What A Man Struggling With Parkinson's Disease Taught Me About Life

by Sheena Amin

The one thing I think I need in life in order to survive is love. If I don’t love myself, I will never be able to survive on my own or love anyone else. It will lead me to develop instability, dependency, insecurity and emotional turmoil.

Parkinson’s disease -- any kind of disease, for that matter — works the same way. We need something or another human for us to survive.

Parkinson’s disease is an insidious and very stealthy condition, which sneaks into your body and mind and manifests itself inside of you. The one thing those who have Parkinson’s need is dopamine, a neurotransmitter that assists with motor functions.

The brain’s inability to produce dopamine causes those diagnosed to develop tremors, difficulty with speech, loss of balance, trouble swallowing and emotional trauma.

I want to share a story of a man diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and what he taught me about life.

His eyes were half-closed and his arms stiff. He lay on the bed, breathless in the quietness, mulling on how to straighten out his arm and uncurl his toes. His hands tremble as he is unable to move.

His hands condensate as he slowly tries to reach out to pour some water in a glass, but quivers from the uncontrollable impulses taking over his body. I run out and call the nurse to give him his medication. With time, he slowly begins to unravel, but is now in control of his body again.

Welcome to the world of Nathan, a patient and now a friend, who I had the privilege to watch, get to know and take care of.

Every time I interned at the hospital, I spent my day with this incredible man. It’s very rare to find such an optimistic and determined man find the strength to endure such a cruel disease over which he holds no control.

I continuously watched him fight his battle with such comfort and ease that it almost frightened me. I slowly found relief when I became accustomed to the lessons this man taught me about life, while combating his condition.

He found some kind of humor in his condition. He once told me how when he had his first tremor, he had an intimate moment with "Parkie" (his nickname for Parkinson's disease) on the floor and ended up finding his wife’s favorite missing earring.

He taught me there’s always a way to find something to laugh about and appreciate the little things life has to offer.

It’s the way I’ve seen him lose his balance and stumble. He taught me that it’s important to keep balance in your life, regardless of the falls or stumbles.

It’s the way I’ve seen him become stiff and unable to move. He taught me to be flexible and move on through life, knowing that every person has his or her own set of battles and challenges to face.

It’s the way I’ve seen him try to talk and have difficulties with his speech. He taught me to speak up and learn to communicate with others.

It's the way I’ve seen him rely on medication to control his symptoms. He taught me it is okay to rely on people and ask for help if you are going through a difficult time.

It’s the way I’ve seen him in physical pain when his muscles start to contract. He taught me pain is temporary, and it won’t last forever.

It’s the way I’ve seen him feel emotionally stressed and disturbed at times. He taught me tomorrow is a new day, and we are capable of taking challenges that initially make us weak to eventually make us strong.

It’s the way he advised me that the passing of time holds a new meaning of value and importance. He taught me you never know what tomorrow holds, so always try to push for today.

Anyone can be diagnosed with any type of illness. Anyone can go through any type of problem, but even though you may have certain obstacles and setbacks, or your life isn't turning out the way you planned, life can be pretty amazing if you choose to adapt to a situation you believe is negative and solely focus on the positives.

You can decide to change your reality by changing your mentality.

After my experience with Nathan, my answer to my initial question changed. What I -- no, what WE all -- need in life to survive are experiences like these.

We all need experiences to change, to learn, to love ourselves and others, to shape us into who we become and most importantly, to make us realize that to be happy in life, we must learn the difference between what we want and what we need.