Return to Blighty

After six months I am home with the lovely daughter and baby. Handsome Henry behaved very well on the flight home, helped by us having managed to get a bassinet. My fears that we would be taking it in turn to pace the aisles of the plane were fortunately groundless. The dashing husband collected us and all the luggage and transported us home. Christmas was a wonderful family affair, so special for all the McKenzie Clan to be together.

Henry … Christmas 2017

I had an early present from the lovely daughter; tickets for an outdoor Paul McCartney concert at the AAMI Stadium in Melbourne the week before we returned home. Magical; he sang 35 songs and was received with great enthusiasm by the crowd.

Paul McCartney in Melbourne

At my last Dance for Parkinson’s Class “Down Under” the local television filmed us which was very exciting, two camera crew and one interviewer …. hope I can manage to find the programme on TV. The class has already grown to more than 25 following a photo in the local paper, great to see Parkinson’s getting good coverage. The teacher is inspirational and loved by us all. After Christmas I return to English National Ballet classes which I am looking forward to. We have a visit to the London Coliseum in January to see La Sylphide and L’homme est morte which will be great.

I visited my local Parkinson’s nurse soon after I got home. My left foot has been quite troublesome with claw foot, a jiggy leg and painful toe joint. My first action must be to be far more disciplined in taking my pills on time which I could get away with a year ago but not now. If I leave it much too long between doses it takes longer to get back up to strength and is more likely to cause problems. We agreed that I could take an extra pill if needed but not on a regular basis, I am not in a hurry to move on to more medication.

The local NHS trust seems to have a dearth of neurologists, in particular those that specialise in Parkinson’s. I am seeing a new consultant early in January so maybe things are looking up!

In a few days daughter and baby return to Melbourne, how I will miss them ….. time to start thinking when we might return for a visit….

The impact of Parkinson’s during hot weather

After a long cold winter, summer has arrived in Melbourne. We have had more than a week of temperatures over 30 degrees, very different to the UK, it is going to be a shock when we land at Heathrow in two weeks! On Tuesday’s I walk with a local group which sets off at 10am and completes 2 laps of a nearby park at a fairly fast rate, I like being with the front walkers but was horrified by how red my face is at the end! It took a couple of hours to return to normal. I am pleased they have brought the starting time forward this week and need to accept a slower pace.

It’s not just hot weather either. I have played badminton for most of my life and used to reckon I looked as cool as a cucumber at the end of a match but now after a few games the sweat starts dripping in my eyes, not an attractive look!
James Parkinson said that “when a nervous system is compromised by chronic disease your body may have difficulty responding to the heat”- I should take some notice!

Everyday I enjoy my walk with Henry along the sea front to the Sailing Club Cafe. Last Friday the forecast suggested possible rain so I took a shorter route and was just 50 yards from my destination when a squall came across the bay with great force. I was hanging on to the Pram with all my might but terrified that I couldn’t hold on. A nearby school boy and passing man came to the rescue. It took 3 of us to get to safety and suddenly the wind disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. There had been 3 Olympic size yachts out at sea. Two broke their masts and a nearby tree was uprooted.

I am now into the last few weeks of my six months in Australia to help the Lovely Daughter with her premature baby, Handsome Henry. He looks very bonny, smiling and chatting away. Australia’s preparations for Christmas are very different to the UK. I had to laugh at the sight of a snowman with tinsel wrapped round a rubbish bin!

Henry on the beach

We have made day trips to beautiful beaches, rain forests and a zoo and enjoyed the company of friendly Australians. Time now to begin to get ready for the long journey back to the UK where the family will meet for Henry’s first Christmas.

Social isolation and Parkinson’s

A diagnosis of Parkinson’s is a terrible shock and different people react in different ways. Some will begin to hide away and have less and less social interaction. The problems that can come with the illness, such as less mobility, a quieter voice or tiredness, make everything you do just a little bit more difficult. However, seeing friends, exercising and generally going out and about can really help.

Once I knew that I would be in Australia for 6 months helping with baby Henry I decided that I needed to have activities that I could do which would involve meeting new people and keeping reasonably fit. I was lucky enough to find a Dance for Parkinson’s class in Melbourne and have enjoyed meeting a new group of people all coping with similar problems to my own. I know how beneficial I have found my Pilates classes so have joined a mat class which is held just 10 minutes walk away; I seem to be the oldest there! A walking group meets locally and I walk with them once a week plus daily walks pushing the pram keeps things moving. I have been lucky enough to be invited to join a book club with a great group of local ladies; I just have to find time to read the books. The local library is very helpful and I have managed to borrow the chosen texts. Initially the first few meetings with each group have been quite nerve wracking but it has got easier and more enjoyable as time has passed. I have realised that I rely on others more than I used to and will need to be careful to be as independent as possible.

This month has seen the lovely daughter, Henry and myself head up to Sydney to introduce him to friends there and give us an idea of travelling with a baby. I am a nervous flyer and very anxious at airports so the lovely daughter had to cope with everything from prams to hiring a car, she did well. We spent a day in the city and pushed the baby through the Botanical Gardens, always a beautiful place to visit.

On Bronte beach, Sydney.

We also visited Palm Beach, a beautiful place where the television series “Home and Away” is filmed, simply stunning area. Filming was taking place while we were there.

Back in Melbourne for the last 6 weeks of my stay here. Baby Henry is now more than 4 kilos and delights us with chuckles and chats. Each week brings something new which is a privilege to see. Tiring, yes but worthwhile definitely!

Melbourne is warming up so I should have sunshine before joining winter in the UK

Pushing the Pram with Parkinson’s

I have now been in Melbourne for more than three months helping my daughter with Handsome Henry, a baby born 8 weeks early. He has more than doubled his birth weight and is smiling and focusing well.

Handsome Henry

He is not very good at sleeping, colic does not help so we are out and about with an ergo baby carrier and, of course, a pram. One problem with Parkinson’s is that there is a tendency to lose your confidence and become very anxious about anything new. It is only the last few weeks that I have felt happy taking Henry out on my own and thus give the lovely daughter a bit of a break! I know all the smooth pavements and safe places to cross busy roads and have mastered the breaking system, it is quite a responsibility. He is very happy in a baby carrier but I am still a bit concerned that I might trip so only use that indoors, falling being an issue with many Parkinson’s sufferers. Spending time with a new baby though takes your mind off everything else. The amiable husband, now back in the UK, is busy rebooking my appointments with the Nurse and Consultant that I had to cancel when we dashed out here to see Henry.

I now have Wednesday as “staff” day off and have enjoyed travelling into the city by bus, train or tram to explore. I have been to the Dior exhibition, enjoyed an organ recital in St Paul’s Cathedral, visited the Botanical Gardens and used self guided walk notes to explore Melbourne. Next week I go to a recital by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The lovely daughter has arranged a massage as a treat today, I have not been doing as much stretching as I do back home.

I go back to the UK mid December; will I have resisted the temptation for my voice to go up at the end of sentences like so many Australians!

Costly Rasagiline!

Young Henry.

I left England on June 20th with a three month supply of drugs for Parkinson’s, the most the NHS could give me. As more than two months had passed I thought it best to organise the next prescription here in Australia before it was needed. I take Dopamine, the gold star treatment for Parkinson’s, easy to get and not very expensive. I also take Rasagiline which may slow the progress of the illness, much more difficult to get out here and £2.90 a pill, staggering! I am grateful that back home I don’t pay anything for medication.

In Australia all those in close contact with babies are expected to have a whooping cough vaccination as there have been several outbreaks here with serious results. We tried to get one done in England before we left but were just told it was unnecessary so last week I ended up at a local Melbourne GP having mine done as I will be here some time, a stiff arm was the only side effect.

Henry is now home and Grandma and Grandpa duties are fully required from top up feeds to winding, and from huge amounts of washing and ironing to cooking nutritious meals, plus learning how to swaddle, sterilise and get to sleep. It is exhausting but wonderful, seeing this tiny little person changing every day and today I think I saw a proper SMILE! The lovely daughter has calmly and competently taken on the mothering role, even the exhausting night feeds! The dashing son has also arrived to get to know his nephew and looks fully at ease with him, happy to help with all the tasks, much appreciated.

Our concerns that we had never heard Henry cry have gone and now any silence we get is golden!

Melbourne has once again been named the World’s most liveable city by the Economist, despite the cost of prescription drugs!

Staying in Australia and managing Parkinson’s

Young H.

Life Down Under has calmed down. Baby H, so tiny when born, has been making good progress and could soon be home. He has had wonderful care from the hospital where he was born and at a brand new neo natal unit where he initially had his own nurse! We are in a routine of chauffeuring the lovely daughter and visiting the tiny grandson for a daily cuddle.

I have been anxious to do more exercise and have now started a Pilates class. As there are only four or five in the group there’s not many places to hide! I have also joined a group that walk round the local park twice and then adjourn for a coffee. I was invited to go along to a book club earlier this week, interesting to see similarities and differences with the one I belong to in Sussex. Hopefully, with glorious walks along by the sea I am doing enough to help the Parkinson’s.
As I had missed my recent appointment with the Parkinson’s Nurse I emailed her asking for advice about the claw foot I get first thing in the morning. It is becoming rather a nuisance and it was good to share things with her and look at possible solutions. I was very impressed when she emailed me back the next day, brilliant service!

We have been back in Australia for nearly six weeks and there are many things that I love here,-
The friendliness of the people, always cheerful and ready to help, “no problem” is the common term used,
The coffee shops, Melburnians love their coffee,
Going to house auctions, real street theatre,
The excellent medical care.

I am not so smitten with:-
Graffiti; seems so much as you travel in towards the city centre,
Most houses only have showers; I love a soak in the bath,
Turning right at junctions – hook turns, U turns & turning in front of oncoming traffic rather than behind – unique to Melbourne!

Once H is home our days will change again as he settles into a life outside hospital. As all his energy has been going into feeding we have not yet heard him cry properly!

Only 3 months Parkinson’s prescription allowed.

This month’s Blog will be brief, you will appreciate why!
The lovely daughter was expecting a baby in August and as there were signs it might be earlier we thought it best to start sorting out travel insurance, visas, etc, particularly as I will be staying in Australia for up to 6 months. Things were going well until I took my prescription for Parkinson’s drugs to the doctors surgery and asked for 6 months supply. After several trips to and fro the answer came back that under the NHS regulations three months is the maximum amount allowed. I will need to get a prescription from an Australian GP, I will take my UK one with me for evidence. So be wary if you are going to be away for a long time!

We had just got things sorted when the call came that we needed to be in Melbourne at once. We got flights the next day and got to the hospital as the Doctors announced they were going to deliver the baby immediately.

In my scrubs ready to go into theatre.

I was kitted up in scrubs and joined the lovely daughter as they performed an emergency Caesarian and baby Henry was born weighing a lightweight 1.67 kg. He is in a brand new neonatal unit where his lungs are being supported, he is improving steadily. The amiable husband is getting good at driving to and from hospital. It may be some weeks before the baby comes home.

As I will be in Melbourne for a while I am planning to join the Dance for Parkinson’s class again; they make me very welcome. I have had to miss my appointment with my lovely Parkinson’s Nurse at home and will have to creatively manage my “claw foot” which I get in the morning which possibly indicates that I am under medicated. If I put a lace up trainer on that foot it helps but it’s not very comfy in bed!

I look forward to my first months as a grandma and holding my new grandson.

The problems with “claw” foot.

My initial diagnosis of Parkinson’s was four and a half years ago when I was told that I had a dystonic presentation of the illness. This meant very little to me then but recently I have begun to realise that much of the problem with my left foot could probably be described as dystonia. First thing in the morning when I get out of bed the left foot turns into a claw, curling tightly under.

Left foot in the morning.

Walking on it is very difficult, helped only by putting my trainers on, some massaging and rolling with my spiky ball. This could possibly be due to under medication but as I am not in a rush to increase it I am seeing how much I can do to help myself. I read somewhere that potassium may be helpful so trying a banana with breakfast each morning. Sometimes, leading up to the next dosage of dopamine, the foot goes into spasm which makes my gait rather strange and uncomfortable. There are quite a few pairs of shoes in my wardrobe that I hardly wear! I am still managing to continue walking though and recently led a seven mile walk in countryside around the Bluebell Railway, very beautiful but quite hilly!

At the beginning of May we joined our Australian friends for a week on a canal boat on the Kennet and Avon Canal from Bradford on Avon to Bristol. Meandering slowly through the countryside was a great, very restful, experience and we found country pubs to moor up by in the evenings. We spent two nights right in the centre of the floating harbour in Bristol which enabled us to explore a city none of us knew, a visit to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain is certainly a must. The only aspect of the trip not so restful was the LOCKS. I was pleased that physically I could manage the winding up and down and pushing open 4 ton gates but I found I coped best if I could copy the person (usually the amiable husband) on the other side.

Opening the lock gates.

When it came to a flight of five locks at Bath I was only too happy for the volunteers to take over!
I think we all felt rather sad when the week ended

In praise of Symfunny, raising funds for Parkinson’s research

I have now been back from Australia for three weeks, jet lag has faded and I have adjusted from Autumn to Spring! The bluebells look stunning, walking through woods is such a pleasure.

Bluebells near Burgess Hill, Sussex.

Our local choir, the Good Vibrations, have just had their annual jazz evening and we were well supported by family and friends. We had seven songs, our most ever. The next day saw the beginning of Parkinson’s awareness week with the slogan “We won’t wait” (relating to the need for a cure) and a whole programme of events both local and national.

Last week a group of us went to see Symfunny at the Royal Albert Hall, a concert to raise funds to help with research into a cure for Parkinson’s. The main drug, Dopamine, for treating the condition, hasn’t changed for over 50 years and only masks the condition for a time and has lots of side effects.

Symfunny No2 at the Royal Albert Hall, London

We saw a whole range of performers from singer Katie Melua to comedians Jason Manford, Josh Widdicombe, Jack Dee and the “I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue” team, from Pete Townshend of the Who to singer Aled Jones. The comedy writer Paul Mayhew-Archer who wrote such sitcoms as “The Vicar of Dibley” and “Mrs Brown’s Boys” also made an appearance. Despite having had Parkinson’s for 5 years he continues to work hard and has been commissioned to write a romcom about romance blossoming in a Parkinson’s ballet class which made me chuckle! Saturday saw the summer term start at English National Ballet Dance for Parkinson’s , we are focusing on the “Rites of Spring” which is completely new to me.

At the beginning of May our Australian friends will join us for a week on a narrow boat travelling from Bradford on Avon through Bath to Bristol. We have never tried this kind of holiday before, lots to learn. If I am on lock duty I hope it is easier than it looks! Fingers crossed for some good weather.

The “Shaking Palsy” two hundred years on

James Parkinson was a physician and chemist, born in 1755. In 1817 his pioneering work “An essay on the shaking palsy” established the foundation for improved knowledge, study and understanding about the collection of symptoms – tremors, rigidity and slowness of movement. After his death, in recognition of his contribution the illness became known as Parkinson’s.

I am pleased to report that after nearly a year I have seen a general neurologist. He was very pleasant and I was delighted that he likes to look at the whole picture rather that just focusing on pills. I was able to tell him about Dance for Parkinson’s which is becoming more and more popular. My left foot is rather claw like first thing in the morning which can be quite uncomfortable. It could be an indication of under medicating and I may need to consider taking something at night in the future. Firstly, I think I must try more stretchy foot exercises and have my spiky ball to hand.

Thus checked out it was time to board the plane and set off to visit the lovely daughter “down under” for a month. Our first activity was a visit to a gin distillery where we added a variety of botanicals to a juniper and coriander base. As a non gin drinker I was pleased that my completed bottle was surprisingly pleasant. The amiable husband was more confident and skilful and very happy with his final result, it seems to be going down well! We then headed for Tasmania and revisited the beautiful Freycinet National Park where we walked to Wineglass Bay and back via Coles Bay, a 12kms trek which seemed more taxing than we remembered from a number of years ago! Back in Hobart we travelled to Bruny Island where a 3 hour exploration of the coast in a jet boat was a thrilling trip with a viewing of a rare albatross plus many other sea birds and fur seals.

On Mother’s Day we drove to to the start of the Great Ocean Road near Torquay and walked part of the Surf Coast Walk, great fun watching all the fanatical surfers, finishing up with fish and chips at Anglesea Surf Life Saving Club.

On the Surf Coast Walk

When we are in Melbourne my favourite walk is along the coastal path with views one way of the city, the other towards the Marina. I enjoy finding a quiet space in a sandy bay to read or watch the activity around me, kite surfers jumping high in the air as they twist and turn are wonderful to watch. The photo is of the Brighton Bathing Boxes which have been part of the beach landscape for over 100 years.

Home again and time to prepare for Parkinson’s Awareness week from April 8th – 15th, lots happening everywhere. Our local choir, the aptly named Good Vibrations, will be performing on the 7th to kick off events in Mid Sussex.