By Dr. Rudy Acuña
Special to the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol
Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement, bodily functions and even thinking, is a killer.
The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, according to the Mayo Clinic, although factors can include genes, heredity and exposure to toxins. Men are more likely to develop it than women. No two people have the exact same symptoms. It often begins in the middle of your life in your later years. While treatable — its progression can be slowed and managed with medications and exercise — there still is no cure.
Health complications include incontinence, insomnia and dementia. I passed through the first two, but my wife and daughter went through hell in trying to prevent me from falling into dementia. The worse part for me were the hallucinations, the feeling that I would not awaken from the nightmare.
My father, who had Parkinson’s, died from a fall. He could not control his bowel movements. I also cannot control my bowel movements, and would fall if I took a sharp turn. I thought nothing about it since there was no bleeding.
With each fall my health has deteriorated over the past dozen years. I’ve had over 20 falls in which I landed on my head. By accident, a gerontologist stopped my release from an emergency room visit, stating that he believed I had Parkinson’s.
The worse experience was my lack of control of my bowel movements. At the ER, I would be covered by excrement; at home, my wife constantly cleaned me. It got to the point that I became immobile. I began arguing and noticed my wife, Lupe, getting tired but instead of feeling grateful, I became more demanding.
My daughter, Angela, moved in with us as the pandemic progressed. I would threaten to run away; the problem was that I could not walk. I would text people at 3 a.m., commanding their presence at 3 a.m. I would awaken Lupe and Angela insisting someone was in the house. The hallucinations grew worse. The paranoia was so intense that I would listen and want my wife to run and answer the phone I was hearing from the hallucinations.
Often, I felt like Joe Bonham, a young World War I American soldier who awakens in a hospital bed after being caught in the blast of an exploding artillery shell. He gradually realizes that he has lost his arms, legs, and all of his face (including his eyes, ears, nose, teeth, and tongue), but that his mind functions perfectly, making him a prisoner in his own body.
I felt like I was going crazy and, in desperation, fought to awaken. Only in the care of my wife and daughter have I recovered many of my faculties although I still wet the bed. I know that I owe them my sanity, but it is hard.
I would like to thank Jesse Jackson, Michael J. Fox, and the Parkinson’s Foundation. Meanwhile my family and I are doing boxing for exercise while sitting on a chair.
Distinguished lecturer and author of 20 books, Rudy Acuña, teaching in the 1950s, earned his doctorate degree at USC and went on to be the founding chair of the Chicano/a Studies Department at CSUN where he worked for 60 years.