A couple of years before retiring from a life of teaching, Al’s students began complaining that his writing on the board wasn’t clear enough to read. Over time, he started to notice a slight tremble in the fingers on his left hand and began having problems holding everyday objects like pens and small tools. And at age 63, while celebrating his recent retirement, Al received the diagnosis of Parkinson’s.
Since then, the disease has progressed to his right hand. Some days the right hand is far worse than the left. Al is experiencing symptoms in his legs; his morning walk is of paramount importance to starting each day.
So is regular exercise. “Move!” states Al with passion. “Keep both your body and mind as active as possible.” Al walks regularly and is looking into the positive results from Rock Steady Boxing, a program that has shown to increase quality of life for people with Parkinson’s. Al has volunteered for Parkinson’s research, was a volunteer driver with the Cancer Society, has enjoyed taking computer repair training, is an avid reader, and also states, “I won’t let anyone feel sorry for me.”
Al talks about how it is easy to feel sorry for yourself when dealing with Parkinson’s, and also acknowledges that if you let that occur, you will become limited in what you can do physically.
The attitude and approach we can all adopt make a world of difference when dealing with personal challenges. He shares that he has had a good and healthy life, and also admits that what he now has, could be worse. There are crueler conditions to be diagnosed with and he is able to deal with most of the symptoms that come along.
Al is a bit disappointed that he can no longer play horseshoes; his body strength isn’t what it once was, a common symptom with Parkinson’s. And he stays away from ladders due to the dizziness that occurs, but he keeps busy with volunteering, learning new tasks, family and supportive friends who fondly address him as ‘Shakey’.
Having past experience with trades, he is also an advocate for personal protection equipment. “Over my career, I also taught Health and Safety. It can be a very unhealthy and unsafe trade if all the safety rules are not followed. One day I received a flyer on Parkinson’s and welding. It stated that there was evidence to support a relationship between welding heavy metals and Early Onset Parkinson’s. I included the flyer in my presentations, never once thinking that it might ever have an effect on me. Surprise! Was I ever wrong!”
The problem can occur when welding in close quarters without proper breathing protection. When Al was an apprentice, there was little concern for such things as breathing protection (everyone smoked back then). We know far more today about the potential dangers of not wearing the right protection. Al stresses, “Wear all personal protection available whatever your job! It’s not worth taking the chance.”
In closing, Al also offers, “Parkinson’s is a dreadful disease but there are truly worse things in life. Take advantage of all the help that is out there. Stay informed, ask questions, have those tough conversations and keep up with all the advancements and changes – they are occurring regularly. Don’t give up.”