“Obviously, nobody wanted it to end like this, but it really was the right move…the fans got to see the stars, they got to see good pitching, good hitting, great plays. The only thing they didn’t get to see was a winner.”
– Eddie Guardado, Minnesota Twins on the 2002 MLB All Star Game
“The ten years since my diagnosis have been the best ten years of my life, and I consider myself to be a lucky man.”
– Michael J. Fox, Actor in his 2002 Autobiography, “Lucky Man”.
“The eleven years since my operation have been the most remarkable years of my life. While I cannot say that everything is perfect, things are good, and I am definitely a lucky man.”
– Brian T. Bolten, writer, on his life since his DBS surgery.
On today’s date, July 9 in 2002 the National League and the American League squared off in Major League Baseball’s Annual All Star Game. And in an unprecedented result the game was called off after 11 innings in a tie at 7 to 7. I remember this very well because I sat up watching the game until this tied ending. And the reason I was able to sit up to the end of this game is that I had just undergone DBS Surgery at St. David’s Hospital in Austin, Texas, and for the first time in over two or more year’s, my hands were both completely still. And I was so happy to have my hands still, that I didn’t want to sleep. The National and American leagues may have concluded the night in a tie, but I had won!! My hands would not remain completely still, but I felt that I had won, and I still feel that way. Like Michael J. Fox, I was then, and remain today a lucky man.
MJF and BTB Notice Parkinson’s For the First Time
“Even with the lights off, blinds down, drapes pulled in, a offensive amount of light still filtered into the room. Eyes clenched shut, I placed the palm of my left hand across the bridge of my nose in a weak attempt to block the glare. A moth’s wing — or so I thought — fluttered against my right cheek. I opened my eyes, keeping my hand suspended an inch or two in front of my face so I could finger-flick the little beastie across the room. That’s when I noticed my pinkie. It was trembling, twitching, auto-animated. How long this had been going on I wasn’t exactly sure. But now that I noticed it, I was surprised to discover that I couldn’t stop it.”
This was how Michael J. Fox described a moment early on a November morning in 1990 when he first noticed the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, a disorder of the nervous system resulting from the death of cells in the brain which generate the chemical dopamine. The result is a chronic tremor, sometimes severe, in the arms and legs of the sufferer. The disease bears the name of the English doctor James Parkinson , who published the first detailed description of it’s symptoms in An Essay on the Shaking Palsy in 1817. The cause of the death of these cells remains unknown.
Although MJF and I are the same age (52 as of today!!), I was a lot less surprised by a tremor in my hand than he was. This is because I had had all of my life a condition previously known as “Benign Familial Tremor” which has since come to be called “Essential Tremor”. And this was a slight tremor of both of my hands, which my father had to some extent, as did his mother before him. I had always told people that it was just an odd sort of inherited tick, which did nothing more than make me look more nervous on dates than I was really. And for most of my life this was true. But I noticed a definite change somewhere during the Autumn of 1999. I was auditing a class and I noticed for the first time that I was having trouble keeping my hand steady enough to hand write my notes. I didn’t think of PD at that time. But the Austin Symphony Orchestra, of which I was a member was rehearsing the Symphony No. 1 in D Major, by Gustav Mahler. In one of the movements there is a spot wherein the Double Bass section breaks briefly into a solo section divisi. So the top half of each stand plays a line and then the bottom half continues it. Performance anxiety is something with which every musician must contend and it had always been something which for me inhibited me from playing as relaxed as I normally would. But now all of a sudden in this brief little spot where I was one of only four Basses playing, my right hand (with which the bow is held) would shake violently, and uncontrollably. For the little brief moments of my exposure, I was effectively disabled.
DBS Surgery, St. Davids Hospital…..
So flash forward to the summer of 2002. My niece Maria had come down to Austin to look after me during my trip (above: Neuro-Surgeons perform DBS Surgery on a patient) into the operating room at St. Davids Hospital which is literally a ten minute walk from where I was then a member of the Staff of the U.T. Austin School of Music. I was to have a kind of surgery called “DBS”, which stands for “Deep Brain Stimulator”. It sounds frightening, and it is serious…. it IS in fact brain surgery afterall. But it’s purpose is very clear. A very small hole is DRILLED through the skull (that was the only frightening part… not because it was painful… it wasn’t at all; it just felt very strange) and a line about the thickness of sewing thread is inserted through that opening and through a small little tunnel which my brilliant Neuro-Surgeon, Dr. Lee Berlad had made to the portion of my brain (such as it was… ha-ha!!) wherein the nerve cell imbalance of Parkinson’s Disease was occurring. On the end of this little wire was an electrode. The wire was then attached to a device (the “Deep Brain Stimulator” ) which was planted in my chest. This battery powered device delivered a regular electrical pulse to this part of the brain which remedies the nerve cell imbalance enough to bring about a significant reduction in the tremors and the other symptoms of that old bastard Parkinson’s.
And the All Star Game…
The operation went very well. My niece called my Super- visor at U.T. Music, Elaine Law to give her the news, and Elaine sent out an e-mail to my colleagues to tell them about this. One of the immediate effects of the surgery was the very slight swelling that occurred in my brain tissue around the route where the electric wire passed. The Stimulator would not be activated until two weeks after the surgery. But because of this swelling the tremor in my hands was stopped immediately while the swelling was occurring… for about two or three days. I got a pair of “Get Well”, congratulatory phone calls from my Austin Symphony colleagues Sean and Betsy Sanders, and the hospital staff were looking after me very well. Maria stayed in the room with me until fairly late in the evening, before returning to my apartment to get some sleep.
The N.L. & the A.L. Tied, But I Had WON!!
But what I remember best of all was the fact that for the very first time in two or more years, my hands were folded on a pillow in front of me and were completely and totally still!! I knew that this would only last for a couple of days, and that the tremor would return until they activated the Stimulator. But I didn’t care!! I just adored the blessed stillness of my body for this little time. AND the All Star Game was on T.V. And I was so pleased that I loved it!! I didn’t care that there was only one Cincinnati Red player on the team that year: Adam Dunn in the outfield. It was as Eddie Guardado (pictured above as a Red, which he was from 2006 – 07) said, a fun and hard-played contest. I didn’t care when Bud Selig and the rest of the officials got together and decided after 11 innings when all 30 of the players on both teams had been used, to call it off as a tie (above). It was OK with me!! After two years of constant, and unremitting shakes brought on by PD, my hands were gloriously and miraculously STILL! I had won!! Life since then hasn’t exactly been a smooth skate. But when they activated the Deep Brain Stimulator it worked very well. My tremor is not totally gone. But it is greatly reduced. In fact, most of the time, you wouldn’t even notice it. And sometimes, my sense of balance is a bit off. so I use a cane. But I am able to write and live on my own. If you’re expecting to see an old man shuffling around with his head bowed, forget it!! Look for a MAN striding confidently, and smiling!! The operation was ELEVEN YEARS ago today, and I can still say that I am one VERY lucky man!!
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By Michael J. Fox, Hyperion, New York, 2002.