Thursday, January 21, 2016

My Parkinson's Disease--Current Symptoms

Here are the current symptoms of my Parkinson's Disease:

  • No sense of smell (anosmia). This was the first indicator that occurred a dozen or more years ago.
  • Loss of manual dexterity in my right hand. I have a difficult time buttoning the left cuff button on my dress shirts. Worse, my handwriting, which has never been good (I got a D in handwriting in the 6th grade), is now so illegible that I can't read it myself. I can still type slowly, but often leave letters out and double other letters.
  • Lack of facial expressions. This phenomenon is called blunted affect. I do smile (occasionally) and laugh (pretty often), but my ordinary expression is, um, expressionless. On different occasions, two nurses have said they thought I probably had Parkinson's Disease just by looking at my face.
  • Soft speech. This odd phenomenon is quite common to PD folks, I'm told. To me, my volume sounds normal, but those listening say I speak very softly.
  • Balance issues. I have to be careful when I stand not to start tilting backwards. Occasionally I have to take several, small corrective backward steps to maintain balance.
  • I have difficulty getting out of chairs. Odd as it may seem, I lack the balance and strength (it seems) simply to stand up out of a chair. I have to grab the coffee table in front or else make two or three efforts to get up before I am successful.
  • I read aloud too fast. In my regular speech, I sometimes stumble over what I want to say. Both of these behaviors are new to me, so I attribute them to my PD. 
So far, even though I'm not as sharp now in my sixties as I was in my thirties, my mental acuity doesn't seem to have been affected. Having said that, I do  have more "word finding" difficulty that I used to.

I don't have any tremors, and that is what makes my neurologist think I have a PD-like disease instead of genuine PD.

My Parkinson's Disease

The first thing that turned out later too be a symptom of Parkinson's Disease was that I lost my sense of smell. This was maybe 12 to 15 years ago. Since losing one's sense of smell can mean a brain tumor, my doctor sent me for an MRI, which detected nothing. (Hence the old joke, "We did an MRI of your brain, but couldn't find anything.") Then, and I  realize I'm foggy on this, awhile later I was sent to a specialist who put me on Requip, a medicine used for both PD and restless leg syndrome.  I don't remember a diagnosis at that time. However, I had an episode at work where I almost fainted, so I stopped taking Requip.

A year or two passed. Then I noticed that I was losing dexterity in my right hand. I couldn't button the cuff buttons on my work shirts with my right hand. A visit to a neurologist showed that the electrical signals down my arm were running fine. Conclusion: My brain wasn't generating the commands to the nerves to begin with. In other words, Parkinson's Disease. Soon, I visited another doctor who became my regular neurologist at that time, and he put me on Carbidopa/Levodopa, Mirapex (pramipexole dihydrochloride), and Azilect (rasagiline).

What are these three drugs? Carbidopa/Levidopa is a form of dopamine, a brain chemical needed in the transmission of signals. Basically what's going on in the brains of Parkinson's patients is that the brain cells that manufacture dopamine are dying off so not enough is available for the brain to send the needed nerve signals to the muscles to tell them what to do.

Mirapex, now available as the generic pramipexole dihydrochloride, is a dopamine agonist, which means that it helps dopamine (supplied by the brain and by the Carbidopa/Levodopa pills, work harder.

Azilect (generic name, rasagiline) is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor type B (MAOI-B). As the "inhibitor" name suggests, this medicine slows down the oxidation of dopamine so that it is available to work longer. In other words, it slows down the destruction of dopamine by the brain's ordinary chemical processes. I believe that the "B" in this MAOI means that it works in such a way that the dietary restrictions of other MAOI drugs are not needed. (No cheddar cheese, for example, or anything with tyramine in it.) But check with your doctor.

So, I have been munching on these three guys three times a day for maybe five or more years. My current neurologist says I have a "Parkison's-like" disease that might not be genuine PD. However, my symptoms are increasingly showing that PD is the likely condition.

See the next entry for my current symptoms.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Aristotle Meets Godzilla

As a boredom reducer for my treadmilling, I started to watch the 1998 Godzilla movie. At one point early in the film, time is of the essence to find out what's going on. So urgent are the authorities that they send a helicopter with a dozen armed men to bring back the earthworm-radioactivity specialist from Chernobyl and put him on the case.

Then comes a scene where he and another principal investigator are racing to the scene of a ship destroyed by this unknown beast. However, the investigators are racing overland in Jeeps--while helicopters accompany them at groundspeed. This makes for interesting spectacle, showing half a dozen vehicles driving along dirt roads, and two black helicopters flying in tandem with them. But Aristotle would have said that plot is more important than spectacle. We are forced to ask the obvious question, "Aside from its cinematic effect, why doesn't the scene show the investigators racing to the site of the shipwreck, arriving not in Jeeps but in the helicopters, while the support personnel come later in the Jeeps?"

Get the book and find out what makes good drama according to Aristotle:

And here's a book just on point--Aristotle for screenwriters:

Friday, December 18, 2015

Check Engine Light, Code P0440, and the Hand of God

A year or so ago, my 2010 Toyota Camry threw a trouble code and turned on the "Check Engine" light. I searched for my OBD II code reader but couldn't find it. So I was forced to go too the Toyota dealer, who charged me  $142 to tell me that my gas cap was not screwed on tightly enough. Later, after I had found my code reader, the same code appeared. I looked it up on the Internet and discovered that the gas cap tightening was an issue.

A few years later, I was doing some work for a widow. At one point she mentioned that her car was displaying a low tire icon on the dashboard. I checked and the icon was the Check Egine light. I put my OBD II reader on it and  P0440 came up. By this time I had forgotten the meaning of that code, so we went on the internet and found it. Loose gas cap the most common common cause of this code being thrown. I turned to the widow and asked, "Do you pump your own gas?" She said yes, so I tightened it and told her to call me back if the code reappeared.

Having all this freshly in mind, I got a call from a longtime friend, who mentioned that his car was displaying the Check Engine icon. I brought my OBD II code reader to lunch with me. When, after lunch, we hooked up the reader, the explanation was P0440. I didn't need the diagnostic book that  explains codes. Because this event was the latest in a sequence of God-defined event, I knew I would succeed. We went to the gas cap and tightened it substantially.

If something is called to your attention, remember it, and think about how it might be God calling with an adventure that will be useful to you in the future. How do you separate random events from a clearly intentional set of circumstances?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Source Evaluation and Critical Thinking

Source Evaluation and Critical Thinking.
There are lots of Web pages that tell you how to evaluate sources—especially Internet sources. I even have such a page. But there’s something that you’re not being told. Source evaluation is (1) a learned skill and (2) it’s learned heuristically, not algorithmically. Let me define for you. An algorithm is a step by step procedure that yields a set result. A cake recipe is a good example. Follow the recipe correctly, get a nice cake. Unfortunately, source evaluation is not algorithmic. And even more unfortunately, too many writers and teachers pretend that it is.
Source evaluation cannot be learned by reading an article that lists half a dozen factors (who is the publisher, who is the author, how recent is the article, etc.) to take into account. Now, such articles are very good because those are important items to think about. But there are many nuances, variations, exceptions, and subtleties to include also.
A heuristic is a trial-and-error method of learning, where you gradually learn over time what the best answers are. Your knowledge—your skill—that you apply to evaluating sources must be refined so that you can sniff out that fake source that looks so reliable. Not to mention the good source that looks amateur.
Speaking of which, many evaluation articles scoff at so-called vanity sites put up by individuals. Many are probably not reliable, but many others are labors of love by experienced, expert contributors who do indeed know what they are talking about. And official sites are not guaranteed to be reliable, either.
For example, suppose you are researching diet and you come across a Web site called the Investigative Institute for Human Health and Nutrition. There you find an article about the dangers of eating red meat. The article is by a couple of people with Doctor titles. Good source? Well, suppose further that you do a little digging and discover that the site is owned or sponsored by VeganMilitancy and that the doctors have honorary PhDs and not medical degrees. Bad source? Well, are there redeeming factors? Can you trust the statistics on the site?
Here is my advice for what to do:
·        Triangulate the source. Are there other sources that support these arguments, data, reasons, evidence?
·        Use the rest of the Internet to test the claims of the site. Do other sites disagree or even disprove the claims of the site under review? Note that disagreeing is not the same as disproving. I remember once hearing someone say of a controversial claim, "That's been answered." But what was the answer? Was it an "I don't agree" answer or a disproof?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Who Can Refute a Sneer?

A number of episodes of several crime-drama TV series include either criminal Christians (pastors, vicars, murderous self-righteous fanatics, tyrannical and abusive Scripture-quoting fathers) or Christians as murder victims—men of the cloth often spectacularly murdered in their church. It is said that we adopt many beliefs through anecdote and few beliefs through reason or evidence. I wonder whether these character roles from TV serve either as unbelief inducers or as food for confirmation bias. In other words, for those who are nominally Christian or those who are unsettled about religion and spiritual life in general, are they influenced against faith by these propagandistic ploys?
It’s an old technique—associate something you want to make loathsome with something already thought to be loathsome. Are people so na├»ve that they fall for this?
“Fred is a lowdown snake.”
“He is? Hey, Harry! Have you heard? Fred is a lowdown snake.”
“Who knew? Tom, did you know that Fred is a snake?”
“Yeah, that’s what everybody says.”

By the way, the title of this posting comes from William Paley, who advanced what might be called an early theory of intelligent design in the biological world by pointing out that plants and animals sure do appear to have been designed and made for a purpose. Palely was referring to the anti-Christian sneering tone of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (which Gibbon blamed on Christianity). So, to end, we quote the proverb, "Those who can only sneer have no facts." Just like those who have no stones to throw can only scream four-letter words at those they hate.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Media Studies 101: Shaping Readers' Attitudes

When the news media want to slant someone's words, there are several ways. First, the person can be quoted out of context. Second, the quotation can be partial, leaving out (from the front, middle, or end) qualifying language or other words that change the meaning. But a powerful technique is to quote the person exactly and then use the quotation verb to shape the reader's understanding.

Consider your thoughts about the speaker depending on the quotation verb chosen by the journalist:

1. "Yes, I went to that seedy neighborhood," he said.
2. he acknowledged
3. he admitted
4. he conceded
5. he confessed

1. "I didn't go to that neighborhood to buy drugs. I was searching for my son," he explained.
2. he said
3. he claimed
4. he alleged
5. he maintained

Watch for slant-free verbs, such as said and replied. Be cautious when you encounter others.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Secrets to Being a Great Conversationalist

Want to become known as someone who is great to talk to? Someone who is never at a loss for words? Want to be admired for your interpersonal skills? Here are the secrets to becoming known as an excellent conversationalist.

1. Listen. Most people a hungry, if not aching, to have someone to talk to, to listen to their problems, experiences, and opinions. If you play the role of listener, helping the other person or persons to do much of the talking, even venting, that will be much appreciated. The proverb says, "Listen to seven words for every word you speak." That's good advice not only to make the talker happy, but it provides you as listener with a context and details you can use to formulate your reply.

2. Ask questions. Asking a question of your conversational partner shows that you are interested in and curious about that person's life and ideas. Sometimes (often, for shy people) others don't know what to say next. If you ask a question, they have a topic to fill out. Be sure to ask a question that the  other person will likely find interesting and have something to say about. It's better to ask, "What have you found most valuable about your education?" than to ask, "Do you think string theory will resolve the issues in quantum mechanics?" Always be ready with a question, so that if the conversation drags or stops, you can resuscitate it.

3. Remember that conversations are not all about you. I once had a friend who, no matter what I or anyone else said, would connect the statement to herself. If someone said, "There was an accident on the freeway that made me late for class," she might say, "I saw an accident once where three cars were wrecked. I got really nervous." If you said, "Let's go watch paint dry," she would likely say, "My bedroom at home is painted pink." So, resist the temptation to turn the conversation on yourself.

4. Pause. When you talk, don't engage in a fire hose of words where there are no periods in your sentences. Nonstop talkers are an irritant and they are simply impolite. A good rule of thumb to follow is to pause after every two sentences or so (unless you are in the middle of a detailed explanation) to allow someone else to inject a comment or reply. When a nonstop talker rambles on and on and changes the subject six times, the listeners forget the insightful comments they wanted to make about one of the topics now long gone, and that frustrates them, taking the enjoyment out of the experience. Besides, listening to a nonstop talker is very tiring because the listeners' brains grow weary of trying to process all those words.

5. Remember that when you are face to face, gestures, body language, and facial expressions are significant sources of communication.

6. Tone of voice is very important, and should convey interest, respect, and warmth.

7. It's best not to disagree over minor details--how to pronounce tomato is the classic example. If you must disagree, try doing it in the form of a question. For example, instead of saying, "That's wrong. It was 1989, not 1986," ask, "Wasn't it 1989 rather than 1986?" or even, "I thought is was 1989. Is that right?"

8. Avoid sarcasm. Sarcasm with those close to you who can appreciate it is okay, but in a general social setting, sarcasm is "crude, rude, and unrefined" as my junior high school teacher once said. It's insulting, disrespectful, and can be a conversation stopper.

Try these ideas out, whether you are naturally shy or naturally talkative.