Inspiration From PD Fighter, Jerry Evensky

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Karl calls me a PD fighter.  I rather think of myself as a quality of life seeker.

My name is Jerry Evensky.  I’m a 71-year-old married college professor with two kids, one grandkid, and a dog.  I enjoy good friends, good food, a good book, a good walk in a lovely place, a good baseball or soccer game, and hanging with my kids. I love my teaching and my research. My field is economics. My research is about the relationship between social systems (e.g., ethical systems) and economics. My “mentor” in this pursuit is Adam Smith, the parent of modern economic thought. He had a lot of insights on this topic that I feel have been sadly neglected.

I was diagnosed with PD about nine years ago. My clue to the presence of an issue was a tremor in my right hand.  For about six months I dismissed it as a quirk. Finally, I decided to have it diagnosed.  It took another several months to get in to see a neurologist.   Then there was the diagnosis day.  I can’t honestly say it was a metaphysical moment when I heard the diagnosis.  It took a while to process.  Over the course of several weeks I reflected on what this diagnosis meant for me and how I was going to deal with this new reality.  During that time, I told those I love one by one, so they would be aware.  One thing I didn’t do and haven’t done is go online to learn all about it.  I value information and community very much, but as my kids might put it, the internet is the source of TMI (too much information). 

I have PD, but that’s not me.  I want to be defined by my full life not my PD, so I don’t make my PD experience the focal point of my engagement with life.  It’s something I deal with as I live my life.  My goal is not to fight PD.  My goal is to live a fulfilling life, and I have to deal with PD in that process.

So, how do I deal?  Well, let me give this some context.

Around the time I was diagnosed with PD, I was also diagnosed with osteopenia.  I didn’t know what I could do for PD beyond take my meds, but my doctor told me that resistance exercise would help my bone mass.  I started walking in the mornings and I went to the campus gym to workout.  I walked into the gym, looked at all the free weights and machines, and quickly realized I’d need some direction.  But from whom?  Here’s where the story becomes surreal.

I had an older student, much older than the norm indeed, in my intro econ class.  He did excellent work.  He took his responsibilities very seriously.  His age and his focus made him stand out.  He was an interesting character.  When he was no longer in class, we met for coffee.  Over coffee I discovered that he was a Personal Trainer who worked in the gym on campus.  “The lord works in mysterious ways!”  I asked him if he had space in his schedule for another client and he said “absolutely”.  So now I had a guide whom I knew and trusted to help me navigate the equipment.  

Karl is client-centric.  He’s always thinking about what his client needs to enhance the quality of his or her life.  I was his first PD client and he quickly took my issues on as his challenge.  That was, what, six years ago?

Fast forward … After these years of studying on his own and networking with those who do research on PD, Karl has become a walking PD research library and a guru on the role of Personal Training in enhancing the lives of those challenged by PD.  For me this journey together with Karl has meant lots of conversations about what my challenges are, assessing whether what are we doing seems to help, and lots of experiments to try out new ways of enabling my body to cope with PD.  Karl is now both a professional whom I respect immensely, and a dear friend.

And where am I with my PD?  As my Aunt Elsie from Birmingham used to say: “I’m doin’ gooooood.”  When anyone asks me if the walking, gym workouts, and Personal Training have helped, I always start my answer with the caveat that I don’t know the counterfactual – what life would be like if I hadn’t done these things, but I sincerely believe these efforts have been extremely helpful in sustaining the quality of my life.

My current regime is 

  • I walk for cardio.
  • I work on the machines on my own (now that I know what’s what) for resistance and strength
  • I work with Karl for balance, spatial orientation, and multi-path brain stimulation 

My biggest challenges are

  • the tremor in my right hand which has now made it very difficult (I’m right-handed) to write, to eat some kinds of food with a fork or spoon, or to hold a glass of liquid (bottled beer – no problem!)
  • balance and stability – I often start to fall, but my reaction time and the instinctive reactions I’ve developed with Karl have, thus far, saved me. 
  • a general stiffness that has made me a little slower that a sloth.

It would be presumptuous of me to offer advice to others with PD, many of whom are dealing with much more challenging symptoms than I am.  That said, I would encourage anyone with PD to find a Personal Trainer like Karl.  Even if I’m kidding myself and nothing we’re doing together is actually making a real physical difference, the joke isn’t on me … it’s on the PD, because I feel good about trying.  And, best of all, I really do think these efforts pay off in real ways.