My boss at the paragraph factory thought readers might want to know how Parkinson’s Disease has transformed me from a vital wordsmith into a shriveled husk with the vitality of road kill.

 My boss at the paragraph factory thought readers might want to know how Parkinson’s Disease has transformed me from a vital wordsmith into a shriveled husk with the vitality of road kill.

Neal Simon apologized for the lame joke and sought a description of how Parkinson’s increasingly controlled my life or at least for now my left arm and leg. Here goes.

About a year after I guessed my disease and six months after Dr. Robert confirmed the self-diagnosis, symptoms of clumsiness have increased.

Parkinson’s hampers because the substantia nigra, the part of the brain that controls automatic actions like walking, is slowly but inevitably losing control. My left hand absurdly flaps like a flag on a gusty day unless I sit on it. Flying silverware is part of dining. My left foot at rest taps like a snare drum, unless I cross my legs, and is turning inward toward a pigeon-toed gait.

Night walks with three active dogs are challenging: I sometimes stumble over invisible sidewalk cracks; uneven pavements can be nightmares.

An observant neighbor noted “you seem to have lost some spark in your walk.”

He unknowingly referred to Parkinson’s-caused caution.

The most amazing part of the journey has been unexpected sympathy and understanding from strangers who recognize me from the Tribune. The first school board meeting I covered after publication of the initial article was embarrassingly filled with kindness and sympathy for me. Friends said they had watched my hand shake at meetings and social gatherings. A shocking number of people confessed they suffered the disease.

One neighbor admitted Dr. Robert diagnosed him with Parkinson’s.

Caution is the watchword for everything involving hands and feet.

The district clerk at a school board meeting inadvertently dropped a folder stuffed with dozens of papers. For board members and school officials there, picking up the package would have required crawling over tables or leaping over people. I warily walked the four steps, bent over, reassembled the package and slid it to the embarrassed clerk.

Two years ago, every muscle movement from walking to bending would have been automatic. This time I thought through every step and muscle motion.
But I didn’t stumble, fall down, stagger or drop the package and spill a Niagara of documents. Those are major achievements for this Parkinson’s patient.

Other signs: Handwriting that at best has been a scrawl for 60 years is now a shaky scrawl. Typing stories sometimes involves controlled shaking.

Cornell classmate Richard keeps me apprised of Parkinson’s web sites and tips. The retired Eastman Kodak senior research chemist emailed the best advice received to date: “Walking and exercise apparently produce dopamine” that helps electrochemical transmissions from one nerve cell to another.

I take his word for the chemistry but to date exercise works. Symptoms seem to respect the dopamine production Richard predicted.

I pray exercise can slow disease progression to my right side until Richard can uncover more biochemical magic.

Columnist Al Bruce of Canisteo, N.Y., will chronicle his battle with Parkinson's Disease with occasional pieces.