A ‘Glass Always Full’ Outlook With Early-onset Parkinson’s Disease
A caregiver praises her husband's attitude, despite the loss of his hard-won career
I’m always in awe when I think about how my husband, Arman, has handled his diagnosis of early-onset Parkinson’s disease.
He was young at the time, just starting his independent medical career after years of supervised training. Arman’s post-undergraduate path included four years of medical school, three years as a resident in internal medicine, and three years of a fellowship. Some physicians go even further than that in their training, but since we already had three small children, Arman didn’t pursue a “super” fellowship, which was a relief to me.
Arman had always dreamed of becoming a doctor, just like his father. He originally wanted to pursue a career in pediatric oncology, as he’d lost his older brother to bone cancer in their teens. But he eventually settled on becoming a cardiologist because pediatric cancer felt too challenging emotionally.
His passion and determination to become a physician were evident to every patient and colleague who crossed his path. Being married and a father to an 11-month-old didn’t stop him from graduating at the top of his medical school class and securing his internal medicine residency at Harvard.
His dreams and passions continued as our family grew, and we headed back home to Cleveland so he could complete his cardiology training at the Cleveland Clinic.
For each rotation, he learned everything he could about that topic. He was a voracious reader on everything related to medicine. He arrived overprepared to work daily so he could answer any questions. To accomplish this, he’d sacrifice sleep and never miss family time. Some residents in his program joked that he had so much knowledge in his head that it might explode!
Before his medical career, he was both the life of the party and the most intelligent guy in the room. He seamlessly balanced studying hard and making the most out of his four years in the small town where he attended college. As a result, he was able to ace all his classes, setting the curve in all of his premed and business courses.
Arman was elated when he began practicing after all the years of training. Finally, it was his time to put all his knowledge and hard work into play. It was his time to shine and change the course of medicine, one patient at a time.
But unfortunately, he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s only a few years into that stage of his career. To make matters worse, before he shared that news with his colleagues, some accused him of being incapacitated. That period was difficult for him; he felt alone and unsupported, making the diagnosis even more brutal.
It’s truly devastating to develop Parkinson’s when young, but adding to it the death of a career is like adding the cherry on top of a poisonous sundae.
He wanted to continue practicing cardiology, but the unpredictability of Parkinson’s and the inconsistency of his medications made it completely unbearable. His fatigue and his leg’s major dyskinesia, or involuntary movements, were just plain exhausting. Performing a diagnostic cardiac catheterization became dangerous because of his intention tremors. Keeping up the pace and expectations of seeing patients in the office became nearly impossible. Spending weeks on call in the cardiac intensive care unit was just out of the question, and it simply became too much for him to handle.
What used to be so effortless and natural became painfully unachievable. He eventually bowed his head and retired before he was even 40 years old.
It has been over 10 years since Arman’s diagnosis. He has slowly (but not completely) begun to make peace with his Parkinson’s and the massive hole left in his life when he exited his career.
Arman considers himself a “glass always full” kind of person, and I recently asked him, “What’s the key to your positive attitude?”
He explained that he’s wired that way, or, as our kids say, “Dad is just built different.”
Arman admitted that staying upbeat can be an uphill battle, but when he gets down, he reminds himself that he has a beautiful life and an incredible support system, and it could always be worse. He feels grateful for the time he’s been able to spend with our kids, a luxury he wouldn’t have been afforded if he were a busy cardiologist.
In the many years since his diagnosis, I’ve never heard him complain, not even once. I continue to be in awe of him every day as he stumbles through life with a smile.
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