Only Lydia Knows
By Paul Teodo & Tom Myers
I have Parkinson’s. Yeah, that’s right. Parkinson’s. No cure, and the kind that comes at you hard and fast. Multiple System Atrophy. I have an over production of the protein alpha-synoclein. What does that mean to you? Nothing, most likely, but to me it means a sentence. A death sentence. It’s coming for me like a freight train, and I have to decide what I’m going do.
If something else doesn’t happen first, It’s going kill me, shake me to death.
Bad metaphor? Well it’s my metaphor bad or not. I’m sixty. Just found out a year ago. My hand was shaking, little twitches. Like when I used to drink. OK, when I drink. Nobody knows. No other docs, friends, family. Nobody. But now you do. The invisible reader. The person I let into my secret, while closing the real people out.
You may ask why. Why? I’ll tell you. Because my wife ain’t a wife anymore, my fiancé dumped me, and my kids have their own lives. And friends? It’d just mess up our friendship. How? When people know you’re sick things change. They realize you have an incurable illness that’ll kill you, they don’t know what to do. I could say “Bill I have Parkinson’s.” He’d get that look. Like, “What the fuck do I do or say now?” I don’t want that look. And I sure as hell don’t want him ducking into the bathroom to Google Parkinson’s. So I keep my mouth shut. I’d rather have that spontaneous happy relationship I have with Bill, than him fucking Googling my disease each time we hang out. It’s cumbersome, slow, muddy, a fucking pain in the ass. I don’t want that.
My doc? I don’t have a one. I am one. But do I have one? A favorite. A primary care doc? No. When the twitches started I did the research. Googled the shit out of this disease that has taken over my body. That’s what I do. I look into things. And what I got, or what’s got me, is Parkinson’s
It’s not hard to diagnose. If you went to medical school. A good one like I did. And can work a computer, which on a good day, I can. And it’s this alpha-synoclein protein shit. It’s not hard.
My type. This alpha shit comes on strong. It’s no creeper or crawler. I made the call about five months ago. Twitches. Tremors. Invisible bugs creeping up and down my legs. My age. Yes, my age. A few clicks on my Mac and there I was.
As I sit at my desk at six-thirty each morning, drinking black coffee (no longer mixed with Chivas Regal) my hand shakes. And each morning I shake a bit more and a bit longer. For some reason the coffee helps. Coffee with Chivas helped better.
Like I said, nobody knows and that’s how its going to stay. Nobody knew about the booze, so I thought, until they knew. You get that? I didn’t think they knew. They fucking knew.
My phone buzzed. I looked at the ID. Rachel. At six-thirty? What the hell does she want?
“Good morning John. What are you doing?”
What was I doing? It was six-thirty. What does a normal person do at six-thirty? Forgot. (Parkinson’s has me) I’m not normal.. Nice of you to ask Rachel, I’m drinking black coffee without booze trying to get my hands to stop shaking.
“Drinking coffee, reading the paper, enjoying the beautiful morning.” That’s the kind of thing you tell your boss, when you want her to think you’re doing your job.
“I’d like to talk to you.”
The coffee jumped out of the fucking cup. Talk to me? About what? The booze? My shakes?
“You just said you were drinking coffee, reading the paper.”
That means I’m busy. Leave me the fuck alone!
“Now. Meet me in my office in fifteen minutes.”
“Sure.” How was that? Perky? Cooperative?
My hand was covered in coffee. My shirt sleeve was stained too. If I held the cup any longer a river of caffeine would cascade down my pants and into my shoes. Exaggeration, but you get the picture. So I hit the john and did my best to not look like a guy with Parkinson’s or a drunk, of which I was both.
“Doc. Spill coffee?” Lydia Smith has worked at the hospital for twenty-five years. She cleaned everything that needed to be cleaned. Today it was the bathroom I was using to prepare to hide one of my diseases from my boss.
“Yeah. You know me. I’m a slob.”
She eyed me. She was one of the ones who I thought didn’t know about the booze. She knew. A look like that told me she knew and she’d looked at me like that about fifty times before. Who was I trying to kid? EVERYBODY.
“Let me.” She dabbed my shirtsleeve with some type of cleaner she carried on her cart and wiped my hands with the white towel that hung from her waist. “That helps.”
I need help. But I ain’t asking. We don’t. Drunks. 'Til it’s so obvious the help turns to life support.
“Thanks,” I said to her, obsessing on Rachel and our talk.
I paced down the hall listening to my heels click on the shiny marble floor. Yeah it’s one of those hospitals. We must have marble. No tile for us. We need to maintain a competitive advantage since one of our docs is a drunk and now has a fatal illness.
I look up. I’m here already. I didn’t think I could walk that fast. And why the hell was I walking that fast?
A glass wall stood before me. ADMINISTRATION. Bold black letters. A shiny silver handle inviting me to give it a yank and enter the sanctum of the judge, jury, and executioner.
No one was there to greet me. It was early. But not for me, Lydia and Rachel. I should leave. Claim confusion. No one there. No one to greet me. I was a physician. Harvard trained. I needed to be greeted. I demanded to be greeted.
“John.” I turned.
“Rachel.” Her scarf. What? Four, five hundred bucks?
“Good to see you.” Her best corporate smile.
“Good to see you.” We could both sling the bullshit.
“Coffee?” Her eyes moved to my stained sleeve.
I raised it and smiled making sure she saw the evidence of my illnesses. “No thanks. I’ve had mine already.”
“Come in.” She gestured gracefully like a ballerina. I think she was one, once.
My feet no longer clicked on the marble. Now they padded silently across her hand-woven deep blue C-suite carpet.
“Please sit.” She pointed to the loveseat adjacent to her brass and glass coffee table.
I wasn’t in the mood for love. I chose a straight back chair to the side of the small couch.
OK, Boss, what do you have on your mind? You gonna lift up the covers? Come at me hard and strong? “John, you’re sick. John, you’ve started drinking again. John, I’m worried. John, you’re an asshole.” Right on all counts.
Here it comes. I shoulda had a snort before I got here. Took something off Lydia’s cart, cleaner, solvent, anything. What the hell, why not?
“… we’ve noticed…”
That my hands shake like a man out in the cold. The freezing fucking cold.
“… that your surgeries…”
Are taking twice as long, that I cut and then need to stop, focus, grab my twisted fingers and straighten them before I proceed.
“… are taking longer…”
Longer and longer, and the staff standing next to me is afraid to say anything, to challenge me, so they say nothing, and hope and pray, as I do, that I don’t kill the poor sonofabitch on the table.
“… to begin, and I’m sorry for that. I apologize. We are working on procedures to improve our turnaround time. We will get better. We have to. We respect your time, and ours too. Let’s face it, turnaround time is the key to efficiency and quality.”
And profit, dollars, revenue, and keeping the other cutters happy.
Nothing — not a thing about Johnny’s shakes. His rockin’ and rollin’. His Parkinson’s. His post-Johnnie Walker heebie-jeebies.
I was home free. In the clear. My secret remained hidden.
“That’s it?” I sounded too short. Too indifferent. I was a surgeon. That’s how we act. Try again. “I mean,” I softened my voice. “I mean, I understand. Running a place of this magnitude, with all the moving parts must be a real challenge, and keeping all of us surgeons happy, well I hope you feel like I’m not one of those,” I was laying it so fucking thick, “kinds of docs who is not a team player.”
Rachel stood. She shook my hand. My sweaty shaky hand. Gripped it firmly then spoke. “I assure you we will improve. You are,” She emphasized 'are' like she had been trained for this, “a team player and we value you.”
Value me? That? What?
“Thanks Rachel. We will work together,” I lied.
I exited the C-suite’s lush carpeting, sparkling glass and overstuffed love seats, smug, smiling ear to fucking ear. I had conned her. Conned everybody. I could continue with the secret that only you and I know.
I even had a spring in my drunk ass Parkinsonian feet.
I hit the marble floor bounding down the hallway enjoying every click.
I darted into the Mens to straighten my Jerry Garcia tie and to make sure I knew how proud of myself I was. The bathroom was cool. A minty aroma drifted through the air making me smile and wink at myself in the mirror. “Champ,” I said with disgusting cockiness. “You got away with it. You’re golden.”
“Bullshit.” Her voice bounced off the beautifully tiled walls “You ain’t foolin’ me.”
I turned. Lydia. “I thought you was...” She shook her head with contempt.
A good man? A respected doctor? A what?
“Lydia? What do you mean?”
“You know what the fuck I mean.”
I did. I knew exactly what she meant.
I left the sweet smelling bathroom of the prestigious hospital where I perform complex surgeries on unsuspecting victims.
I know what Lydia meant.
But I have Parkinson’s. My error. It has me. And I’m a drunk.
So I have an excuse. A reason.
“You have no excuse Dr. John.” She didn’t look at me as she left.
I did. I have Parkinson’s. I am a drunk.