Who Threw the Monkey Wrench? Adjusting to the Unexpected

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by Dr. C |

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I don’t think a monkey should own a wrench. Monkey wrenches seem to be thrown from nowhere and land at the most unexpected and undesired moments. I’ve had several of these monkey wrenches land in my life recently, causing setbacks related to Parkinson’s disease (PD). Now, I’m back to more thrashing and gnashing.

Unexpected things happen. The recent monkey wrench was our water heater breaking. For some folks, this would be a minor inconvenience. Mrs. Dr. C does laundry in cold water, and was not averse to heating up a pot of hot water to clean the few dishes we use in a day.

Between getting the electrician out to assess the problem (it’s an on-demand electric water heater), having him search fruitlessly for the replacement part, and waiting over the weekend to follow up with the plumber, it took seven days to regain one of the most desired and appreciated vestiges of civilization: hot water. “Bracing” and “invigorating” fail to describe our week of frigid showers.

My Marine Corps voice says, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a cold shower.” Oh, if this were only true. I use hot water for my therapeutic muscle massage treatment. It’s inexpensive but effective in helping me manage pain, relax my muscles, and attain some relief from being battered by PD rigidity symptoms throughout the day. The delay in fixing the hot water problem tested and pushed my threshold management to the maximum.

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The lack of hot water caused a break in my routine and the loss of helpful therapy, which led to an increase in PD symptoms. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems any break from my established therapy program creates stress. It’s more than being “stuck in my ways” or having difficulty doing something new.

Set-shifting, or the ability to adapt to new situations quickly, is difficult for a lot of PD patients. But this hot water loss didn’t simply involve adjusting to a new situation. The loss increased the amount of stress on all aspects of my mental, psychological, emotional, and physical well-being.

My sleep preparation routine is a lot of work, as it includes a sleep ritual and exercise with mindful movements. Sleep is not automatic for me anymore, and it’s become part of my search for balance in life with PD. Disrupting it causes a dysregulation in homeostasis, signaling the monkey to toss another wrench in my direction — one I cannot seem to duck.

Perhaps some people do not understand how sensitive the dysfunctional regulatory systems are to flickering. Once homeostasis starts to flicker off its sense of balance, it can lead to a cascade effect. Homeostasis is lost, emotions start to rise at any provocation, resources get depleted, and before I know it, I’m at the boundary of a threshold-crossing event. Even though I tried to manage the event, I still had more than my usual number of ugly days.

This scenario is exactly what I try to manage and avoid. I use my episodic symptoms to warn me if I’m headed toward that threshold. When I don’t manage, then sleep is worse, emotions become exaggerated, pain is worse and lasts longer, muscles are slower and move in the opposite direction than my brain commands, and the histamine flicker starts up. I put exercising on hold because of my fear of stumbling or falling and the increase in fatigue. All these disruptions because of cold showers.

I used up every technique to manage my threshold, quiet down all the noise, and return to balance. This became a full-time, hour by hour, daily, concentrated effort. It is difficult to adapt when the monkey wrench is breaking everything that was working well. It took a lot of work for me to adjust and compensate, but it was better than crossing over into PD misery.

I repeated my mantra, “You can do this. You can calm all that PD brain noise. You know the tools work.”

I also told the monkey to put the wrenches back in the toolbox.


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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Vicki Foster avatar

Vicki Foster

Can you please describe the therapeutic muscle massage in more detail? The link didn’t describe that therapy specifically.
Thank you very much.

roger haerr avatar

roger haerr

I always enjoy Dr. C. I know exactly what he is talking about. I am grateful for his insights.

Sia booth avatar

Sia booth

I love your style of writing. Your stamina is inspiring.


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