In Patient

Posted: July 6, 2012By: Briony Cooke

The trouble with Parkinson’s disease (PD) is that it lurks; it’s always there and if we have other medical conditions, it complicates matters. I discovered this when I had foot surgery recently.

We are big on bunions in our family with most of the female members afflicted. For me, stilettos had never been an option, but I was tired of wearing clumpy shoes in a wide fittings. My walking would continue to worsen, so I decided to have my bunions removed and my bones straightened. First the left foot which was on my ‘bad side’ (my feet, hands and eyesight are all defective on my left), then 9 months later, the right one.

I went for a pre-operative assessment where they checked out my medication compatibility with the anaesthetic. This was important and I had to stop one of the drugs a fortnight before the operation. I received a pamphlet telling me what to do on the day of the operation and the items I should bring in with me for a 3 day stay. My focus was on the hospital stay and I gave little thought to the 6 weeks after the operation when I would be in plaster and on crutches. I thought I was well prepared, but had no idea how PD would make my life difficult.

On the day of my operation, I was advised to take my medication, but nothing else for 6 hours before the surgery. I had a discussion with the anaesthetist and the nurse who reassured me that my medication would be kept with me the whole time. Knowing that I would be groggy when I came round, I told them what my dosage was should I need reminding.

The operating theatre was a noisy place full of people laughing and joking, which took me by surprise. They marked my left foot with a large arrow, inserted the needle and I drifted off. In the recovery room I awoke to find two policemen standing next to my bed handcuffed to the dozy patient on my right; who showed no signs of doing a runner. Then I remembered why I was there – my foot. It felt great, in fact I couldn’t feel it at all, but I looked down and there it was; well and truly plastered.

I spent the next 3 days on a women’s surgical ward comparing wounds and trying out mobility aids including crutches and Zimmer frames. We talked a lot, but tried not to laugh too much because of the stitches. My left foot had to be raised the whole time which led to a fair amount of backache. That was more troublesome than the foot itself which, at this early stage, didn’t bother me in the slightest.

I was allowed to self-medicate and the staff left me in charge of my drugs. I explained how I had to stick to a rigid schedule of pill-taking and to work my mealtimes around this. Hospital routines are inflexible, but they did their best to accommodate my needs.

Before I was discharged I had to receive crutch training on the stairs from the physiotherapist. I explained that PD impaired my balance and the only feasible way of getting up and down the stairs was on my knees and on my bottom. When she learnt that we have 47 stairs at home, she hastily sent for the occupational therapist who arranged for a new banister rail, some grab handles, gutter crutches and a shower stool; all courtesy of the NHS. I could not have managed without these aids, especially at night-time.

My 6 weeks on crutches were hard work and amusing for my family to watch; I didn’t mind being called ‘hop along’ if they shopped, cooked and fetched things for me. My wheelchair had a certain novelty value and pushing me was popular. I recall a particularly hair-raising ride along the promenade at Brighton overtaking other wheelchairs at high speed.

Eventually, the plaster came off and revealed very pretty and functional foot. Although it took several months for the swelling to subside, I was delighted with the outcome and booked my next bunion job for the following December, just in time to get out of all the Christmas chores.

Briony Cooke

Briony Cooke

I experienced the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD) during my 40s and was diagnosed in 2000 at the age of 47. At the time I worked as a lecturer in a further education college where I was in charge of geography and environmental sciences, and was Senior Tutor to 250 students. I also held the post of Deputy Chief Examiner in geography for the International Baccalaureate and ran training courses for teachers in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. I worked with PD for 6 years and finally retired in 2006. Since retiring, I have setup a support group for those with young onset Parkinson’s in the Reading area. I write in my spare time and have published three geography textbooks.

I have three grown-up children who have all left home and I live with my husband, two fat cats and five tortoises. My hobbies are photography, gardening and breeding tortoises and my philosophy is: “there’s no time like the present”.

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