Monday, May 02, 2011

A Parkinson's Peak

"Read to me on evolution," my uncle said as I came in Saturday. "Give her the book so she can read to me," he told the caregiver, shaking a slim volume on evolution that came with our subscription to Scientific American. "Your Ph.D. was on evolution. You should like this," he continued.

After dinner I read to him from the book. Then he asked me to look him up on the computer. I did and found a lot of his old papers... And a newspaper with his name among other young men who had just been discharged after WWII. I showed him the newspaper on my laptop, and read out titles of his research. He talked about various co-authors: the crazy student who broke all the glassware in the lap, and the reliable student who died in China of kidney failure, the nasty lab head who purloined my uncle's postdoc work, and the kind lab head who encouraged a group of young researchers.

"It's good to know my work hasn't just disappeared," he said dropping into a moment of sadness.

"It hasn't. Your work is still out there. You're famous," I said.

"Tell them the famous biochemist has gone to bed," he said later, laughing as he clumped down the hall leaning on his walker, one foot dragging.

None of which sounds terribly earth shattering except I haven't heard that much energy, or intelligence, from my uncle in a long time.

We had a substitute caregiver that day. The man loved to talk, and knew how to draw my uncle out of the vague country his mind so often wandered. Our present regular caregiver is meticulous in his physical care, but never talks to my uncle except to give instructions as part of that physical care.

More importantly, Parkinson's can be an up and down disease. Facilities return that have been missing for awhile, and then disappear again. Today, my uncle was equally bright-eyed and awake. How long will this energetic, intelligent period last? There is no way to know.

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