Parkinsonâ€™s By Virginia Ironside
About our publications Our publications are free of charge as we want as many people as possible to benefit from these resources. All our publications are entirely funded by voluntary donations so if you would like to make a contribution, it would be gratefully received. Any money received will help us support others affected by Parkinsonâ€™s through information, care and research. To make a donation, please call 020 7932 1303, visit www.parkinsons.org.uk/donate or write to Parkinsonâ€™s Disease Society, 215 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 1EJ. Thank you.
When I was very little, my grandad played football with me ... and weâ€™d paint pictures ... and go out for ice cream ... and he would jump me up in the air.
Giggle, giggle, giggle, ha ha ha â€Ś he was such good fun.
But now he’s changed. It’s as if my old grandad has gone away. He sits in a chair and doesn’t smile, and he doesn’t walk about as much as he used to.
One day, he came to dinner and when mum and I were laying the table, I asked: “Has grandad got very old?” And my mum said: “Well, he has got a bit older, but the real problem is that he’s got Parkinson’s disease.” “Who is Parkinson?” I asked. “And what is his disease?” I was rather frightened I’d catch it from grandad.
Mum laughed. “Parkinson was a clever doctor who discovered this special condition that was named after him,” she said. “And in case you’re wondering, no, you can’t catch Parkinson’s.”
Mum got out the plates and I put out the knives and forks. “Is Parkinson’s what makes him slow?” I asked. “Yes,” said mum. “His muscles are getting all stiff and he finds it hard to move as well as he used to.”
“But sometimes he shuffles a bit and then stops,” I said. “Why is that?” “It’s because his muscles suddenly seize up,” said mum. “But there’s nothing to worry about. If you wait a minute, he’ll start walking again.”
Mum got the glasses out of the cupboard, and I polished them to make them sparkle, and then I found the paper napkins. We always like to make things nice when grandad comes over. â€œBut the other day he fell over,â€? I said.
“Yes,” said mum. “Just like you used to when you were taking your first steps. That’s to do with Parkinson’s as well. When that happens it’s called ‘freezing’. Suddenly all his muscles stop working and he topples over.”
“Why does he take so long to eat?” I asked. “It takes ages for grandad just to eat his soup!” “That’s the same problem,” said mum. “None of his muscles are working as quickly as ours, so it takes him a while to lift his spoon and to swallow. So we just have to be patient and wait for him. He’s trying as hard as he can.”
I folded the napkins into special shapes so they looked nice, and then I got a candle and put it in the middle of the table. Then I asked: “Is Parkinson’s why sometimes he can’t speak properly? Because of his muscles slowing up his mouth?” “Yes, that’s right!” said mum. “Everything that people with Parkinson’s do takes a little bit longer than it does for all of us. And that’s why it might take a bit longer for him to reply to us.”
“Why can’t he draw pictures for me like me used to?” I asked. “Because his hands are slower, too. His hands are shaky as well, so he finds it more difficult to draw a straight line and the pencil goes all over the place. Sometimes he finds it easier to type than to write. Otherwise his handwriting looks like yours when you’re in a hurry!”
Mum put the potatoes on to boil, and lit the oven to warm it up. â€œWhy has he got this condition?â€? I asked.
“No one knows,” said mum. “But it has something to do with chemicals in the brain. Sadly, doctors can’t make everyone better, though they try hard all the time. Grandad takes lots of pills every day which help him a bit. Although doctors are trying to find a cure, they haven’t found one yet, even though lots and lots of people have this condition.” “Will he die because of Parkinson’s?” I asked. “No, he certainly won’t,” said mum. “We all die one day, but it won’t be because of Parkinson’s.”
“Will you get Parkinson’s?” I asked. “No, I don’t think so,” she said. “Don’t worry.” “I do worry,” I said, “because grandad used to laugh and laugh and laugh, and now he just looks serious all the time. Is he sad? Can I cheer him up?” “The only reason he can’t laugh is because he can’t work his laughter muscles like he used to,” said mum, putting some beans into boiling water. “But you can make him happy by being patient when he’s around, and doing his smiling for him. Then you know he’ll be laughing inside, just like he used to.”
The next time grandad came round it was his birthday. He did take a long time eating and when he tried to blow out the candles afterwards, he wasnâ€™t able to. I knew he wanted to make a joke about it and it was only Parkinsonâ€™s that stopped him.
My grandad hasnâ€™t really gone away. Inside, heâ€™s still there, laughing and being the lovely grandad he always has been. He still loves me, and I love him.
Illustrated by Hanne Berkaak ÂŠ Parkinsonâ€™s Disease Society of the United Kingdom, 2008 Charity registered in England and Wales No. 258197 and in Scotland No. SC037554 A company limited by guarantee, Registered No. 948776 (London) Registered office 215 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 1EJ February 2008 Code B087