Dealing with Strangers and ‘The Stare’
It’s bound to happen. You know, that dreaded moment when a stranger can’t stop looking at you because you can’t stop wiggling. If only you could sit down and put your hands under your behind. It’s likely no one would notice. But it doesn’t matter. You’ve been found out. You can respond in a positive way, or you can get in his face and scream, “What’r you lookin’ at, dude?”
Well, it happened to me the other day. Some friends took me to lunch. As we waited to be seated, this man, who was also waiting to be summoned to a table of his own, kept staring at me. Specifically, my hands. I was late in taking my meds and it was more than obvious.
I didn’t say anything to him. Most people might blurt out their question of curiosity. Something like, “What do you have?” or better yet, “What’s wrong with you?”
So, I’m standing there, waiting. And I feel like someone is watching me, and lo and behold, I’m right. Mr. Dude can’t stop watching my hands move uncontrollably. I usually wear something with pockets so I can hide the shaking and no one is usually the wiser. Not this day.
I’d like to tell you I walked over there and said, “I noticed you were staring. I have Parkinson’s disease, like Michael J. Fox, except that I’m a girl and he’s not. If you have any questions, I’d be more than happy to answer them. Otherwise, I’d appreciate if you quit staring.”
I began clenching my hand, as I find after a few seconds it relieves the tightening of the muscles enough that they begin to relax a bit. I let Mr. Dude’s rudeness get the best of me. This is what I have to look forward to, I thought to myself.
The next day, I went to the hardware store. I noticed a man standing nearby. He turned and looked at me. I kept looking to find what I had come for, and I felt him looking at me again and then noticed him walk toward me.
“Have you hugged a Parkie today?” he asked inquisitively. I had my bright yellow PD shirt on with the shaky bear on the front, and he read the caption out loud. “What’s a Parkie?” he added.
“A person with Parkinson’s disease.” Straight and to the point.
“Oh, that makes more sense now.” He got his whatever it was and walked away.
Makes more sense? Did he know what Parkinson’s was? Was he aware that it was a disease?
I don’t necessarily like talking about it. If your tremor’s out of control, it invites questions from well-meaning people who don’t necessarily understand. If your speech is below an auditory level, they don’t understand why you seem to insist on talking so softly. So, I try to go easy on the dudes. I use to be a dude myself (in the sense that I thought of and reacted to people with disabilities as Mr. Dude did — staring). And I’m not really a wimp, as I will talk about my disease if someone is interested in listening.
A few weeks ago, I was walking into the supermarket and an older gentleman was in front of me. Then he fell. A younger guy sauntered over, followed by a little older guy. I was helping the man to stand back up and it was obvious he was embarrassed. The two younger guys left as quickly as they came. I walked the man into the store. He was shaking like crazy on his right side. I asked him if he had Parkinson’s. He said he didn’t know as he’d never been checked for it.
Keep that incident in mind while I tell you about this week’s. I’m standing in line at the grocery store and an older woman behind me is struggling to put her groceries on the belt. When I say struggling, that doesn’t begin to describe it. She was hardly able to grasp the items with her fingers, she was shaking so bad. I began helping her as the clerk began scanning my items. She was very appreciative and I asked her if she had Parkinson’s. She didn’t know what it was.
I’ve had a lot of thoughts about those two encounters. In both cases, I suggested they see their doctors to see if they could do something for them and to ask if what they are experiencing is PD-related. So, I guess I’m not so wimpy after all, but I do have my moments. Fortunately, there’s a lot of dudes out there, so it balances out.
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s Disease.