Inspiring you to live well with Parkinson's disease
It's another busy morning of getting the girls ready for school, coaxing them into the car in order to drop them off on time for a change. Despite the chaos that always seems to mark the start of the day, I cherish these mornings because if the past is any indication, this phase of my life will pass all too quickly.
This extra time at home is a true blessing, one that I would not have otherwise realized had it not been for the PD. Up until a couple of years ago, I would have been working in my office, trying to accommodate my patients' demands, struggling through mounds of paperwork, wishing I were home with my family, wondering what my daughters were doing to keep themselves occupied as the days got longer and then shorter once again. And so I am grateful for this newfound time. But in some ways their routine of school reminds me of a time that I still long for – my safe and predictable life at work.
As much as I can see the blessings that I now enjoy as a result of the trajectory my life has taken, I still struggle with the loss of my career to some extent. I loved being a family physician. I loved my patients. I held very dear the privilege of being privy to their issues and the faith they had in me. I took very seriously the oath I had taken to "apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures that are required." I was honored to be part of their lives and to witness the growth of their children and families.
I was diagnosed at the start of my medical career yet I managed to practice for over twelve years with the daily challenges which mark this disease. But eventually the long hours, the stress of managing my practice plus home and children became nearly impossible. I was overmedicating myself to manage symptoms that were gradually becoming less problematic than the side effects of the medications themselves. The insomnia that this disease caused further added to this burden and I no longer possessed the strength I needed to make it successfully through my day. I was miserable; torn between my devotion to the care of my patients and the need to look after my own well being. I could see myself deteriorating under the weight of it all but I was unwilling to let go because in my mind at that time, I could not see beyond a life in medicine.
Since early childhood, after the usual fantasies of being a singer or movie star, I knew I wanted to be a doctor. I worked hard all through school with that focus in mind. While others around me faltered or needed to take the time to “find themselves”, I was steadfast in my resolve to get into medical school and start on my chosen path. And I did. And that remained an integral part of who I felt I was, my identity. So when Parkinson’s tried to take that away from me, I fought it. But unfortunately the struggle was at the expense of my health and my future. I recognized the toll it was taking on me for many years but couldn't acknowledge that this was a conflict I wouldn't be able to win. Because to continue on that same path of doing it all came with a high price, one that my family would ultimately have to pay. Eventually my emotional and somewhat blinded attachment to this perception of how life was meant to be, softened. And I began to heed the warnings of my husband and my neurologist who had been struggling to impress upon me for years that I was expending myself now only to lose productive years later in life. So I begrudgingly yielded this one battle in a war that to this day, I promise myself and my family, to win.
The next two years following my "early retirement" from clinical practice were difficult. I cringed every time I met someone new and they asked the inevitable question “So what do you do?” I would try and avoid places in the neighborhood where I used to work for fear of running into my patients, not that they hadn’t been supportive of my decision to focus on family and health, but because seeing them was a painful reminder of what I had lost - what I felt was an integral part of my identity.
Then I started to rebuild. I became part of a unique and inspiring community of others with PD, became active in a number of Parkinson's organizations and began to speak and write about this experience and what the past 14 years with this disease has taught me.
And slowly, be it the benefit of time or the wisdom that comes with age, the turmoil I felt, finally began to ease itself. I began to realize that I was much more than a physician, that my roles as a mother, wife, daughter and friend were the things that were truly life defining, that the knowledge and skills I had accumulated could be used in other ways. That speaking with others that face the challenge of Parkinson’s, encouraging them to live well with their disease while advocating for better treatments and ultimately a cure, was more fulfilling than anything I had done previously. That I could continue to reach out to people and still serve my community. I began to recognize that when life closes one chapter, another begins. That out of adversity can come something truly amazing…your life’s true calling.