Parkinson’s disease and my father….
My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009, the same year that Mammy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In his youth, Daddy was renowned for his dancing skills, locals tagged him ‘Samba’ and ‘Electric Legs’ for his speed and skill around the West of Ireland dancehalls in the 1950’s. Such cruel irony then that Parkinson’s fights a daily battle with his, once electric, legs. Daddy has come up with his own term for it, which he defines as ‘Jithery Legs’.
In mid- flight his legs regularly decide to stop dead and freeze, this is then followed by on the spot rapid shuffling and an involuntary hurried take off again. This is a regular occurrence when we go shopping on a Friday. Mammy watches this happen in the supermarket and says out loud ‘Well would you look at that fella, he is like something jet propelled!!’ Other times she suggests that perhaps it’s a new dance he is learning, God bless her sense of humour, she keeps us all going on days like these.
I was talking to a nurse recently and was telling her the story of the ‘Jithery Legs’. She told me that she had nursed many Parkinson’s patients and found that when she suggested rhythm and counting to them it greatly helped to regulate their walk. I instantly thought of what an Army drill instructor would say to call the marching rhythm for his soldiers ,and decided I would suggest it to Daddy next time the ‘Jithery Legs’ took over.
The following Friday on the way up the street to the bank Daddy’s legs did the usual. I took his arm and said ‘pretend you are a soldier and try to march to this count Daddy, one, two three four, hup, two, three, four …….’ Instantly he came out of the freeze and began marching up the street with a mixture of confidence and disbelief. ‘Jesus, it works’, he laughed. ‘Where did you learn that? I told him about the nurse I met and what she had suggested. He uses the march regularly now when he needs to, and it gives him confidence to find that an easy to remember rhythm, brings a bit of elasticity back to his ‘Jithery Legs’.