Wednesday, March 18, 2009

group therapy

Today I went with my father to his weekly two-hour Parkinson's disease physical and speech therapy group. It was wonderful! There were eight men with Parkinson's there, along with four connected people (two wives, a male partner, and me), and there were two therapists doing physical therapy the first hour (along with maybe four therapy students who came in partway through when we did the hokey-pokey and needed reinforcements); one therapist doing speech therapy the second hour. (I should explain that there are some people with Parkinson's who have tremors, the stereotype we all know; and then there are other problems in various combinations, such as speech problems, balance problems, problems with stiffness and various other things. My father doesn't have tremors really but he has various degrees of some other things - particularly frustrating to him is that he can't talk as clearly as he would like.) (Note from my father - I think all of us have problems with voice, to various extents.)

The last couple of days I had been typing up my mother's and sister's notes from when they went - we cut them out and stuck them on 3x5 cards so my father could more easily do them at home. So a. I had a little preview of what we would be doing, and b. I didn't have to take notes like that myself.

I joined in for a lot of the things. We stretched - arms, torsos, legs. We breathed in and out, we twisted, we stuck out our legs - and then we did the hokey-pokey. Everybody seemed to be having fun.

There was one man, who was new today, who looked to me like he did not want to be there. At the end, though, he said enthusiastically: I'll definitely be coming back! I mentioned my sense to my father, who reminded me that people with Parkinson's tend to have a masklike countenance and in fact are often misunderstood for that reason - their faces don't necessarily show how they feel about things.

One man, Bob, doesn't speak at all, but he loves to come to the group from all accounts. He joined in with everything eagerly and when it came time for speech therapy, we were saying aaaah as long and as loud as we could and he kept making his aaaaah sound longer than anyone - it was very raspy and hard to hear but it was definitely an aaaaah. 

The place, Casa Colina, is a wonderful rehab center (a few years ago it was on the front page of the New York Times for the work it does with brain-damaged military veterans). I'd been there before with each of my parents. Today all the therapists had a warm and enthusiastic word for my father - he hadn't been in a month because he'd been sick, and while he was home he started a beard. Everybody noticed; everybody was pleased. (The beard is really very distinguished and professorial looking - paired with the bow tie he often wears it's an unbeatable combination.)

I asked my father if he liked going there, and he said he really does. (I asked him before I'd been; afterwards I wouldn't have needed to ask.) He says it's not always easy to be around other people with Parkinson's and see what your symptoms might be, or might still become - but on the other hand it is an energy-giving thing to be there. And even the people who are worst off, like Bob who does not speak, are enjoying themselves, and enjoying the attentions of the others. Doing these exercises helps with mobility and speech, and it's hard to make yourself go through all the different exercises sitting at home by yourself!

The hokey-pokey today was a huge success. Next week they're going to have a dance instructor come in and do some more actual real dance moves (the hokey-pokey was off a cassette - after that we did something whose name I forget that involved making open-shut movements with your hands, then wiggling your elbows, then wiggling your hips, then clapping - and then repeat many times. I think the hokey-pokey was a little more interesting!). One of the therapists got married in the last few months; everybody wanted to know all about who her husband was and where they had their honeymoon and what her last name was now. 

I was realizing while I was there that it's kind of like my weekly Weight Watchers group in Berlin - we're all there for the same reason - we all have the same issues - it's something we don't necessarily share with our families but we do share with the strangers in the room (or people who start out strangers) - and it's a very good thing to come together every week and address it in various ways.

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