A few years ago, when I started writing about my experience with Parkinson’s disease, I decided that if I was going to do it, I’d try to do it as honestly as possible, warts and all. That is easier said than done. Try as one might, it’s impossible to separate the events from the emotions, and we all know that emotions are deathtraps for objectivity.
So when something happens like the events of last Sunday morning, the natural inclination is to hide the embarrassment and humiliation and not write about it. I’ve always been pretty even keeled, without much of a temper, and able to keep my emotions under control. Losing my senses even temporarily is unfamiliar territory; a source of both shame and mystery. So I’ll try my best to explain.
It was Sunday morning, the day after opening day of the gun deer hunting season in Wisconsin. My brother-in-law Doug and my son Jon and I had driven from my cabin to a butcher’s shop in a nearby small town to get Doug’s deer processed.
I was helping Doug lift his deer out of the back of my truck. He had the front legs and I had the back legs and as we pulled the carcass out and away from the truck, I felt my balance going, and I let go of the deer and fell hard on my right shoulder on the cement floor. I struggled for a second to regain my balance, got back up on my two feet, and immediately fell again, at the exact same angle, my right shoulder pounding into the cement. It was the Parkinson’s balance dance I’ve become all too familiar with. As I tried to get up again, the butcher cracked, “What, did that guy have brandy for breakfast?” And then I lost my mind. I don’t know where I was, but I was gone, the bright morning sunlight igniting pure white rage. I started swearing and stumbled into my truck and started looking for targets. I wanted to smash my fist through something; the best I could muster was throwing whatever I could find. There was an open bag of pretzels in my truck, I grabbed it and hurled it against the windshield, pretzels flying everywhere. At this point the contents of my wool hunting pants front pocket emptied out onto the floor, and I threw the little bag of hand warmer, and then I grabbed my brand new hunting knife and threw that, too, unaware in my blind anger that it had opened up and that I had grabbed it by the blade. I didn’t even notice the blood that sprayed across the inside of the windshield and stained my door. Doug and Jon had at some point gotten into the truck and were yelling at me to calm down as I put the accelerator to the floor and peeled out of the driveway into the street, trying to articulate my rage by screaming out profanities that only lodged in my throat and further fueled my anger. It came from deep down inside me, and as it intensified, it became more real and more honest. Fuck that asshole for implying I was drunk, fuck the humiliation of falling yet again, fuck everything that I used to be that I’m not anymore, fuck the narrow minded assholes who don’t get it, who don’t understand all that I’ve lost, fuck the past for reminding me, fuck the future for what I will become, fuck the cement floor of the butcher’s garage, fuck the early morning sunlight, fuck you, fuck me.
Somehow Jon and Doug calmed me down enough to stop the truck and let Jon drive. I got out and switched places with Jon, and as I took my seat on the passenger side, Doug, from the back seat, handed me a brown glove and said, “Here, wrap this around your finger.” Then, turning to Jon, he said, “He’s gonna need stitches. Do you know where the nearest emergency room is?” At that point, I unwrapped the glove from around my right index finger and saw how deeply I had cut it for the first time, and I saw the drops of my blood sprayed across the windshield, and I started coming back.
Jon stopped at a nearby gas station and ran in and bought some gauze and band-aids. He came back out and neatly and patiently wrapped my finger. I was still only about half aware of my surroundings; it still hadn’t registered, what had happened, as Jon pulled out on Highway 8 and started heading east.
Then in the sudden quiet of the truck, it hit me, and I could almost see it all unfold again in my mind’s eye, me falling on the cement, starting my tirade, throwing the bag of pretzels, and grabbing my opened knife and throwing it. Without warning, I felt pressure behind my face and I burst into tears, crying. I fought hard and stopped the tears, only for them to build up and burst again, and I sat there, in the passenger seat next to my son, fighting the tears and losing, ashamed and embarrassed by the scene I’d created.
Finally, enough time and distance elapsed for me to regain control of myself. I apologized to Doug and Jon, my only explanation being that I snapped like I had never snapped before, and that I didn’t know why. Doug was great, completely non-judgmental, explaining how he’d lost control a couple of times in the past, and that he understood. I’ve always thought of Doug as a good guy with a good heart, but I realize now that I’ve underestimated my brother-in-law, that there is a depth of soul that I was unaware of. I can’t thank him enough for his kindness and his support and his understanding.
We got to the emergency room and after I finished at the front desk, I sat down in the waiting room next to Jon. Doug went to get something out of the truck, and it was just Jon and I, my firstborn son and his father. We sat there, and quietly talked, exactly about what I don’t remember, but he was calm and steady and then I was, too. I realized at some point our roles had reversed, and he was taking care of me. The amazing thing is the comfort I took from this, from the knowledge that Jon was there for me. My son is a strong and capable and sensitive man, and I couldn’t be prouder of him.
They waited for me as I went in and the doctor stitched me up, eight stitches. He ordered an x-ray of my finger to make sure I hadn’t cut it to the bone. My shame and humiliation at my temper tantrum grew when, in the same room behind a curtain next to me, as I waited, the doctor treated a woman with cardiac problems, who was having trouble getting warm after hunting in the sub zero morning. The x-ray came back indicating the bone hadn’t been damaged. All told, a minor medical event caused by a major emotional malfunction.
The rest of the day went by without incident, the three of us watching the Packer game and Jon returning to his home in St. Paul. My finger was wrapped too heavily to pull a trigger, so my hunting was done, at least for a day or two. But that’s okay; to be honest, hunting isn’t all that important to me anymore.
So what did I learn? I learned that as old and wise as I am, I’m still capable of behaving like a spoiled two year old, throwing things and pitching a hissy-fit when things don’t go my way. I also learned that I’ve got more bottled up inside than I’d care to admit, and that I am capable of exploding. I’ll have to keep an eye on that – it’s good to know,
Most importantly, I learned that I am not alone, that I am surrounded by kind and exceptional people who genuinely care about me, even when I behave like a raging lunatic. This is the lesson that I am most likely to forget first, but it remains the most important.