In which the author reflects on a brush with the future, and is chastened.
About eight months ago, my husband observed that my right hand was shaking when I lifted my cup to drink my morning coffee.
Truth be told, I’d noticed it too. And occasionally, when I was tired, the grip with my right hand didn’t seem to be as reliable. I had been dropping things, which I noticed because my bad back didn’t like all the bending to pick things up.
Yes, I’m a senior, and things are aching. But was this tremor something new and scary?
Years ago, I had watched as my uncle (then in his 80’s) slowly lost his quality of life due to Parkinson’s Disease. It affected him in many ways — tremor, balance, even digestion — and robbed a proudly, stubbornly independent man of his sense of agency in the world.
I had volunteered with a local Parkinson’s research charity, and watched with sympathy and sadness as a member of their Board of Directors deteriorated and ultimately lost her life to the disease. Her diagnosis was early onset, and her child was still a teenager when she died.
From the charity and the researchers it supports, I learned that this progressive disorder affects the nervous system and the many body parts controlled by nerves. I learned that symptoms start slowly, can be barely noticeable, and sometimes are recognized only in retrospect when they have progressed to more serious stages.
And the first symptom is often a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand.
I ignored the tremor for several months, on the basis that if I hadn’t been diagnosed, I didn’t have any disease. Magical thinking is always top of mind in these circumstances, I find.
But my dear life partner insisted, and eventually I asked our family doctor. She conducted a highly scientific investigation: she asked me to extend my arm out in front of me, then she placed a paper towel on top of my outstretched hand. Surprise, no tremor was visible.
“I suspect it’s just an essential tremor,” she reassured me, “something that a lot of people experience as we age.” But just to be sure, she referred me to a neurologist for further tests.