Remember Bev (YumaBev), who we met back in 2012, after she’d just had deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery? She told us about her blog Parkinson’s Humor and a book of stories from her blog, Parkinson’s Humor: Funny Stories about My Life with Parkinson’s. Well we recently caught up with her again to see how things have been going since we last spoke.
Check out the latest with Bev to see what she had to say about being an eternal optimist, connecting with other “Parkies” and the power of laughter.
It’s been a while (4 years) since we last caught up! How have things been going?
The last time we spoke, I had just had the first part of my DBS surgery. The surgery was an eventual success, but I had some minor complications. The skin on my scalp was so thin, it pulled apart where it was sutured. There was never any infection, but it did require several surgeries and a plastic surgeon to finally get my scalp to stay closed and heal properly. Right in the middle of all these scalp surgeries, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and the tumor was just below my DBS generator, so that made the cancer surgery a bit tricky. I also had a slight complication from the cancer surgery, in that the nerve in my right arm was pinched, so I had limited use of my right arm for about 6 months. Then my DBS settings were encroaching on the mood part of my brain, causing a severe depression. Needless to say, most of 2013 was definitely not a good year!!!
However, my scalp stayed closed and my hair grew back, my arm fixed itself, the cancer is gone (so far) and once my DBS settings were adjusted, the depression quickly disappeared.
Now my DBS settings are controlling almost all my Parkinson’s disease motor symptoms. I’m taking way less Parkinson’s disease medicines and I am back to sleeping 8 hours a night, which is something I hadn’t done in many years. Everything is about as good as it can be with Parkinson’s.
In your profile you mention that it took 8 years to get a diagnosis. Can you tell us a little about that journey?
My early Parkinson’s symptoms were not the typical resting tremor common in more elderly patients. The first symptom that sent me to a doctor was upper back pain near my shoulder blade/spine. I was referred to an orthopedist. Next came the inability to double click my computer mouse at work (more orthopedists.) Difficulty writing followed and then a tremor, but only when my hand was being used. (Think food flying off my fork and across the room.) After being x-rayed, CT-scanned and MRI’d, with everything coming back normal, I was finally referred to a neurologist. He diagnosed essential tremor (ET) and prescribed propranolol. This helped the tremor, but nothing else. My dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s the year before, so I asked if it could be Parkinson’s and was told, absolutely not. (Guess he was wrong.)
As my symptoms progressed, I confounded many more doctors, mostly general practitioners and more orthopedists. I even asked my dad’s neurologist if I might have Parkinson’s and he said, “Don’t waste my time, your problem isn’t neurological.” (Guess he was wrong, too.)
My symptoms kept slowly worsening, I needed help putting on a jacket and getting up from a chair. I startled very easily and had difficulty cutting my food. I was very stiff and rigid. My step-daughter, who I saw only once a year or so, was shocked at how much worse I was each visit.
Then my symptoms started progressing rapidly. I was losing the ability to do things daily. I needed help dressing. I could no longer drive. I had difficulty brushing my hair. I walked like I’d had a stroke and my right hand and arm were always curled. My GP was on maternity leave and not wanting to start over with a brand new GP, I took matters into my own hands. I KNEW it had to be neurological, everything else had been ruled out. I also knew it wasn’t ET because the tremors moved to my other arm.
I got a list of neurologists within 300 miles of where I lived, off a medical website. I typed a letter, detailing my medical history and symptoms, and started sending them out alphabetically. I’d send out about five, then wait to see if I heard back. Then I’d send more and wait. When I got to letter W, I almost gave up. But I sent the last few and waited. Dr. Zonis’ office manager called me, said they knew exactly what was wrong and had me come in the next day. They were right in the same town I now lived in, Yuma, AZ. He said Parkinson’s, gave me carbi/levodopa and five pills later, I could move again!
Now, to be fair, we moved around a lot, so the first neurologist I saw was in Colorado, my dad’s was in Florida, and the last one in Arizona. But MANY young onsets don’t have the same symptoms as elderly patients. Dr. Zonis was in his mid-60’s and I was the first young onset he’d ever seen in his practice.
In your last interview you talked about the power of laughter. What role does comedy play in your life now?
Laughter and comedy are still a huge part of my health management. Laughter stimulates your brain to produce more neurotransmitters, like dopamine, so it really is good medicine. And with no side effects! Well, you might pee your pants, but then you laugh at that, too.
You describe yourself as an eternal optimist – how has that influenced your experience with Parkinson’s?
Some people have optimistic tendencies, some have pessimistic ones. I think it is part of you, just like eye color or skin tone. I have always been optimistic, but I know what depression is like (from my DBS induced depression) and I can now empathize with people who feel depressed. It is awful, your whole body aches. You wake up feeling like you’ve been boxing all night with Mike Tyson. You have no hope and you feel down.
Everyone with Parkinson’s disease is different. We progress differently and have different symptoms, but I think my positive attitude explains why, after being symptomatic for 20+ years, I am doing so well.
What’s it been like connecting with others on PatientsLikeMe? Has it helped you manage your condition?
Connecting with others with Parkinson’s disease is essential to living well with the illness. Your doctor doesn’t have the time or knowledge to help you figure out how to live with Parkinson’s disease, they only know how to write prescriptions. People with Parkinson’s disease know the best local doctors, dentists, therapists and helpful tricks and are willing to share their life experiences. For example, replacing medicine bottle caps with the flip top ones that come on vitamin bottles. Parkies also can tell you if this symptom is common or if this side effect is dangerous.
Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.