Thinking back to the early 1990s, it’s easy to track the signs of Parkinson’s disease developing. Hindsight always makes us smarter, doesn’t it?
I even remember peculiar snippets in the late 80s that may have been warnings of the onset. Wally craved Tim Horton donuts, the sweeter the better. If I had ever known how many he was consuming per day, I would have been alarmed just for the cholesterol levels alone. And salt. I’ve never seen anyone sprinkle clouds of salt on his food the way Wally did, and does. Again I attributed it to his playing tennis almost every day. He needed salt to replace his sweat, but in truth, I rarely saw him sweat or ‘glisten,’ even on the hottest days or after his longest matches.
At some point during this period, his right forefinger began to tremble, but he never mentioned it to me. I don’t know if he told his doctor either. Tennis buddies noticed it was easier to beat him, but said nothing to me or to Wally. One thought his game was getting better and was proud he could beat Wally. Another noticed his serve didn’t have the force it once did, though Wally still won games because he could keep his opponents running. Neither one of these buddies said a word to me until years later, after he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Their playing hadn’t improved beyond his as they thought then; his game had been “off” for physical reasons, so their wins didn’t feel so triumphant.
I was deeply absorbed in writing a novel and never noticed signs of depression until one day his broker called me because she was quite concerned about him. I felt terrible that I hadn’t noticed any changes. We both assumed that the depressed real estate market and the switch to computer technology frustrated him. He was working as hard as ever but not showing the kind of results he normally produced. That would discourage any top real estate agent, and Wally had reigned for a number of years in Toronto.
As I observed him more closely, I realized he wasn’t multi-tasking through the day. Normally he balanced his routine between cold calls for new listings and research for buyers’ preferences before taking clients out on prospective house tours in the afternoon or evening. Often I went with him to agents’ Open Houses. Now he seemed to work more methodically and slower, a task at a time.
It’s easy to blame aging, but is it really? My father was 31 years older than Wally, but he was still consulting for mining companies in his late seventies. In my view, Wally was still a pup compared to Dad.
I noticed these things, but they didn’t sink in until one day, in 1995, we were visiting my Dad, and my brother took a picture of Dad, Wally and me. Days later, when I looked at the photo, I was shocked to see Wally standing shorter than Dad. Wally was six feet. Dad, five-foot-eleven. That couldn’t be right. Since Dad was so much older it made sense that he would shrink, not Wally.
Wally is the baby of three brothers, each nine years apart from the other. But, at age 63, Wally looked older than his eldest brother eighteen years his senior, just as in that picture with Dad, he looked older than him. In my mind, it didn’t make any sense. Yet, when Wally returned from his annual physical exam, he was declared as healthy as a horse. Everything was normal, including his cholesterol levels. I decided I was being a worry wart over nothing and let it go. My conclusion: Everyone’s different and we can’t compare them.