12 days of Christmas with a twist…
Day 8: Alzheimers, Parkinsons, ALS — the names of brain illnesses so recognized. Progressive Supranuclear Palsy lay hiding, and for most of us, virtually unknown. We were introduced to it in 1994, but not by its name until 1997.
At the time, every doctor my father saw treated him as though he was merely depressed. When he couldn’t run, they told him to walk. When he couldn’t swing a golf club, they told him to take up tennis (tongue-in-cheek with a laugh of course). When he lost his forever-job with Donnelley at the age I am today, they said it was downsizing.
But he knew. I knew. My children even knew. They saw it. He, in fact, was pulled over for a sobriety test, when he failed to keep his balance with not one drop of alcohol in his system for 30 years. That is when the doctors paid attention and he was referred to a kind and good doctor in the movement disorder clinic at Johns Hopkins. He charted a path.
Every year on this day, December 22, I remember Dad (George F. Curry, Jr.) with a donation to Cure PSP. Check it out.
Dad loved life. In his later years before the illness, he was an avid runner, taking in everything from 5k’s to marathons—even running 5 miles to work and home each day (10 miles total).
He called running his “natural high.” He never missed a day of work for illness. He was a fanatical about health.
That was the first thing PSP stole from his life.
The illness began—nearly imperceptible at first, blanketing his life by an unexpected autumn snow, falling before its time.
Even after the brain illness claimed his ability to walk and talk, Dad always believed he would get better, but he didn’t.
In those last few years, I was back at the newspaper and we had added a new monthly livestock edition to the weekly market report. How his face would beam when I’d bring him a copy. Dementia was setting in, but he fought with all he had to hold it back. Dad would help me from his wheel chair to apply the address labels—a rote activity that he accepted as a blessing—a feeling of worth in his final days. We worked quietly.
14 years ago today we said goodbye. As PSP patients often do, Dad succumbed to pneumonia as over the course of 7 years, he lost first the ability to move his limbs, then his mouth (speech), then his eyes, then his digestive tract, then his lungs. When they removed him from the ventilator at 7 a.m. on December 22, 2001, we sang Christmas carols at his bedside. He organized the Christmas caroling at the First Baptist Church every year and dearly loved singing in the choir. His lips moved as he tried to sing along.
Expecting a few hours to linger, his strong runner’s heart continued to beat until 7 that evening. The day was sunless, until evening, when light broke through the feathering clouds to reveal cold, bare branches—awaiting new life.
Progressive Supranuclear Palsey (PSP) lay obscured to most. My father participated in many screening trials to help find a cure for others… Every year on Father’s Day and on December 22, I remember Dad with a donation to Cure PSP. Consider it.