Parkinson’s makes a splash on USA’s Royal Pains

I curled up to watch the season premiere of Royal Pains the other night and the signs popped out at me.

Handwritting that gets smaller and smaller? That’s impossible, the character said. No. No, it’s not. Getting clumsier? Tremors? What does it mean? All of my Parkinson’s sensors went off.

And when the doctor, Hank, told the 20-something Aubrey — a reality TV star — that it seems likely that she’s in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Enter the sad, depressing music and a cut to commercial.

I was lying on my couch watching this, and as the commercial started, I actually sat up — feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me. And yet, while an understandable reaction, I felt mad at myself for feeling that way. It’s been nine years since that moment Dad sat me down on the back patio to tell me the news. It’s been nine years since I heard the word “Parkinson’s” and then couldn’t hear the rest. Or see through the tears. And it’s been a great nine years since thanks to my dad’s attitude and the family and cause we’ve found in the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Team Fox.

So for a moment, I had a flash of anger. And then the doctor from the show’s face reappeared.

As the Michael J. Fox Foundation logo (one obviously close to my heart, and permanently on my wrist) popped up on the screen, I smiled. A Parkinson’s diagnosis doesn’t have to be told to depressing music. The screen doesn’t have to fade out. In my head, I heard my friend Matt tell my Dad for the first time that he wasn’t alone. And all of the times he and the rest of my family have told others the same thing.

The show returned, and thankfully, the doctor went to find the new Parkinson’s patient to talk. She, too, hadn’t heard anything after the word Parkinson’s.

Now as a nerd, I’m going to give you the script, with what was going on in my head as it happened.

Doctor: So how about we start from scratch? I’d appreciate that.
Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects your movement.
PD patient: And there is no cure? (Soft music) Not yet.
Doctor: Not yet.
My brain: But we’re so close. And there are so many exciting things happening right now that are leading us to a cure.
Doctor: But there are medications that can help manage the symptoms, and new treatments are being made available as we speak.
Brain: Woops, sorry to steal your thunder, doc.
Patient: Like what?
Doctor: Like deep brain stimulation, stem cell therapy, clinical trials.
Brain: Ooh yeah, many patients find participating in clinical trials so rewarding. You don’t have to sit around and wait for a cure. Without people willing to participate in trials, we’ll never get there. You can be a part of something that changes the world for so many people.
Patient: I’m not sure why I asked that. I don’t know what any of that means anyways.
Doctor: Listen, I’ll find you a great specialist and help in any other way I can.
We’ll navigate this together.
Brain: Thinks of Dad and how he’ll take a phone call at any time — even Thanksgiving dinner. And how my Mom leads the caregivers in support group. The number of times I’ve helped someone find a doctor, hugged them when they’re scared, wiped away tears, held signs or shook cowbells to cheer them on.
Patient: It just sucks that I have to quit the show. I barely started it.
Brain: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Doctor: You don’t have to quit. We don’t know how your symptoms will progress. Maybe you could just take it one party at a time.
Brain: Dad’s had PD for 9 years, and most people still don’t even know. Everyone progresses differently.
Patient: I don’t think America wants to watch me shaking and trembling. It’s not why they tune into my show.
Brain: BUT! BUT! No!
Doctor: Overcoming obstacles with a positive attitude.
That’s why America tunes into your show.
Brain: Cue the tears.

I am so grateful for the life I now lead thanks to Parkinson’s disease, Team Fox and The Michael J. Fox Foundation. Grateful for the people I can support and help. And all those who support me and my family. We will cure Parkinson’s disease in my lifetime. We will change the world. I can’t wait.

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