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. The locals tagged him, ‘Samba’ and ‘Electric Legs’ because of his skill dancing. He would frequent 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’.
My dad’s legs would stop n mid- flight. 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. My mammy would watch this happen while shopping. In the supermarket she would say out loud, ‘Well, would you look at that fella, he must be jet propelled!!’
Other times, she suggests that dad is learning a new dance. 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’. The nurse told me that she had cared for many Parkinson’s patients. She found that when she suggested rhythm and counting to them, it helped to regulate their walk. I thought of what an Army drill instructor would say. The call to the marching rhythm for his soldiers came to mind. I 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. Daddy 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.
Dady uses the march technique regularly, when he needs to. It gives him confidence. It is an easy to remember rhythm, and brings a bit of elasticity back to his ‘Jithery Legs’.