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Columns

October 11, 2012

'So how's it going?'

The headline is a question I get a dozen times a day, almost always from friends and neighbors who want a real answer. Bless them for that.

I usually palm the question off with a laugh and, “Still wobbling along!” That’s a shameless plug, I know, for my Parkinson’s book, but my answer’s on target: I am still wobbling along, mostly forward, with unplanned, reeling sidesteps to retain balance.

But I’m not falling down. That’s due to six weeks of great therapy under Mike Quinn at the Bassett Railroad Avenue clinic, followed by steady work with Jim Jordan at the Clark Sports Center.

Mike sent me on to Jim with an exercise prescription, and Jim’s holding me to it. I’m at the Center three mornings a week, twice downstairs in the exercise room, once for a stint of swimming.

That regimen, plus good medication (more of it since I last reported to you), has kept me literally on my feet and doing things I really enjoy — including writing to all of you.

With that said, there’s no denying that I’m losing ground — or, if you prefer, Parkinson’s is gaining on me. And the most haunting change is that it’s now creeping into my cognition.

More than once, I’ve told you that this stuff feels like sailing toward a fogbank, toward almost sure dementia. Well, the first wisps of fog are now in my head, drifting around ominously. I have moments of real confusion, at least to the point of being unable to lay out ideas in sequence.

(I believe that’s called “thinking.”) This means that, more and more, I freeze up at the keyboard and have literally to back off from it to allow for a rebooting.

Not of the computer. Of me.

It also means that big chunks of my memory are suddenly missing. And I don’t mean trouble with short-term memory; that’s been plaguing me (and dear Anne!) since this stuff began. I mean the wonderful stuff I’ve gathered for decades, stowed away, and could draw on at will.

I mean the whole line of the kings and queens of England, Alfred the Great to Elizabeth the second. I could pull up their names and most of their coronation dates easily, and they became at easy reference for paralleling a given on in time with Louis XIV or Ivan the Terrible or Genghis Khan or Leif Erickson — and with historic events back to the eighth century AD. And the same with the line of Caesars and with the events of their reigns and with their famous contemporaries.

These days, I reach for the fourth century BC or the ninth century AD, and they’re gone. My long-term memory is like a glacier, large chunks of which are breaking off and drifting away into the misty seas. I think that process is called, “calving.” Well, my head’s calving at a great rate.

And so: When shaky hands on the keyboard align with decaying memory and shaky thinking — then, as the saying goes, “That’s all she wrote.” In my case, “he.” And literally.

Jim Austin’s got a last column on file, in case this should happen suddenly (strokes, mini and maxi, hit guys my age and condition; and embolisms, too.) But I’m planning that Jim won’t have to pull that column out of the file for a long, long, time. I’m planning a leisurely, if ungraceful, descent down this slope, with pauses to rest along the way.

And, apart from my shaky physical being, how about the far more important question? As Quakers would ask, “Is it well with thy soul?”

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