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Essential Tremors


So I’ve finally gone to a neurologist about my shakes.  If you know me then you have probably noticed my shakes.   I’ve had them all my life.

I’m 6 years old.  My mother gives me an honor that I dread.  “Here take this cup of coffee up to your dad.”  It is an honor for me to do this.  I dread it because if I spill some of the coffee on the stairs then I fail.  I will be just too clumsy.  Most of the time I fail, no matter how hard I try to keep that cup steady.

I’m 15.  We are having supper.  I love a cold glass of milk.  But, particularly if I have been active which I usually have, it is very hard for me to hold my cup steady as I raise it to drink.  My father and brother laugh at it.  Sometimes if I switch hands to the left I can do better.  I always check to see which hand is more steady before doing anything obvious.

Still 15, playing JV basketball.  You don’t want to have me defending you.  I’ll strip you of that ball.  But you don’t mind if I shoot; as the game goes on my shot will get less and less reliable.  I’d rather defend anyway.

I’m 23.  In order to graduate from the Boston Conservatory I have to pass a piano comp.  I can play, but not well.  And when I’m nervous, my fingers just won’t go where they should.  I play miserably but they pass me anyway as I’m a great student in everything else.  Thank good this doesn’t affect my voice.

I’m 54.  There is a family gathering.  Dad, not my biological father, has really bad shakes.  My sister, Brenda remarks on how peculiar it is that we both have such problems with shakes but aren’t related by blood.

I’m 57.  I’ve taken to eating with a spoon when possible; food is more likely to stay in a spoon than it is on a fork.  When I drink, I lift the glass with both hands and cradle it against my upper teeth to make it easier.  I can live with this.  These are just things that I have to do.

I’m 58.  My shakes have gotten bad enough that they are interfering with my guitar playing, my right hand, which has always been one of my strengths.  Now I am beginning to have to think about it.  And mandolin playing, particularly when I’m nervous or excited is unreliable at best.  This is too much.  Can I arrest this?

So back to the start.  I finally go to a neurologist.  He says that I have something called essential tremors.  They are anything but essential.  What are they.  Well you have these tremors all the time.  And they worsen with physical exertion (hence the loss of basketball acuity).  It affects my right hand which floats above the strings more than my left hand which presses down, braces on the strings.  Turns out it is a close cousin of Parkinson’s.  It will get worse, but should plateau.  It is hereditary, so I’ve informed my daughters to be on the lookout.   It is what it is, to coin a phrase.  But I’m not upset with it.  I have a name for it, know what to expect, may be able to combat it with some drugs, though the first was a dismal failure, humorous in ways to be detailed later.

For now, I don’t care.  I live a gifted life, one that couldn’t have been dreamed of in past centuries, one that can’t be dreamed of by the majority in this world.  I am a fortunate man.  I am blessed.


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