“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.”
At age 74, Muhammad Ali died last night in an Arizona hospital from what family members said was a respiratory condition related to his Parkinson’s disease.
He was so strong, so fast, so beautiful (really beautiful), so charismatic, so smart and so witty. He was inspirational. Who can forget his most memorable quotes, such as the one above. It is hard to believe he is gone, and harder still to visualize him after Parkinson’s took such a toll on him.
And his passing points out one of our greatest worries and one of our greatest challenges. When living with a chronic disease we are torn between, on the one hand, making sure we are taking the best care of ourselves that we can, but on the other, not getting melodramatic and overwrought about the aches, pains and other issues that are simply part of aging and life. It is a tough balance to strike.
After an extended period of feeling really good with my PD symptoms minimized, along came a cough, some chest pain and some internal tremors (try explaining that one to someone who does not have PD). I got scared. Was it a heart attack? Something else? A trip to the doctor confirmed that my heart and lungs were fine. The pain may have been a flare up of costochondroitis, an inflammation in the joints where the ribs meet the sternum. I have had that before and it eventually went away.
We then left for a long trip, planned long ago. The pain remained. Some extended rainy days made it worse. At this point, part of your brain tells you it’s nothing and to ride it out. Another part is screaming at you that the PD has taken a turn for the worse. So you ride it out. But you’re scared.
On returning home, I went to see my doctors just to make sure that nothing serious was going on. The pain was pretty much gone and the tests have ruled out the most serious and obvious and scary stuff, but the investigation continues into what was causing the symptoms. And as I feel better, the “ride it out” side of the brain starts to build confidence and subdues (but does not eliminate) the panic side of the brain.
This is a description, not a complaint. It is the process that anybody with a chronic disease or condition must grapple with. And the best way to deal with it that I have found is simply to get gritty about it. Listen to the debate in your own head and get the best medical advice you can, take the best care of yourself that you can, exercise the most mature judgment that you can and then decide you are going to ride it out. Take a step (or two or five) back in your activities; curl up with a good book; let you body — and mind — rest. And when you can, crank up the mental and physical activity with the goal of getting first back to where you were and then even better than that. That’s my plan. I’m going to ride it out. And it’s working already.