Michael Keppel

“My story – how village life helped”

In April 2017 I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  Even the initial diagnosis was helped by a resident who had noticed a distinct tremor while I was conducting our monthly wine tasting and asked, “Have you got Parkinson’s”. I had never considered I could have Parkinson’s- the shuffling walk, the intermittent overpowering occasional tiredness, the muscle weakness, minor balance problems, difficulty swallowing at times, restless sleeping, stooped posture, and the difficulty of everyday tasks was all attributed to old age.  None of these symptoms are specific to Parkinson’s and can all be attributed to other medical problems. The stooped posture, shuffling walk and occasional tremors are typical Parkinson’s but symptoms came on so gradually I didn’t notice, despite (or even perhaps because of) constant reminders from Mary to “stand up straight – lift your feet”

If it hadn’t been the question from Helen I would never had gone to the doctor with the symptoms – The GP made an initial diagnosis of Parkinson’s but wanted a second opinion. A week later the Neurologist had seen the MRI’s and confirmed the diagnosis and prescribed 3 tablets per day. This was a little worrying as the GP had sent me for the second opinion stating that controlling medication had definite side effects, and that he did not want to start a course until until he had his diagnosis confirmed. Even the neurologist warned me of drastic side effects. he also didn’t help my  peace of mind when I suggested that at least “we had caught it early” and his reply that there is no early stage – you have it or don’t have it and you have  probably have had it for 15 years.  I, in fact, have experienced no major side effect and feel better than I have for months or even years.

There is no cure for Parkinson’s but it’s progress can be slowed. Exercise is the key – the neurologist recommended dancing but I had never had any rhythm to start with so I passed on that. I did however sign up for the Tuesday balance classes (at a minimal price, and does not involve 30 minutes travel) and from internet research developed a personal pool exercise regime.

At our stage of life we are going to experience different types of illnesses.  There are going to be shocks and an adjustment period but we need to follow the Doctor’s advice. My Doctor and specialist both emphasised the need for exercise and I knew immediately we had all the fantastic facilities on our doorstep.  Up until my diagnosis I had not used them much, and had not used the aqua aerobics or balance classes at all. I would now say “Don’t wait for the illness – embrace being able to exercise now – the facilities are there to use”. I am living proof of how much exercise can help especially with Parkinson’s.  I know that it has given me extended time, but more importantly given me quality of life.

It took me about a week to go through all of the 5 stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The support from friends in the village was overwhelming.  Only then did I look at the available support mechanisms – gym, pool, walking paths and decided that we have paid for all these benefits and should be using them.  I have developed a routine where I walk (the dog) every morning, attend balance class weekly, and 3 or 4 days do a pool exercise routine.  We have reflected that at our previous residence where we would have had to travel (and pay exorbitant prices for use of facilities or classes) and really appreciate the advantages of village life.

My last visit to the neurologist was a pleasant surprise – he remarked on my progress and stated that if he had not diagnosed me he would not tell from my gait and posture that I had Parkinson’s. I am not out of the woods yet – I am still quite likely to lose balance and fall and the disease will follow its natural progression but I feel good that I have delayed the onset of some symptoms.  I have been confined to the Village (by Mary) for my daily walks, which has had the added advantage of meeting new people. I have been overwhelmed by the concern of all residents and appreciate your support. Wivenhoe is the best move we ever made.