Answer by Arjun Subramaniam, student
Before I answer this question, I will say: I am not a Parkinson's patient, and I hope that I never will be.
My grandfather has Parkinson's Disease. To most people, that means nothing. Parkinson's Disease, while the second-most common neurodegenerative disease in the world, gets next to no attention when compared to Alzheimer's.
A typical day in the life of my grandfather is slow torture. He cannot get out of bed by himself, because his muscles have lost so much of its former strength. Once the breadwinner of the family, he has difficulty staying on his feet. It is heartbreaking to watch.
Slowly making his way to the breakfast table, he often stops. It's a phenomenon known as a "freeze," very common in Parkinson's patients. Their dopaminergic connections are incredibly weak, and sometimes basic movements are a monumental struggle to them. My family hurries to support him, knowing that a prolonged freeze could result in a dangerous fall.
As he sits down, he reaches for the jam. He grabs on to it hard and lifts it slowly towards his plate. It's a moment where you realize how hard everyday tasks are for him now. Even the small act of making his way from the couch to the dining table is a struggle, and an achievement.
At the end, when the table is cleared, his muscles strain in an effort to rise from his seat, and he usually needs a helpful hand and some support. He sometimes tears up during our stay, bemoaning his physical weaknesses and wishing that all of this didn't have to happen to him. These moments are the hardest of all.
My grandfather is a proud man. He refuses a wheelchair, and wants to retain the same level of independence he had before his diagnosis in 2008. Up until last year, he used to go out to the ATM or buy the groceries, and attempted to carry all the heavy bags into the house. At that time, any attempt to convince him otherwise was futile.
I sympathize with him fully. 100%. To be stripped of what you once could do, while not being able to do anything about it, is a terrible thing. I could never go through it, and I admire my grandfather for his strength and determination.
My grandmother sits with him patiently when he takes a bath. The bathroom is the most dangerous place of all for my grandfather. For an uncoordinated, elderly man, the slippery floors are never a good place to be. Once he gets out, he must put on new clothes. He usually refuses help, which, as he knows very well, is harder on himself than anybody else. An hour later, he emerges in a set of new clothes.
My grandfather is one of the most generous people in the world. Despite his condition, he always attempts to keep a smile on his face, and really wants to help anybody and everybody. His family can always count on more than just support - they can count on unconditional love. The memories of my time spent with him in better days are as clear as ever. As the sun set over the horizon, we would slowly walk to the ice cream shop across the street. He would never get anything for himself, but the joy on his face when he paid and watched me enjoy my ice cream was, and still is, priceless.
As we ease him into bed, I give him a big hug, knowing that these moments can't last forever. Despite his inability to move or communicate properly, that same, glorious heart of his lies underneath. My grandfather's time may be slowly slipping away, but he still lives inside his soul, proud, dignified, and beautiful.
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