The Great Escape

Posted: March 7, 2011By: Briony Cooke

I have just returned from a trip to Madrid with my daughter; it was a birthday present for me and at the end of a hard winter it was a welcome break for both of us. We have always been close, but had not spent much time together since she got married last year, so this was well overdue.

I have always enjoyed flying, but I was dreading the security checks. As usual, I came wearing my unstylish anorak with multiple zipped pockets for pills, water bottles and other “parky” accessories. There is nothing more tremor-inducing than the unexpected request to disrobe and remove shoes at the last minute with a long impatient queue behind. But with my able-bodied companion’s assistance, it was no problem. The two hour flight was smooth and uneventful and we arrived on time. Madrid airport was busy and navigating our way through the crowded terminus was stressful.  A taxi ride to our hotel in the city centre was the only realistic option at the end of our journey when baggage fatigue was setting in and medication wearing off.

The hotel bedrooms were not smart, but very well equipped with wi fi and luxuriously comfortable beds. This was the ideal combination for an insomniac; each night I managed five hours interrupted sleep and occupied myself surfing the net in comfort when awake. Thanks to a good mattress, I was free of backache throughout this trip and that allowed me to walk further. The exercise, fresh air and stress-free holiday mood significantly reduced my PD symptoms.

Our hotel was close to a metro, so this became our main mode of transport; it was an extensive network covering the whole city and it was very efficient; we never waited more than three minutes for a train to arrive. We avoided travelling in the rush hour and before starting a journey, I made sure that my ticket was accessible and my hands free while my daughter was my porter. Challenges at the metro station were having to multi-task at the ticket barriers, move with the flow down the escalator and negotiate obstructions on the stairs, but we took our time, stayed together and got around the city successfully.

The cafés and restaurants served food all day which was very convenient and accommodated my strict regime of medication and meal times. Vegetarian dishes were hard to find or got lost in translation, but with our phrase book we eventually discovered wild mushrooms, chargrilled vegetables, meat-free pasta and risotto. Each evening we let ourselves go by visiting the ice cream parlour and topping up with emergency chocolate supplies on our return to the hotel.

We always keep a journal of our holidays and we recorded each day’s events. The triumphs were moments when I forgot I had PD. One was on Sunday afternoon when we lay on the lawn outside the Prado Museum absorbing the first sunshine of the spring; intensely bright and penetrating. I thrive in the heat and seize up in the cold, when dystonia grips my feet and cramps my style.  For me warmth is freedom.

My daughter saw the pattern of my PD symptoms and realised that my days were punctuated by “on” times when I functioned well and “off” times when I needed assistance with all sorts of fiddly tasks  such as putting on my jacket, manipulating the map, opening doors and checking out in shop. Inevitably, our daily schedule revolved around my medication, but that did not hold us back. By the end of our four days we had improved our knowledge of modern art, filled our suitcases with goodies and covered much ground both physically and in conversation. It was a great escape and reassured me that with a good companion, careful forward planning and a positive attitude I can still go places with PD, even ten years after diagnosis.

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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