Geeky Bob

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share his thoughts.

Be sure to check out my technical blog at www.microsoftbob.com.

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Good Days and Bad Days

It’s been a few months since I was diagnosed with Essential Tremor, and as I have mentioned in other blog posts, I have good days and I have bad days. I also mentioned that – thanks to modern medicine – my good days usually outnumber the bad days. But that being said, today was a bad day, and at the risk of regaling you with “Too Much Information,” I thought that I would take a moment to explain what that’s like.

Throughout the day, dozens of seemingly-trivial tasks were made difficult by miniscule tremors that caught me completely off guard. In each occasion, either my fingers would tremble, or my entire hand would tremble. To anyone nearby it might seem as if nothing was happening, but each instance was terribly frustrating for me.

Here is one example from earlier this evening: my wife and I were standing in our kitchen, and I held up a jar of salsa to dip a chip into it. But when I turned the jar on its side so that it was parallel to the ground, my hand started to tremble so badly that I could barely hold the jar. I certainly couldn’t be trusted to try dipping a chip into the jar, so I quickly set it down. I attempted the activity again – with the same result. I looked at my wife and chuckled helplessly, but I usually only get tremors in one hand, so I thought that I would just change hands to work around the problem. However, I soon discovered that my other hand yielded the same outcome – my hands were simply shaking too badly to be reliable.

I was briefly annoyed at my own inability to accomplish this ridiculously-simple task, when I thought of a workaround: I could hold the jar on the kitchen counter and simply lean it on its side. This worked brilliantly, and it reveals a lifestyle behavior that I am having to employ more and more commonly these days: I use something else for stability.

Quite often I find myself running into situations where my hands are shaking, and even though I mentioned earlier that my physical dilemmas are probably imperceptible to those around me, I cannot help but feel embarrassed by my circumstances – either by my hands shaking or by my inability to do something simple. However, I increasingly find myself working around the problem by leaning my hands against something else for stability; occasionally I will quickly push my hands down onto a table when I find that cannot hold a fork or spoon steady while eating, and other times I will pull my arms to my chest so that I can complete a task with a relative degree of stability. These situations are very frustrating to experience, but I am doing my best to cope with them and find workarounds when possible.

Another annoyance that I have discovered is how these micro-tremors in my hands seem to sap my strength. The tremors are not actually making my hands weaker, but it seems that way because my fingers shake as I try to use them, and as a result I cannot accomplish my intended activity. (If you’ve ever had your hands shake because your blood sugar was crashing, it feels a lot like that.)

Here’s a case in point from earlier today: I received a DVD from Netflix in the mail, and when I picked it up, a quick set of micro-tremors in my fingers made me lose my grip on the envelope and it went sailing through the air. This happened a couple more times, and when I finally managed to force my way through my symptoms and I had a firm grip on the package, the tremors made it impossible to slide my fingers through the seal on the envelope and open it. (That’s when I decided that it was time to go find a set of scissors…)

So this is what my life is like on bad days: I find myself plagued with what seems like a never-ending stream of tiny tremors that are making average, day-to-day activities far more difficult than before. But I am attempting to keep my spirits high as I soldier through my occasional predicaments, and whenever possible I am trying to find workarounds for my setbacks.

(One final note: you wouldn’t believe the number of typos that tremors caused while writing this blog.)

Posted: Jan 18 2018, 14:55 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Learning to Cope with Essential Tremor

Today I couldn't open a plastic package containing a cheese stick. It was such a silly little task, and yet I couldn't manage to do it. My fingers kept going to the correct places, but then they'd shake uncontrollably and I couldn't pull open the packaging.

At first I started to grow frustrated, but then - much to my own amazement - I found myself spontaneously laughing about the situation. As I thought about my petty predicament, I realized that there are three ways that I could react to my ever-changing, day-to-day reality:

  • Cry about the situation
  • Scream about the situation
  • Laugh about the situation

If I allowed the frustration to take over and rule my life, I could easily see myself devolving into a blubbering pile of self-pity. Or if I demanded that God needed to answer why he was making me suffer, I could just as easily see myself filling with rage every time my hands don't do what they're told.

However, in this instance I simply realized that it was just a silly little task, and there was no reason to let stronger and useless emotions prevail. While there was nothing that I could do about my hands, I could try to figure a way to work around my physical difficulties. And if that didn't work, I could easily walk into the next room and ask my wife for help.

In the not-too-distant future, I will undoubtedly find myself having to ask for help a lot more than I would ever want to do. Like everyone, I have my pride, and asking for help just seems so... weak. But I cannot escape the fact that I will need help, and I will have to learn to set my personal pride aside and ask for assistance. Even if I'm simply trying to open a stupid cheese stick package.

Posted: Jan 08 2018, 15:20 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Why is a Disease Called Essential Tremor?

Today I found out that I have a disease called "Essential Tremor," and what I want to know is: who the heck names a disease with "Essential" as part of the title? There is nothing about this disease that seems essential. A much better name would be something like "extremely-annoying shaky limb disease." Nevertheless, I have a deeply-disturbing feeling that nothing will ever the same.

Actually, I've known for months that something was wrong, but I didn't have a definitive answer as to what that was until now, so my wife and I chose to keep quiet about it. Knowing for certain helps, though; not just because I have a name to assign to the symptoms that I have been experiencing, but also to know that I don't have something far worse like Parkinson's Disease, which is fatal. (Note: The Essential Tremor page on the Mayo Clinic website has a great breakdown of the symptom differences between these two diseases.)

I first started experiencing symptoms well over a year ago when I noticed that one of my legs would start to shake. Sometimes my right leg would shake while driving - just enough to be annoying, although occasionally enough for me to ask my wife to drive. At other times one of my legs would shake while standing, and occasionally one of my feet would shake while supporting my balance as I was seated on a stool in our breakfast nook or when performing at church. However, over time my fingers started to shake, too. Sometimes my finger muscles would fire on their own and pull inward into my palm; on one such occasion the thumb on my right hand would pull inward every 30 seconds for almost a week. I soon discovered that if I shook my hands, they would continue to shake on their own, and tasks like pouring liquid from a bottle might result in uncontrolled shaking. In a few episodes, I would be performing a repetitive action such as typing on a computer keyboard or tapping my foot, but when I would mentally signal whichever limb to stop moving, the action continued on its own, and all I could do was watch in amazement as my extremities seemed to have a life of their own. As anyone can imagine, between typing on a computer for a living and playing various musical instruments as a hobby, I am typically extremely aware of exactly what my fingers are doing, and you cannot imagine how terrifying it was to watch my fingers simply quit responding correctly while playing classical guitar or some other delicate task. Needless to say, as my symptoms increased in both frequency and severity, my emotions quickly moved from amusement to confusion to concern and then alarm, and my wife progressed through many of those emotions as well as she witnessed my rapid decline during the first half of this year.

I started a diary of my symptoms earlier this year, and I had hundreds of episodes documented by August when I was finally able to see a neurologist who specializes in movement disorders. That being said, my neurologist quickly dispelled any fears of Parkinson's Disease and he prescribed medication for Essential Tremor, to which I have been responding rather well. There are some side effects, though, and a common effect is drowsiness. This led to a brief work-related experiment recently, where I was off my medications for a week or two due to long hours and a heavy work schedule; I couldn't afford the luxury of being tired, so I simply stopped taking my medication. As expected, my symptoms quickly returned. However, when I restarted the medication my symptoms abated, so I feel pretty confident about my current course of treatment. That being said, stress exacerbates my condition, so I've had to have a talk with my boss about changing what I do; we'll see how that goes in the months ahead. (Microsoft isn't known for being a stress-free environment.)

So what does all this mean? For now, it means that when I behave myself and I stay on my medication, I am usually symptom-free. I have good days, and I have bad days - but thankfully the good days far outweigh the bad, and even when I have a bad day, it's nowhere near as bad as when I wasn't on medication. Occasionally I'll be playing something intricate on the guitar and it simply falls apart; sadly, I'm learning to live with that as a part of my new reality. However, I try to be an optimist, so I told my wife that I have an unexpected benefit from all of this: whenever I play something incorrectly on the guitar now, I can blame it on a tremor, and no one will ever know if I'm telling the truth or if I just suck at the guitar. ;-)

Posted: Nov 10 2017, 08:49 by Bob | Comments (0)
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