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Saturday, March 29, 2014

2012 Symptoms - Something's Not Quite Right Here

I had two symptoms I had noticed early on that seemed strange, but I didn't think a whole lot about it. It was only in retrospect that I realized they were the first symptoms of PD. I had almost forgotten about them, really, until my right arm started doing the same thing this year. One of them I have a general idea when I first noticed it. The other, I don't recall with any certainty. So I don't know for sure which came first and second.

My hunch is this one came first. My best guess on when I first noticed it was in early 2012, though it might have been at the end of 2011. I do recall noticing it while driving. During that time, my youngest son, Jeremy, was in his first year at the University of Texas in Austin. So we were constantly making trips to Austin, approximately one hour each way, for this, that, and the other thing.

On one of those trips, I noticed my left hand was clamping onto the steering wheel uncomfortably, instead of relaxing as it usually did. It felt like my hand muscles wanted to contract. I had to keep forcing my hand to relax, but as soon as I thought about something else, I'd realize my hand was clamped on it again.

I figured this was a passing thing. But it didn't go away. I did, however, get used to it doing that. What I would later find out is stress brings out PD motor symptoms. Driving is definitely stressful. So the only time I noticed this was when I drove anywhere. I adjusted and moved on. However, as time went on, the uncomfortableness extended to my whole arm. Now, even with medication, I can still feel a tightness that produces pain in my left arm. Without medication, it would feel much worse.

The second symptom that hit me happened while swimming. My wife and I, at the time, were members at a local gym. We'd go there most weeknights to swim and sit in the hot tub together. It was good exercise, and someday we'd like to do that again. But around late spring or early summer of 2012, I started to notice a pain in my left arm when I swung it over the water. Felt like a really sore muscle.

I thought maybe I'd over exerted the muscle, and it would get better. It didn't. Each evening while swimming, it felt as sore as it did the day before. But I only noticed it while swimming. Something about swinging that arm up and over that brought it out.

Despite the longevity of those symptoms, it had yet to dawn on me that anything was seriously wrong. None of it affected my day-to-day activities. I only noticed them when doing those two activities.

In August of 2012, I bought a new laptop to replace my aging one. When I started using it, I noticed I had a tendency to double-enter, E's especially. I suspected it was a cheap keyboard. Well, there is that, but I now know it was also the beginning of PD affecting my typing. Through September, that became worse, and other letters started having the same problem, all left-hand keys.

By October, I began to notice difficulty getting my left hand to type smoothly. I frequently had to hit the backspace button because my hand didn't type the right thing. My fingers were misbehavin'. It began to dawn on me something wasn't right with my left hand. What, I had no idea.

But the realization came in November. Most years, you'll find me writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month in November. For the past years, I would log into a NaNo local chat. We'd have timed speed tests, usually 20 minutes. A bot would start the timer. At the end of the time period, we'd all report our word count to see who had the highest. Usually in a 20 minute period, I could type 4 to 5 hundred words. Others were much faster than me, but occasionally I'd win one if everyone else had an off time.

When I began doing those races in November of 2012, I was consistently hitting in the 200s, the 300s on a good run. I realized whatever was wrong with me, it had cut my typing speed in half. I knew then that something was wrong. But I didn't say anything to my wife or anyone, hoping the symptoms would go away. Still, I finished a 50K+ novel that month (currently published, Virtual Game). In the past I had generally passed the 50K mark around Thanksgiving. I passed that mark in the last three days of the month.

The last indicator was a funeral in December and hanging with my brother and sister-in-law on New Year's Eve. In both instances, they noted that I didn't seem as engaged, and looked "out of it." For the funeral, I figured that was because I had received very little sleep the night before. So naturally I didn't feel much like engaging. Plus, I've never been a big conversationalist anyway.

But later I learned that one of the symptoms of PD is one's face can often get that "I'm checked out" look, even when I'm not. So what seemed normal engagement to me may have looked like I wasn't paying attention to what was going on, even if I did.

That said, I did notice after that having moments when I felt confused about what I was doing. Not merely forgetting what you came into a room to do, but confused about it. Like for a moment, you don't even remember that you had a reason to be there. PD can create dementia. Are these foreshadowing that? Not sure. The likeliest PD patients to get dementia are those who start showing symptoms in their 60s or later. So I should be at a lower risk, but obviously not no risk. Time will tell.

Overall, I believed I was experiencing the beginnings of weakness and fatigue, another PD symptom. It wasn't strong, but there. Sort of a feeling of giving up and going with the flow, but feeling you were giving up something important that would make you happy, so you felt a little like a martyr.  How much of that was PD and how much was lingering wisps of how things used to be before the changes infidelity brought on, I don't know.

The mental confusion doesn't happen as much now. I'll explain in a later post why I think that is.

At this point, I didn't know what was wrong. Tremors hadn't developed yet. I had no clue. Only that something was wrong, and with the advent of a new year, I made plans to see a doctor. I hoped we'd find a remedy for it, and I would get past it. As you know now, that was not to be.

The events for 2013 will be in the next post.

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