The Start of It
This was a difficult piece to write. The events described happened exactly a year ago. I started writing this a couple of months later. Initially it made me very emotional revisiting what happened and putting it into words. Only now, a year later, could I make this into something which resembles a complete piece of writing.
It started before the meeting (and the ambulance). It started before my right hand stopped working. From what I gather it started years before. Waiting. Creeping up.
The first thing we noticed was the shopping. The Boss always used to pay at the checkout whilst I packed up the groceries. (The kids would often stay home while we shopped these days.) I was getting slower and slower at putting the shopping in the bags. It was embarrassing. I could see what needed to be done and I could do it, but it all happened in slow motion, until The Boss worked her way down the checkout to take over. We talked about it after a while . Made jokes at my expense. It was puzzling. Might have to get it checked out…
This continued for a while (Weeks? Months? I couldn’t say now).
Then I woke up one Saturday morning and couldn’t move my right hand. Not properly. It sort of flexed to make a fist, but the fingers wouldn’t move by themselves. This was a bit disturbing… But it was Saturday and I didn’t fancy a trip to hospital. Besides, my dad was visiting for the weekend. I wasn’t going to fuck up our weekend. But I would go to the doctor on Monday.
It was a sunny weekend. I sat in the garden chatting to dad (cutting a dash as ever in his robes) pondering what was up with my hand. I was quite worried on Saturday but I refused to get carried away. Maybe it was some sort of trapped nerve? The doctor would sort it on Monday.
Monday morning arrived and my phone rang early, waking me up. It was my boss (not to be confused with The Boss, who was asleep next to me). He wouldn’t make it to school today. He was sick. But it was the last week before the summer break. There was a hatful of important messages to deliver to the staff in the Monday morning Staff Briefing. I knew I wouldn’t remember them all. Fuck.
Walking to school through the park, I was considering my day. It was hard to see past the morning meeting. I was getting increasingly uncomfortable addressing big groups of people. It stressed me out. I didn’t really understand why it had become such a difficult thing to do. I used to be quite good with an audience, if not exactly relaxed. My confusion stressed me out even more. But I could keep it short, then get on with my day. I would visit the doctor in the afternoon.
I greeted the assembled staff sat around the conference room over the lobby. We were a bigger staff. We used to all fit around the table. Now we squeezed into the room with some people stood around the edges. I boomed out a ‘Good Morning’ in my best imitation of our Principal, a known and enthusiastic orator. But I stayed seated, feeling tense and physically out of sorts. Putting my shirt and tie on that morning had been a little complicated without full use of the right hand.
All eyes were on me. I was trying to be concise so we could all get on with our week. I had things to remember. I… trailed off… lost the thought (as was happening with increased regularity). I couldn’t regain the thread of what I was saying. Everyone waited for me.
My right hand started to tremble. It twitched about on the table. I stared at it. It jerked some more, bouncing up from the tabletop. I made a grab at it with my good left hand, trying to wrestle it back under control before people really noticed. But the right hand seemed to be winning. Both arms were jerking wildly. A ripple of concern ran around the room. Everyone seemed to freeze. I suppose that’s what I did, except most of my upper body was jerking around.
I then did the most British thing I have done in my life and apologised to everyone. ‘I’m terribly sorry about this.’
The school nurse made me lie down on the floor while they called an ambulance and cleared the room. The ambulance took me away. I was examined and scanned. The eventual verdict was that there was nothing happening which would imminently kill me. But I should probably see a neurologist. How long would I have to wait? The young doctor told me three weeks or so. I put some pressure on him, stressing that I was quite debilitated. He managed to fix me up with an appointment two weeks later.
Those two weeks were some of the longest of my life. I stayed largely at home, wondering what was up with me. Tried to convince myself it was a trapped nerve or something benign. Slept. Felt bad about not being in work. Looked at my right hand and all of the things it could not do any more. Experimented with it.
The only difficult thing for the neurologist was finding the best way to break it to me. Doctors seem to like you to tell them what is wrong with you in these circumstances.
‘Do you have any idea what it might be?’
‘A trapped nerve?’ I replied hesitantly.
He shakes his head. ‘It’s not a trapped nerve.’
‘Well I never Google symptoms. That way lies madness. I let the medical professionals tell me what’s going on.’
He gives up fishing for any inkling I might have of what is wrong with me.
‘I’m fairly sure it’s Parkinson’s disease.’
There follows an idiot-simple explanation of what that meant. I didn’t know the first thing about PD. Idiot-simple was entirely appropriate. He was upbeat and tried to cheer me up. I think he saw that I was in shock. He sent me out of his office with a companionable pat on the arm. ‘We’ll be in touch.’
I remember calling my wife from outside the hospital. She took it well. I was numb. I wondered how I would tell my parents. They would be sad. I didn’t cry. That came days later.