Parkinson’s disease is a condition of the nervous system which causes the muscles to stiffen and the body to shake. It gradually worsens with age.
Philip Lee first heard about Parkinson’s disease 25 years ago. It was at a specialist clinic in Kuala Lumpur where the salesman had taken his father for a check-up.
“My dad had developed a heart problem. However, the doctor who examined him suspected Parkinson’s and told us that we needed to get that sorted out first,” said Lee, 57. “We were shocked and had no clue as to what Parkinson’s was. All we noticed was that dad’s hand had started to shake uncontrollably for about a month, and it became more pronounced with each passing day.”
The family had, until then, assumed that the symptom was associated with old age. Through the help of family members in Australia, Lee’s dad consulted a specialist on Parkinson’s in Newcastle. The elder Lee was put on the right medication for his ailment before he returned to Malaysia.
Local doctors and hospital assistants who made regular rounds to the villages in their mobile vans, ensured that the elder Lee’s tablets were promptly replenished each time.
However, things took a turn for the worst when Lee’s father had a fall and fractured his pelvis. He was admitted to hospital for surgery. After the operation, he became bedridden and had to use a wheelchair to get around. His condition deteriorated over time, and he passed away more than a year later.
The family thought they had seen the last of the insidious disease but they were wrong. Parkinson’s struck again. This time, it was Lee’s turn. It happened about 13 years ago.
It began with Lee noticing some stiffness in his fingers. He found it difficult to write; his big letters kept getting smaller. He also discovered that he could not write in a straight line. Then, like his father, his hands started to shake uncontrollably.
Lee consulted half a dozen specialists. They were divided over the diagnosis.
Some put it down to “writer’s cramp” while others arrived at the nightmare which Lee had desperately hoped wouldn’t happen – Parkinson’s.
Lee managed to keep his condition under wraps for about two years when his symptoms were still mild. Then, as his hand-shaking episodes became more severe, it was impossible for him to hide the truth anymore.
However, instead of being alarmed by Parkinson’s all over again, Lee said he was pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction from his wife and three grown-up sons.
“They responded in a life-affirming manner and went all out to help me triumph over this disease,” Lee shared.
Lee is now in the second stage of Parkinson’s. He can no longer write legibly. His hands and legs shake uncontrollably, especially when he is under pressure or stressed. Lee depends on medication to control the tremors. Falls are also common. He finds it especially hard to negotiate staircases.
“My brain tricks me by telling me that I have lifted my leg when climbing stairs when I haven’t. It’s a co-ordination problem,” he explained.
A fortnight ago, he had a bad fall. Fortunately, he was not hurt. He realises he has to walk a little slower and pay more attention to what he is doing.
Lee has come to terms with his situation. He bears no anger or grudges against anyone, nor does he blame himself for his condition.
Despite his failing health, he has plenty to be thankful for. He can still move around without the aid of a walker or wheelchair. He still drives and is able to get around without difficulty.
Lee plays golf at least three times a week. He is an active member of the Kuala Terengganu Hash House Harriers.
“I do everything I can to fight the progression of the disease because fighting it is the key to staying on top of the condition,” said Lee.
Lee is president and founder of the Parkinson’s Disease Rehabilitation Centre in Kuala Terengganu. Set up four years ago, the centre has over 200 members. It regularly holds activities which range from awareness talks on Parkinson’s to social events for patients and their caregivers.
■ For more information, contact 019-983 8833 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. World Parkinson’s Day is on April 11 every year.