Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ten Things Parkinson's Disease Has Taught Me


10. I’m on the way to becoming irresistible to women.
They say women are attracted to men who are tall, dark, handsome, and soft spoken. Everyone keeps asking me to speak louder. So, I must be soft spoken. That’s already one-fourth of irresistibility. Sorry, ladies, I’m already happily married.

9. Even with a blunted affect, I still can’t play poker.
A blank facial expression might be good for poker, but for me, it makes people think I’m uninterested, when the fact is, I just don’t know how to play poker. But bored or thrilled, I just have the same poker face. Except when I laugh. I need to laugh more often.

8. I am not my body.
The person I’m talking about when I use the word I is not the same as my decrepitating body. I have to live inside it, and let me say it used to be a much more comfortable home than it is today, after so many years of weather. To change metaphors, my body is a car and I am the driver. The car is an older model—today, the radiator leaks, the engine isn’t running on all eight anymore, and the tires are going flat, but the driver is still fine. The driver just can’t go as fast as he used to. Sometimes he can barely get out of the driveway.

7. Feeling frustrated doesn’t make anything better.
You know, it’s kind of aggravating when my mind tells my legs to lift me up and all they can say is, “That’s above my pay grade. Let the arms do it.” I tell my legs that they are very muscled, but they say, “What’s it to ya?” And that chronic back pain; you feel it less was now that gets old after a while. And then there’s my diminishing ability to use my beloved tools. My right hand is getting increasingly uncooperative, so now I can’t seem to make a pair of pliers do what I used to do with them. But getting upset over all this doesn’t make a difference, so why bother to get upset? Besides, not many people like a grump.

6. I don’t take anything for granted.
My handwriting is already comical. Maybe I’m writing in secret code and I just don’t know it. I dare you to try to decipher it. But how much longer will I be able to type, even with my clumsy, disobedient fingers that insist on leaving out some letters and doubling others—even in the same word. But I can still type, sort of. This is a blessing. And those rebellious buttons that fight me every buttonhole. True, they no longer cooperate the way they did years ago, but, eventually, I can still button a shirt. This, too, is a blessing. In fact, I see every good thing as a distinct blessing, and not as an entitlement. Life is good—increasingly awkward, but good. Whether I eat a 99-cent taco or a prime steak, I’m content—no, make that happy. Grateful and happy. Some people take their health for granted. Big mistake.
5. I have a lot more compassion for the handicapped.
I’ve learned that we shouldn’t judge others by using ourselves as the standard of measure. We can’t fully understand what others are going through unless we ourselves have the same situation. I feel as if I’ve been put into a body that doesn’t belong to me. I ask, “Why is my body stumbling around?” and “Why does my tongue stumble, too?” and “Why is my handwriting so small? Is there a paper shortage only my hand knows about?” Yes, I feel awkward and conspicuous when I walk around. And now I know how other people feel who aren’t young and agile and “normal.” God bless them. So, less judgment, more empathy.

4. There’s no “Why me?” here.
When something bad happens to some people, they ask, “Why me?” when the real question is, “Why not me?” We’re told that in this world we will have tribulation. And while we’re quick to ask, “Why me?” when we get sick or hurt ourselves, how come we never ask, “Why me?” when we’re eating lobster on a vacation cruise or even licking an ice cream cone at home?

3. We can’t predict the future.
Seems as if every time we expect a high fast ball, we get a low curve ball instead. The fact is, only God can see around corners; we can barely see in a straight line. Maybe we should take the hint and trust God for our future instead of trying to outguess him.

2. I am now more aware of my mortality, and that’s a good thing.
Yep, we’re all gonna die. But we don’t think about it that much until the Lord calls our attention to it in a quite personal way. Gonna die. Check. Got it. Getting ready.

1. I still have hope.
I have hope—not that I will be cured, but hope for the kingdom of God. And hope for strength during the remainder of my stay here.
The Bible is a good place to find out about our hope. Isaiah tells us:



Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Yahweh is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the whole earth.
He never grows faint or weary;
there is no limit to his understanding.
He gives strength to the weary,
and strengthens the powerless.
Youths may faint and grow weary,
and young men stumble and fall,
but those who trust in the Lord
will renew their strength;
they will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary;
they will walk and not faint.
—Isaiah 40:28-31 (HCSB)

Do not fear for I am with you;
do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you;
I will hold onto you with My righteous right hand.
—Isaiah 41:10 (HCSB)


How Much Did Abraham Pay Ephron for the Field and Cave at Machpelah?

Monetary equivalencies are quite challenging, because we need to take into account the difference in purchasing power of gold and silver, which are frequent monetary units.  I use some equivalency standards to get ballpark ideas.

Example 1: Ephron's field. Abraham paid Ephron 400 shekels of silver for the field and cave at Machpelah. What is the equivalent? Note first that we must avoid using the metal evaluation method: 1 shekel of silver was 224 grains or 0.512 ounces. As I write this, silver is selling for $18.50 per ounce. That makes a shekel worth $9.47, and the cave and field selling for $3030. Pretty preposterous, huh?

Now, let's take the labor equivalency standard. A shekel was worth 4 denarii. A day's labor paid 1 denarius. A laborer today might make $10 an hour. For a day's work, 8 hours, that's $80. Therefore, a shekel would have had $320 worth of purchasing power. The field, at 400 shekels, then sold for the equivalent of $128,000, a very possible amount.

Another method I use is the bread equivalency standard. In the eighteenth century in England, a servant, paid well, might earn 30 pounds a year. A pound this morning is going for $1.32 US. That would mean that a servant was paid only $396 a year. But wait. In, say, 1750 a loaf of bread sold for a penny. In that era, there were 240 pennies to the pound, making 7200 pennies in a 30-pound salary. An inexpensive loaf of bread today sells for $2.50, making a salary equivalent of $18,000. (And remember that servants had housing and meals as part of their compensation.)

So, what does that make a marriage settlement of 10,000 pounds a year in those days among the upper classes? 10,000 times 240 times 2.50 is 6,000,000. Six million dollars a year would put the couple on a budget, but is they shopped carefully, they could make it.

I'm sure there are other equivalences that might shed light on purchasing power for a given income in the old days. I remember in my twenties I could fill a grocery bag for $3.50. Now it takes $20 or $30.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Micrographia Tiny Handwriting Remedy (Parkinson's Disease)

If your handwriting has become tiny and virtually illegible (as is common with Parkinsonism and Parkinson's Disease), there are a few things I've discovered that might help you too. To return back to legible handwriting, do the following:

1. Get some Manuscript Tablets from the 99 cent store or other source. Alternatively, get some wide-ruled notebook paper. Use the lines, which are a quarter of an inch (one centimeter) apart, as guidelines for your lower-case letters. Each letter must reach from one line to another. Yes, a quarter of an inch tall.

2. Slow down. You'll notice that you can't scribble very fast when the letters are that large. I also noticed that with my micrographia I was trying to write in a hurry. By slowing down a lot, I could write legibly (when my meds were working). Slowly formed large letters can result. Writing slowly, for me, has proven more effective than practicing loops and swirls.

3. If you have Parkinson's Disease or Parkinsonism, try taking your medicine half an hour before meals or two hours after meals. It is said that food protein interferes with the carbidopa-levodopa.

I like writing on newsprint pads. (Newsprint is that brown, soft paper once common in elementary school. Its soft texture makes the pen glide across the page better. I also like PaperMate and Bic stick pens with the easy gliding ink. Some gel pens are good for ease of writing, too.


Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Zeno Says You'll Never Finish Reading This Post

You remember Zeno's Paradox, of course. That ancient Greek philosopher said that in order to cross a certain distance, you first had to cross half of it. Then you had to cross  half of the remaining distance; then half of what was still left. The half would get shorter and shorter, but you'd always have half the remaining distance to cross, so that you would never arrive at the goal.

I propose a Zeno's paradox of reading. Whether you are reading a book, a magazine, or a blog post. you must begin by reading half of it. Then you would need to read half of what remains. Then half of that. See? You'll always have half of the remaining writing to read.  So you'll never finish reading what you set out to read.

You're thinking that this entry was suggested by an interminable book that I indeed could never finish. Wrong. Or by one of those books about which we say, "That book would have made a great article." (Many articles' worth of content get hammered out into a book simply to increase the prestige of the author and the marketability of the content--notice that you don't individual articles for sale in article stores.)

The Prestige Pecking Order for Information Sources is:
1. Hardcover book, preferably with sewn binding.
2. Trade paperback book
3. Mass market paperback book
4. Published article in physical print media
5. Online article

Yes, there is still a bias against online articles. Too bad. But then you will never be reading the end of this sentence. Zeno said so.

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?