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February 16, 2012

From Fly Creek: About that rabbit

— The headline above suggests that I should hold this column until Easter. But if you can remember back two weeks (as I can, dimly), you’ll recall that I was going to tell you about a really helpful rabbit. Not the wacko one with Alice at the tea party, but a bunny that’s really helped me with signing checks and such.

(“Ah, it’s coming back!” you think. “He was writing about his penmanship! About how it never was much good, despite  great efforts by a seriesof teachers, nuns who drilled him in ooooOOOOooooo and //////////, without little effect at all. And — I remember! —about the portly sister who, in desperation, stood behind his desk and leaned down over him to guide his hand — and brought a revelation.

Nuns have bosoms! Inside all that starched linen and black serge, there are women!”) Congratulations! That’s amazing recall. I not sure I could have done it.

Anyway, my real point last time was that Parkinson’s has now wiped out what was left of the nuns’ hard work, and I can barely sign a check legibly. But here comes the bunny. I mentioned that problem to Justin Deichman, the therapist who’s given me such help with energy healing and acupuncture.

“I think,” Justin said kindly, “that you’re tensing up, willing to write a clear signature. And you know that tensing brings stress, and stress, in your case, brings tremors.”

Bingo! I know that sequence all too well. Stress also brings exhaustion. And here’s the part that doesn’t seem quite fair: Not only negative stress causes it, but having a really good time does, too.

A long evening with dear friends can knock me out; leave me prostrate for a day or two. If I were running things, I think I’d adjust that factor. But I’m not. And so back to the bunny.

“Instead of tensing up to write,” continued Justin, you need gently to distract yourself. When you’re about to sign, think of a blue rabbit with crossed eyes. Then, write on.”

What? Yes. It works, every time! Pen poised, I imagine that blue rabbit, its crossed eyes staring at its twitching nose. And, mesmerized by the image, I sail through the signature. Hurray, Justin! Hurray, rabbit!

The other Parkies and I find that life is full of such accommodations, some sensible, some silly, all effective. When one of our support group members freezes in place and is unable to raise a foot  to walk, two of us will brackethim and start marching in place, usually whistling the “Colonel Boogie March.”

Left, right, left, right, we stamp, until our friend’s foot, one or the other, frees itself and he begins to march in place with us. Then it’s around the room, often with everyone whistling or humming along.

I’m foreseeing these days that another kind of compensating lies in my future. My Parkinson’s Plus is monkeying with my fingers now, and that plays hob with keyboarding.

Sometimes this means backtracking three and four times to straighten the messes that I’ve made in a single sentence. There’s a remedy for this, should it get steadily worse.

It’s as astounding software program called “Dragon.” This clever beast, once downloaded into your laptop (PC or Apple), will listen to and learn the sounds of your voice: your vocabulary, your typical sentence structure, even your intonations and pauses. And, having learned the way you sound, it will then take dictation and produce a typescript right before you on the screen.

My good friend Andy, a Quaker down in New Jersey, makes great use of his Dragon. Andy’s living with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s paralyzed him from the neck down and, of course, blocks ordinary keyboarding. And so Andy summons his friendly Dragon, who listens and then produces perfect memos and emails.

Andy is still able to talk on the phone, albeit in the slurred voiced that is the lot of so many of us with neurological diseases. The last time we talked, he laughed about having to retrain the Dragon again.

“Each time my speech gets worse,” he said, “the Dragon gets confused. And so we have to get out the software and retrain it to my latest voice.”

It’s the nature of ALS that, even as his body fails him, Andy’s intelligence, wit, warmth, and depth of spirit will stay completely in his control. For many, thought of that would be a horror.

For Andy, it is surely a challenge  and must bring anxiety.But my guess is that he’s deeply familiar with his own interior and with the Being Who shares that most private space. So familiar that he fears no evil as he approaches that valley of the shadow of death.

I know that Andy will laugh heartily when I tell him about the cross-eyed blue rabbit, and will understand at once its value. And so I’ll encourage you, if need be, to imagine your own rabbit—not mine; they’re one to the customer.

But I think you should surely make it blue, picking a shade that will startle you. Not baby blue, of course, or azure; these are too soft. And certainly not Prussian or navy blue; much too dark for me. For me, it’s royal blue: just right!

But make your own choice. Just be sure to cross the eyes. That’s really important.