Fighting Parkinson’s, and the “art” of eating

Make no mistake, I like to eat. Parkinson’s provided me a learning experience that made me have to re-think what I ate and how I ate it. When I say “how I ate it,” I am not talking about the method of cooking , but instead, I am talking about the new ways I had to learn how to actually get the food to my mouth. This was a problem right from the beginning.

On September 28, 2009, I began my Parkinson’s Daily Journal. Here is an excerpt from Day 2, September 29, 2009, two years ago today:

“During breakfast, I remembered the same thing I remembered during dinner last night. When I go to eat with a fork or spoon, my arm/hand gets the food on the fork or spoon, lifts it up from the plate or bowl, and STOPS in mid-air, hovering a couple of inches above the food. I then have to think about moving it to my mouth. I have tried concentrating on the fluid motion of picking up the food and going directly to my mouth, but so far I have not been successful. There’s always lunch today…we will see.”

Lunch wasn’t any better…not that day or any time thereafter. This was a problem that plagued me during my time with Parkinson’s. However, I realized at some point that I did not have a problem getting chips or finger-food directly to my mouth. Upon examining this in the mirror, I discovered the problem (and a solution).

When using a utensil, my hand came in from the side of the food, and my shoulder and elbow got involved in the movement. The problem was that my shoulder and elbow froze and locked once the utensil was lifted a bit above the food. When eating finger food, my shoulder and elbow remained close to my body and the movement of my hand moving the food to my mouth was a simple bending of the elbow similar to a “curl” with a dumbbell weight.

After much practice, I arrived at my solution (the one I used when eating at home with my family or by myself). I put my elbow on the table (sorry Miss Manners) directly next to my plate or bowl, positioned where I could lay my arm, from elbow to hand, flat on the table next to the plate (palm of hand facing up). I placed the utensil in my palm where the part that was going to pick up the food came out of the pinky side of my hand. From there, I could approach the food from the back of the plate, get the food on the utensil, and with a simple bend of the elbow like doing a curl, the utensil came straight up to my mouth. My shoulder and elbow did not interfere with this process because they were not being used, except for the bend of the elbow, which did not freeze.

When this elbow-on-the-table was not appropriate, I tried to eat finger food whenever possible because I could easily get it to my mouth. When neither of these was available, I did what I had to do. I was hunched forward anyhow, so once I would get my food hovering above the plate, I would lean forward and bring my mouth to the food. Nobody ever said anything about this…I would imagine it was because I had Parkinson’s and was doing the best I could.

This just made me think of something…”I had Parkinson’s and was doing the best I could.” You need to realize that you have Parkinson’s and, for the moment, you cannot do things the way you used to. That’s okay. It is okay to give yourselves an emotional break because you have Parkinson’s and cannot do things the way you used to. Once you recover, you will be able to do things the way you used to, and I can tell you from experience, with a far greater appreciation than you ever had for the things you can do!

So, from one foodie to all of you foodies out there, give my eating solution a try or get in front of a mirror and figure one out for yourself. With all of the physical aggravation Parkinson’s brings to our lives, getting our food to our mouths doesn’t have to be one of them. Happy eating!

All my best,

Howard

 

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