conversation I had with my long time best friend from high school, Brian Powell, back in July of 2011. He knew that I had been seeing a neurologist for several months and was also aware of the disease I had been possibly battling. Brian has always been someone that I've respected. I spent a weekend with him up in Harrisonburg, Virginia, to relax and just enjoy the fun we always had. We've never failed to laugh our asses off when we were hanging out. Whether it was quoting funny movies, hiking, or going bowling, we never had a dull moment, except when we lost in the Regional Semifinals in high school baseball to our biggest rival. Nevertheless, while he and I were sitting around watching a movie, we started talking about our past. Most of the conversation consisted of talking about great moments that had happened in our lives, many of which were hilariously funny, and all of which involved alcohol. However, Brian wasn't near the drinker that I had been, or had recently become for that matter. Yeah, we both were known to throw back some beer and have fun, but he never went overboard to the extent of how bad I drank. Brian and I had become much closer friends over the past year (2010) and he was one of my true friends witnessing me drink myself into oblivion.
He ended up asking me a question that weekend that I never wanted to hear.
Brian and I were talking about our careers, things we wanted to accomplish in life, and somehow got on the topic of drinking. All throughout college I drank, and even up to that weekend I had drunk all my life since I graduated from college in 2005. I wasn't a binge drinker, so I thought, but on the weekends I definitely drank a lot. Now that I had fallen into a bit of depression (staring a rare disease in the face at 27), I had been drinking every day. I tried to always be positive about my situation, but spending countless nights alone usually resulted in my positive attitude being drowned in a bottle of vodka, only to leave me feeling a lot of sorrow and resentment for my situation. In fact, from January of 2010 until late September of 2011, I drank every day. I was downing a liter of vodka every 2 days. There were numerous mornings where I'd wake up on my couch and not realize where I was or what had happened the night before. I was so scared of having Parkinson's and so pissed that I couldn't get my hands to stop shaking, that I again was using alcohol to run from my problems. Besides, when I was drunk, it was the only time my hands stopped shaking, and I got some kind of strange joy out of that. Here I was, hanging out with Brian, trying to tell him that I had accepted my (possible) disease and was fine with it, but deep down inside I really wasn't. I knew it, and to an extent, so did Brian. After he watched me throw back a 6 pack of beer and several shots of vodka, without hesitation, he asked me, "You don't think you have a drinking problem, do you?"
For God's sake I had been drinking since I was 12 years old, which meant that for over 15 years I had spent relying on alcohol for any number of reasons. Never once in my mind had I ever thought I had a problem. I laughed off his question and quickly spouted out a "No." I didn't want to admit it to anybody, but deep down inside I knew I was lying. During those 5 months of trial and error with trying different medications to narrow down the long list of diseases that I might have, I drank heavily every night. Even the night before one of the most important, life-defying appointments of my existence, I drank. I never really had the thoughts of "why me" when it came to seeing Dr. Burch time after time. I just never thought that at the age of 27 I would need to see a neurologist on a regular basis.
Excerpted from SHAKIN' NOT STIRRED by DAVID CHEDESTER Copyright © 2012 by David Chedester. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.