By Teresa Swartz Roberts
Blog post 9. Copyright 2016
How did I get Parkinson’s? People ask, but I don’t know the answer. I know there is a genetic component. I read that environmental factors can switch on the gene, so my growing up within breathing distance of a pesticide plant may have had something to do with it.
A head injury in a car wreck at the age of 10 may have added to the odds of switching on the gene, but that’s debatable. The day of Mohammed Ali’s funeral I heard one neurologist tell a public radio host that Ali’s boxing career and blows to the head likely led to his early-onset PD and the same day read an article quoting another neurologist as saying that head injuries have no relationship to PD.
I looked for lots of answers, and I even told someone that my knee replacement surgery had been the catalyst. That was desperation talking; I wanted a reason. I know now that I was suffering from Parkinson’s before the operation and that the PD is why I never quite recovered.
Every case of Parkinson’s is as unique as the person who has it. Most people think of Parkinson’s as the disease that makes your hands shake, but it can appear without obvious tremors as it did in me. Meanwhile, I have a friend who has tremors without Parkinson’s.
I thought Parkinson’s always led to dementia, but my doctor says that happens in only about 20 percent of cases. (It is a brain disease, so there can be cognitive effects without dementia.) Mostly, it messes up dopamine levels and how dopamine is used by the body. There are all kinds of possible effects from a distinctive body smell to losing the ability to smell.
Why did I get Parkinson’s? That’s a bigger question. God did not give me this disease. I feel certain of that. God did allow me to get sick. Logically, if there is any logic in religion, if it happened, God allowed it to happen. (The wording comes from a group discussion led by my pastor after viewing a video that included victims of Hurricane Katrina.) I did nothing to deserve PD, any more than I did anything to deserve the blessing of being born healthy.
Although I believe God is still speaking, I don’t believe God is sending any particular message with my PD. I am not Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus. I don’t believe it’s part of some larger plan that I will understand someday. At another point in my life, I was angry at God for allowing a family member to suffer, and I wanted to punch the next person who said, “Everything happens for a reason.”
I feel the same about “God never gives you more than you can handle.” Everybody’s life contains some tragedy. Sometimes there is no reason. Sometimes we have more than we can handle.
So you know what I don’t think. What do I think about my Parkinson’s? To be honest, sometimes it sucks. If Parkinson cases are unique, so are the ways people react to it. God holds my hand as a parental figure would do, offering comfort, not reasons. God gives me the perspective to learn from it, to grow into myself, my new self. Interestingly, I haven’t been asking, “Why me?” I mean (and this is not an original idea), “Why not me?” An even more interesting question is, “What will Parkinson’s make of me?”