The 15 Minutes

Reflections by Glen Aylward, PhD

published in Aspects Magazine, 40-1, Winter 2017


I recall the date and time exactly: Friday, November 16, 2012 at 11:45 am, right after finishing the morning schedule of patients.  I had an appointment to see a neurologist, being referred by my orthopedic surgeon because of my complaints regarding continued “weakness” in my legs after numerous surgeries. This was brought to the forefront recently by running across the street in slow motion, the sensation being similar to  how it feels when one dreams that he is trying to run but isn’t getting anywhere—easily attributable to spinal stenosis, right?  Stenosis could also explain falling into the cushion bin on the deck and being stuck in there like Humpty Dumpty, legs flailing and calling for help.  What didn’t fit was being unable to sign my name automatically.  Hell, I had to practice how to do so.

The neurologist did his usual thing with the reflex hammer, bending arms and legs, looking for tremors, having me do fine-motor speeded tasks, checking my balance  and taking a history.  Then it was time to walk down the hallway.  The right leg dragged a bit; my right arm didn’t swing.  My steps were shorter.

‘What the hell is happening?  Walk right dammit!’ But I couldn’t.

“You have Parkinson’s disease,” was the summary verdict.


“And what?”

‘And what can I expect?’ I asked, conjuring up the stereotype of a shuffling gait, pill rolling hand movements, stooped posture, and flat affect.

“People don’t die from Parkinson’s—you can expect to live another 20 or 30 years.” I knew the 30 part was added on to make me feel better.

‘I assume things will worsen over time.’

“Depends on the individual.  We can deal with the symptoms using meds.  I also want a MRI to rule out stroke or anything else.  Let’s meet in several months to see how you’re doing. What’s the name of your pharmacy? ”

Staccato thoughts; rapid fire:

Why me?

Why not me?

How did I get this?

Damn it!

What do I tell my family?

I remember Nanny using a walker for a long time. Uncle Willie shuffled when he walked.

It is what it is.

Nothing you can do.

Yeah, right.

Is he sure it’s Parkinson’s?  I need another opinion!

Can’t blame the handwriting stuff on the stenosis.

This sucks!

It was a long, surreal walk back to the car—stunned silence.  I needed to get back to the afternoon’s patients and waiting resident.  I sat in the car for 15 minutes trying to regroup, process, and make sense out of what just happened. Already the denial and bargaining set in, with depression not far behind.  It was quite the opposite from Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame!

It could be worse.

Yeah, how?

Fold it up, tuck it away, play it cool. I have to continue. I can’t recall the patients on that day or their issues, but I do remember the resident. Time to switch to my other role. Enough being the helped, now I’m the helper again.

‘Hi folks, tell me what brings you here today,’ said in a more empathic manner than I had ever done before.