Wednesday, June 8, 2011


A very long time ago, I was working as a printing press operator. One of the tasks I had to perform was to watch for “hickies,” which are bits of lint or dust that get stuck to the inked areas on the printing plate and leave blotches on the printed piece. To remove a hickie, you can stop the press, but most printers save time by dabbing at the plate with a wet cotton ball while the press is running. It’s a dangerous practice, and one day I got the middle finger of my right hand caught between the rollers.

The press stopped, because the belts were old and loose. Had it been a newer press, I’d have 9 fingers today. The finger was squashed pretty flat and popped open like a bratwurst on the grill, but thankfully was not broken. I lost most sensation on one side, and couldn’t bend it very far. Once the stitches healed up, the doctor told me that I would probably never get a full range of motion or restore the damaged nerves. I resolved to prove them wrong.

I bought a book on card tricks, and spent hours every day learning manipulations. They are hard skills to master even with a full complement of working fingers, so they were agonizingly slow for me. In less than a year, I recovered my range of motion and all of the sensation in the finger. Here’s one of the tricks:

About a month ago, I was at work, typing. I’m an excellent typist - fast and accurate. But on this particular day, I typed the word “appear,” and it came out “appppppear.” I held my right hand up to my face and demanded to know what was going on, but got no answer. Later that same week, I woke up one morning to the insistent chime of my alarm clock. I reached over with my right hand to hit the button that turns it off, but my hand hit the button repeatedly, oscillating up and down. Eventually I rolled over and used my left hand to turn it off, but it was enough to send me to the doctor.

The doctor sent me to a neurologist, who conducted several tests, including a brain MRI. He concluded that I have the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. There are medications I can take to control the symptoms, up to a point. There’s no cure. The disease will progress at its own pace, different for everyone. The most I can hope for is that it progresses slowly, and that over the remainder of this decade, new medications or surgical procedures are developed to treat it.

However, the neurologist did tell me that I can take some steps to slow the progress of the disease. These include aerobic exercise and coordination exercises for my affected hand. So I’m working out on the exercise bike 4 – 5 days a week, and I’m back to card tricks and one of my favorite mindless activities, juggling:

When I first got the diagnosis, I was shocked and depressed. Now I have mixed feelings. Yes, it’s incurable, but it’s not going to kill me, so there’s hope. However, I’m angry about my game of pool. I’ve worked hard to develop my skill, and it’s already starting to deteriorate. I started playing the game because I felt that nothing could make me stop. There are elderly players, players with missing limbs, players in wheelchairs. But it looks like in a few years, I’ll be sitting on the sidelines, shaking and cheering them on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thoughts and prayers are with you. Not sure if it will help given my track record, but I figure it can't hurt. If you decide to make a little extra cash by working kids parties, I'm in for one of the two floppy shoes you're going to need.

Be well.