Friday, February 21, 2014

The Slapstick Element

Having Parkinson's is a lot like being locked into a slapstick comedy act at a Vaudeville show.

For you littlun's who aren't familiar, Vaudeville was a travelling show, popular from the late 1800's to somewhere in the 1930's, made up of several different, unrelated acts. There were acrobats, singers, skits and of course, slap stick comedy.

I'm not old enough to have experienced the real thing, but I've watched the Abbot and Costello and Three Stooges reruns, sang "Mr. Sandman" along with Dolly, Emmylou and Linda, which led me to the the Andrew Sisters, all of these acts came from Vaudeville.

I'm guessing Saturday Night Live is the closest thing to it these days, but The Carol Burnett Show was probably my intro to Vaudeville. It was a TV show, but based on the same theory, and it cracked me up to no end as a little kid.

Charlie Chaplin, who we know through his work in the cinema, also began his career in Vaudeville, and is probably my most shining example of the classic slapstick comedian. That dude was born to fall. He was the master at finding humor in sadness and making mayhem madcap.

My disease, so far, is remarkably under control. Carbidopa/Levodopa is a frigging miracle drug. Most days I can kid myself that everything is fine. The stuff that goes on, well, I can compensate.

Brockle is an obsessive ball playing freak. I keep it from becoming a vice by saving his ball for a reward, so we use it a lot for training and getting through the off-leash area without killing any other dogs. I also use it on the days I'm too tired to walk as far as he needs.

I throw the ball, he brings it back, we mix it up with some obedience drills, but on those tired days I just want to wear his ass out, so I throw, and throw and throw. Sometimes, out of the blue, the slapstick element appears and the ball will fly up in the air and in a direction nobody is prepared for. Me, Brockle, and whoever may be with us, search the sky with our mouths hanging open until one of us figures out where the heck it's headed.

Twice now, I have been changing my clothes, and as I pull the clothing on or off over my head, I send it flying, much like Brockle's tennis ball. Both times it has landed in the toilet. Yep, twice. There's the stinking Slapstick Element, what part of me was aiming for the can?

It's like my brain says, "Body, pull on the T-shirt," and my body yells "Psyche!!!"

Being the control freak I can be, this internal rebellion pisses me off. Except it also cracks me up. Because pratfalls are funny, even in real life. Nope, I'm not crying on the inside and  laughing on the outside, I'm too old for that nonsense. I just have a sick sense of humor and get tired of feeling sorry for myself.

I was crawling up on an examination table in the doctors office when, without warning, my feet stood me up on my tiptoes. The little devils. All by themselves, they put me on point like a prima ballerina, which trust me, is not a good place for me. I fell forward in slow motion and did a face plant on the table, then, slowly, ever so slowly, while the MA squawked, rolled off the table and hit the floor. With a very loud thud.

I propped myself up on my elbows and looked for the MA, who was standing in the corner doing a great impersonation of Munch's painting, The Scream.

"I swear officer," I said, "I only had two Margaritas at lunch."

The poor little MA fled the scene.

"Are you sure she's drunk?" I heard my the thump of my doctor's cane  as he shuffle stepped to the rescue. "What do you mean you don't know? Did you just leave her on the floor?"

He came in the door, saw me grinning at him from the floor, and asked, "Are you hurt,drunk or both?"

"Nope. My feet yanked me on my tiptoes and I lost my balance."

"You idiot!" He shouted down the hall, "She has Parkinson's!"

He extended a hand to help me up, suddenly, up on his toes he went , and yep, you guessed it, fell right on top of me. See, my Doc had Parkinson's too, and the tippy-toe thing comes under the "Shit happens," clause for all of us.

What did I tell you? There it is again, the Slapstick Element.

Here's the thing. I don't get to quit at the end of the day and rethink my routine. The routine is in charge and it makes up it's own rules.

The random body movements and jerking hands don't bother me, except when it comes to my horses and dogs. Because training is about timing and balance and consistency. As a matter of fact, I think if you've got those three, then the rest is fluff. Those three things are what PD specializes in destroying.

The good news is, for now anyway, my symptoms get me when I'm tired or distracted. If I'm in tune and focused they leave me alone. Also, muscle memory is an absolute amazement. Once I'm in the saddle, it's all there. If I don't ride as well as I used to, it's because I'm out of practice, not the disease. I can still sit a spook or a buck and my horses can trust my hand. Riding is a vacation from my new slap-stick self. I get to hang out with my healthier, thinner, tougher self, and I'm grateful for it.

With the dogs, it's a bit harder. Dog training is new territory for me, between my own weaknesses as a trainer and my lack of muscle memory to hold me steady there have been some hurdles. But I have some great dogs and they're willing to wait for me to get it right.

Do I fear the future? Of course I do. PD doesn't go away. It's a lifetime on Vaudeville. I dread the day I no longer talk to my horse through my spade, the first time it launches on it's own course will be the last day Madonna rides straight up in the bridle.

That day hasn't arrived. I don't think about it much, but it lives in the shadows. In the mean time, I'll keep working horses, cattle and dogs and appreciate every sure and steady move of my romels, both of my quiet legs, and my solid seat.

"Life is a tragedy when seen close-up, but a comedy in long shot." - Charlie Chaplin


Becky said...

I wish you were a sex blogger, instead of a horse blogger. I can't help but feel that your Vaudeville show would be three times funnier if you were the world's most spastic hooker.

Wait. I'm sure I was supposed to say something uplifting to you here.... nope. Sorry. I'm still laughing too hard at you and your doctor's en pointe pas de dux.

mugwump said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Heidi Bailey said...

You know what I remember about the Carol Burnett show? You know that skit where they were telling a story about the siamese elephants, only they were joined at the trunk, and when one sneezed the other one's eyes got real big? Tim Conway giggled all the way through it.

This was a good post. Informative and humorous. Hurt, drunk, or both...!

RuckusButt said...

Your doctor falling on you for the same reason?!? You couldn't make that shit up! What else could you do but laugh?

Seriously though, you've had more than your share of hardships, it seems. I admire your positivity combined with a healthy dose of realism.

Anonymous said...

That sucks. Do you have a 'flinger' for the dog ball? Makes throwing so much easier. I have one of those ball obsessive dogs and fling it up hill for her evening and night; then I have to take it away or neither of us can calm down. I use to ride; now I can barely walk and it really does suck. My memories are keeping me going. I don't need to tell you to enjoy every ride you have left...

mugwump said...

Anon...I throw the ball by hand to keep the muscle memory going....

KD said...

so I'm reading this on my phone because I can't wait to get to a computer and my husbands wondering why I'm laughing standing at my front door which is the only place I get a signal. the t-shirt toilet dunk had me going first and then when the Dr fell on top of you I was gone!

Cindy D. said...

Hmmmmm....sounds like a typical day for me and I don't even have Parkinson's to blame it on. I am just the clumsiest most uncoordinated human on the planet.

I used to love the Carol Burnett too.

I agree with RuckusButt, your perseverance is inspiring.

GreyDrakkon said...

Man that MA needs to develop a sense of humor pronto. ;) When I shattered my radius from slipping on the ice I was sitting in the ER, greatly displeased with the huge bulge right above my wrist. I was wearing a loose stretchy overshirt and a tank top underneath, and the nurse asked me if I thought I could remove my top so they wouldn't have to cut it off. Glowering a bit, I start pulling at the sleeve and said "Oh so you guys want to go to the GUN SHOW huh?" The nurse and doc gave the same o_O look before cracking up. Gotta keep a sense of humor, especially when things are going tits up. (fun note: my bone was pulped so badly that they were called by the bone doc and told to no attempt to set it, since he'd just jigsaw-puzzle it back together and slap a titanium plate on it. Being a cyborg would be a lot more amusing if it came with lasers)

mugwump said...

GrayDrakkon - For years, I told little kids Who asked about my prosthetic that I was a cyborg, made me a total rock star with the six and under that I don't wear it I had a kid (who I didn't remember) ask me what happened to my robot arm.I told him that science had advanced enough to make me human, but they were still growing my arm, my legend still goes on.

redhorse said...

While I have enough physical issues to relate to what you're saying, I have to say I don't know how you do it. I'm glad you do, and it helps me keep going on days when I seem to be into the slapstick. Losing your balance is one of the most frustrating aspects of aging. I often think I must look drunk when I'm walking, but it's just that my legs don't move forward as quickly as I tell them, then I lose balance in that split second between steps. I'm going to be arrested in my own driveway.

But you're right about being in the saddle. If it wasn't so difficult to get on...

susie said...

While I am sorry for your current health issues, I must say that you have a great sense of humor and that has to be how you keep going. I've enjoyed your stories about Brockle and all the training posts. I've learned from them, but haven't looked for a trainer for her (my 1 1/2 year old lab) yet.
Fetch is a good game for her, but I throw downhill so she has to run back up the hill to bring me the ball. It seems I can throw the ball farther if I throw it downhill. LOL!

Keep up the good work, you're doing amazing.

mugwump said...

Redhorse - OK, so now I'm bragging, I can saddle my horse and talk on the phone at the same time sans prosthetic....but, most days I use the fender of my trailer to get on.
Susie- usually downhill is good, but boy, do I have a story for you....

maryka said...

Oh the awful progress of age related illness . Getting old sucks though it's much better than the alternative .Am 67 now & get fed up of finding something else doesn't work . Have had spondylosis for the past thirty years which does cause a regrettable lack of control in my arms sometimes due to the trapped nerve in my neck. This means that it's unwise to sit on my left if I'm drinking coffee as sometimes when I lift my mug my damn arm goes it's own way & throws coffee over who ever is sitting next to me . Can be difficult to explain to a stranger as am damn sure they think I did it deliberately .The blessed nerve also tends to make me dizzy if I move suddenly. So now have a narrow webbing strap round Ben's neck as when I get off I do tend to sway then sit down hard on the floor. The wonderful web strap means I don't have to struggle with getting up off the floor, as my right knee is arthritic now have little chance of getting up without some means of assistance ( usually Ben which is fair enough as it is probably his fault I'm on the rotten floor. ) Do have to admit that my pony is pretty good about this normally walks over to where he dropped me, allowing me to grab hold of the stirrup to help me upright again. All I need to do now is to teach the little s**t not to dump me lol
You know what tees me off worst, it's the fact that have found out from xrays that there's a line across one of my cervical vertebrae where I fractured my neck & did nothing about it, in fact carried on round the cross country course once I came round , oh for the disregard & devil may care of youth.

Anonymous said...

Bless you, Mugs! I would love having you for a patient. Stupid MA to freeze then run when patient is clearly about to fall. I wonder if she'll have quit/fired by the next appointment? Do tell us what happens to her. Keep on keepin' on, sister. Amy in Ohio

Amy Sheppard said...

I have epilepsy. It appeared about 2 years ago - I'm 26 and it was the biggest shock of my life. Well -it was the biggest shock of my partner's life - I was quite unaware at the time. I've got my tablets now and they have worked so far. I've managed to learn to deal with the memory problems although I did meet someone the other day who was really hostile. Turned out I had offered to look after their horse a few says before the first seizure. I don't remember this (or anything else that happened in the 3 months before) so as far as they were concerned I had blanked them. Probably good thing I didn't help them if they are the type to keep a grudge for 2 years and not just ask for an explanation. Weird.

But now I have started a new job I am suddenly very aware of another problem - muscle jerks and dizziness. It makes me uncoordinated and occasionally I kick the table or flick my pen across the room in meetings. I walk down the corridor and trip over absolutely nothing on the floor but nearly hit the dust anyway. It worse when I am tired - of course its always the important meeting at the end of a long day of meetings with a director in when I kick the table noisily.

I was self conscious - I am fairly confident so it was affecting me - but then I realised no one really cares. In a good way. And I probably do provide that bit of slapstick humour.

The only thing that really gets me now is that, when you explain to someone about the memory and the extra clumsiness, they say 'oh that sounds like a normal day for me' or something along those lines. I am afraid that not being able to find your keys doesn't quite compare to finding yourself staring at the cash machine because you have absolutely no idea how many numbers are in a PIN number. Or having to take 10 goes to tie your shoelaces again. Or not being able to recognise your partner's car in a car park despite the fact that it used to be your car.

And this all happened overnight. I went to bed feeling normal and suddenly I had a broken brain. In slowly learning to deal but it is hard for someone who was physically very capable and never needed to take notes in school because her memory did just fine. And then someone compares it to being absentminded and I have to take a calming breath and remind myself that they are not trivialising it - they are trying to tell me they relate. Most of the time. Although if they are over 70 they can totally relate and we can commiserate together!

mugwump said...

Amy - The reaction you write about makes me wince. On a tough day, it will me me walk away in the middle of a conversation. Memory issues are also a huge part of PD. You notice I don't talk about that part. Because it's terrifying. So I empathize on a very deep level.
When someone says, "Oh, I have that happen all the time," I want to start shrieking.
"No, you don't!You don't have this! Take your middle-aged forgetfulness, multiply it by 100 or so and maybe, just maybe you'll get a taste!"
But I don't. Because of the reasons people do it.
You're right, they are trying to connect.It's automatic. It's why we tell horrifying labor stories to newly pregnant women, it's why we tell the stories about Aunt Mable who died a slow and painful death from the very same cancer you were just diagnosed with. It doesn't make it right, but we humans are really stupid when we are uncomfortable.
There is also an element of dismissal in this kind of story. "If I can one-up your story, than I don't have to think about how scary this is. If I ignore your very frightening truth by comparing it to my own aches and pains, then
it means nothing, which means you're OK."
Then, of course, is the very simple fact that many people don't want to deal with your issues on a level any deeper than annoyance. Your problems interfere with theirs, and they don't/can't cope with both.
You know what? I'm OK with this. It's hard to bear, but I don't know from my side what they're coping with.I don't understand what's causing them to behave this way. I have too much on my plate to take their leftovers. I just try to remember that I don't know how loaded their plates are either.
Then of course, some people are jackasses, some are stupid, and some have a real streak of cruelty, but who needs them? Having a debilitating illness is a great way to separate the fried pork skins
from the baby back ribs.

Peanut said...

You have an awesome MD! It's probably rare to have a doc that truly understands what you're dealing with. Some things can only make you cry or laugh; thank you for sharing your laughter.

I loved Carol Burnett too.

Anonymous said...

Help...What is the right thing to say or do - or is it right to say nothing at all? I am still inside a less than perfect, but still functional body so don't have an understanding on the practical level of the trials of those who have a body geared for revolt. I suppose that I just try to ignore the issues that they are having and try to treat them as if the day were normal and the sun was shining. But on a basic level I am not sure that that is the right thing to do either. We are taught as kids to not stare, not ask, not notice that anything is wrong. If I were to meet you on the street and you went tip toe - I have absolutely no clue how to react. Help.

wyofaith said...

Keep these posts coming!

Amy Sheppard said...

Mugs - on a good day I can now just smirk at those people who cannot see past their own problems and secretly thank them for showing me their attitude before I invested any effort in getting to know them the slow way. Or forgive those who really are just awkward and trying to empathise. But there are those days where I do just leave the conversation before the screaming starts.

But, I should be ok for a good amount of time without anything worsening. (Not that there are any guarantees with epilepsy.) You are in a whole different league. And it is terrifying. I don't want to get too drawn in because I don't have yo explain it to you but it I felt like I was going to lose who I was. I have got better and if I am smart with my meds and pay attention I should be fine. I've also learnt that stress makes it worse so if I worry about my memory it makes it worse (I'm sure you can imagine how that went around my final university exams) so I have to just learn to chill. That's been hard!

Anonymous - there is no real answer - there is no right thing to say. Just be genuine. I would like to think I would never have made comments like the ones I hate now. But I don't know - I can't remember (see what I did there?) Just know that it is hard to really understand unless you are living it. But you can try. And if someone wants to tell you about their 'invisible' problem it is because they want you to know. To be honest - just having someone agree that it sounds shit would be hugely refreshing. I don't want pity - we all have problems! But I guess I'm lucky - you can't tell by looking at me.

Heidi the Hick said...

Well I personally hate being cheered up when I know it really is as bad as I think it is. Especially by somebody who really doesn't understand. But if someone has it worse than me, I will say yep, that's bad and I can't understand what you're going through. I don't know if that's the right approach. I might be pissing people off regularly.

But man, what a relief when we're allowed to laugh about our crappy situations...!

LadyFarrier said...

I read something once that really struck home with me. I have to remember that it applies to the other person, too:

If we all threw our problems together in a big heap, we'd all run back in and grab our own.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Aren't we all burdened, damaged, less than 100%? Most of us anyways.

Some folk's issues are visible on the outside for others to see (or comment on), and some not.

Whywudyabreedit said...

Given Brockle's toughness, I imagine that he can handle unintended bumping and jerking with relative ease, particularly when it is not paired with anything else meaningful in terms of communication between the two of you. He should be able to discern relatively easily between an intended cue or correction and an unintended one, particularly if you go on as if nothing significant has happened. Any dog that I have trained can certainly go down the road without being upset by getting bumped or stepped on by their handler.

Interestingly to me, my current cattle dog rescue who is very emotionally sensitive, is also very physically tough. She will not bat an eye at being bumped, stepped on, or booted, IF there is no emotion behind it. If she thinks that someone is the least bit upset she will become very worried very quickly. I don't know what her history is, but I just try to keep things on a casual even keel with her and she does fine.

Brockle is probably the perfect dog for your more slapstick days since he seems to understand you and connect with you so well.

Martha Seaman McKee said...

This is a classic! Love the doctor sharing your pointe work. Living with my husband's PD drives home the necessity of sharing black humor.
Have you read John Brisette's What's Shakin'? It's a collection of tales such as your own. (We've got one that involves a catheter.)

Unknown said...

If I've given you this link before, I apologize. I've never tried this, but it's supposed to be a great tool for working the dog's muscles and brain - leaving them good and tired.

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