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My nights with C: How Parkinson’s Disease made me want to be a Doctor

This past week we had a Pharmacology exam with only about 1,000 drugs to know. One of the drugs we reviewed was dopamine, because some drugs can cause Parkinsonism tremors as a side effect. We also reviewed what causes Parkinson’s Disease and how to treat it, as well as where it occurs.

This blog isn’t about all the drugs we had to study or how dopamine works. It’s about why every time I hear “Parkinson’s,” I’m reminded of my first real experience with the disease, and my first experience as a care giver.

The summer before my Junior year of High school (I was 16), my neighbor and friend of my mom’s asked if I would be interested in working for her. S lived in Los Angeles, but when she was home, stayed with her mom C who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. While C had a daytime caregiver, she was alone at night. Her daughter didn’t feel comfortable with this. Even though I hesitated, I decided to take the job. It required me to sleep over three nights a week, administer her evening and morning drugs, watch TV with her, help her get ready for bed, and wake up if she needed help going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

At first it was awkward. C and I were both extremely shy, and the small talk lacked. She would watch old movies while I studied or did homework. Watching TV and sleeping were the two easy parts of my job. C would get tired easily, and her movements became disoriented. Her legs would begin to give out and we would sit in the hallway (sometimes for 20 minutes or longer) until she had regained her strength and control. Eventually, C wouldn’t walk and instead crawled, and finally, we began to use a wheelchair. The worst would be when I was asleep, and would wake up to a loud noise. Usually it was due to C trying to go to the bathroom by herself, and she would fall and usually hit her head.

As time progressed, C would be in bed before I got there, and she would stay in bed until after I had left for school. I saw the Parkinson’s progress. I remember one time C fell out of bed, and I could not get her up. She couldn’t move any of her muscles, and she wasn’t talking much. I called my mom and asked if she would run up to help me get C back to bed. As my mom helped, she asked C (who was an avid golfer back in the day) if she had any golf tips. Even though C couldn’t control any movement, she said “keep your head up.” I couldn’t imagine how frustrated C must have felt to be coherent, but unable to control some aspects of her body.

C was my first experience taking care of someone else, and she taught me a lot about compassion and patience. She showed me how important it is to help others, and how rewarding it can feel. Back then, I never knew about her medications and didn’t understand her disease. Now that I am learning about the drugs and the pathways, I am understanding more about C.

While I was the first overnight caretaker, it got to the point where she was never alone. I saw the progression of the disease and the onset of dementia. I ended up working with C until my Junior year of college (I worked summers) until she passed away. I will always be thankful for the experiences and what she taught me. She pointed me in the direction of medicine, and how I treat my future patients will be a reflection of what I learned from her.

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