Dealing with Strangers and ‘The Stare’

Sherri Woodbridge avatar

by Sherri Woodbridge |

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therapy and patients

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. 


Anne avatar


The dreaded clipboard holding pages of forms to be filled in is my nightmare. It takes ages for me and my writing is close to illegible as it gets tiny and slopes at weird angles. My response lately is to ask the receptionist to fill it in for me and I will spell out any words they are unsure of. I usually say,"Oh, I have Parkinson's and have lost my writing ability". Amazing to find that a 40 question form only needs about 18 actually answered when they fill it in.

Coach Hans avatar

Coach Hans

I am a Parkie, but also a Rock Steady Boxing fighter and now coach. When I write the workout of the day on the board in the gym it is sometimes difficult for my fellow fighters to read. This is where Parkie humor comes in. Like "what do you expect some guy with Parkinson's must have written this on the board"! Always good to laugh!

Sherri Woodbridge avatar

Sherri Woodbridge

I totally understand!!! And then they ask you every question you took twenty minutes each to answer in writing!

Joy Allen avatar

Joy Allen

I agree.Speak up and let them fill out the forms.The worst is when the PD clinic hands forms to you. Usually my husband is with me to do this.
One of the first things I did after my diagnosis was to have a signature stamp made. I can ask a clerk to fill out my check and then I can stamp it. IT is perfectly legal. We bought and sold houses with it.

Sherri Woodbridge avatar

Sherri Woodbridge

Thanks for the great info, Joy and taking the time to comment. -sherri

BB avatar


My biological father almost certainly has Parkinson's just as those people (progressive tremor, balance problems, rigidity) but he too won't get tested. I think he KNOWS he has it too, but doesn't want to deal with it. It's such a shame, his life could improve if he started levodopa therapy.

John Anderson avatar

John Anderson

Been there done that, unfortunately most folk don't understand and we find ourselves trying to explain something that even the experts have trouble addressing.
It gets back to attitude of the parkie ( I dislike the word ) my attitude is that publicly I do not suffer with PD,it is just an inconveniece that I have learned to live with and I find it helps to maintain a sense of humour, and joke about it.
We don't have to shake meds any more or even shake hands when meeting someone, also handy for mixing cocktails, Etc.

Mary Jo Fay avatar

Mary Jo Fay

Something occurred to me recently that gave me cause to pause ... when I explain to someone that I have PD, many of them then launch into how they have a friend, relative, or co-worker with PD. And from there, they continue into just how bad this person got over the years ... how they ended up in a wheel chair, shook like crazy, or even died of the disease.


I 've had to interrupt two individuals in the middle of their conversation and simply demand they STOP! Both times leaving me in tears and leaving them totally confused at my reaction. I realize that when my PD is pretty much under control with my meds that it must be hard for my non-PD friends to even see me as having any issues to begin with. So I'm sure they are clueless as to what it must be like to have a degenerative disease. Bottom line is this: when you break your leg, it gets casted and in 6 or 8 weeks it gets better. But PD only get worse and whether I'm high functioning or not, seeing each small change for the worse as it arrives is only a reminder of even more deterioration ahead. So, bottom line; please don't tell me about others you know who have PD. Because whatever their story, it will not be helpful to me. Instead, offer a listening ear. Ask questions about how your PD friend is doing and if there is anything you can do to make life easier.

Coach Hans avatar

Coach Hans

I have a reputation for being blunt with people. When someone starts to insist on telling me how bad PD can be, I tell them I already know this. I then inform them that tremendous, promising research is being done. I let these people know that we Parkies can have a very good quality of life. I do not let others take up my time with their negativity!

Sherri Woodbridge avatar

Sherri Woodbridge

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Mary Jo!

Sue avatar


Here's something that helps us with those medical forms for my father: I keep a computer table to print out with current medications (med name, dose, prescribing Dr., contraindications, etc), health history, current diagnoses and doctors, devices, allergies, etc. It shortens repetitive-form-time for many questions by telling them to see the print-out, and the medical people have said they appreciate the easy-read printed table.
I carry a print-out of it in a wallet-size plastic folder along with necessary medical cards, advance directive copies and power of attorney copies.
For information such as name, address, phone, emergency contacts, etc., it could help to print out address labels with that information to stick on the forms too.
I send my best wishes for all of you.

Sherri Woodbridge avatar

Sherri Woodbridge

Thanks so much, Sue, for the informative and helpful comment! I’ll be sure to pass along the great suggestions!


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