An Alert, Well-Hydrated Artist in No Acute Distress–Episode Four: A Heart is Opened


A serial about two artists with incurable neurological disease sharing fear, frustration and friendship as they push to complete the most rewarding creative work of their careers.

Read previous episodes here: An Alert, Well-Hydrated Artist in No Acute Distress

After our fun weekend together in Portland at the Brian Grant Foundation gala, Hadley and I texted nearly every week throughout the fall of 2011. At times, when she talked about her painting commissions and plans for her nonprofit, Summit for Parkinson’s, her high energy and spirits seemed almost like euphoria, raising a small red flag inside me.

Then, in December she called and said soberly, “I met this pharmacologist at a Christmas party and he said to me, ‘You don’t have Parkinson’s.'”

I contemplated what this meant, if anything.

“Can you believe he said that?” she pressed.

I was struck by her agitation; for the first time, her extraordinary equanimity in the face of our disease seemed to falter. But why? I wondered. She’d been diagnosed by a Parkinson’s specialist. Why should she concern herself with the unsolicited opinion of some know-it-all who’d only just met her?

The longer we lingered on this interaction she’d had, the more the little red flag waved.

Diagnosing PD can be tricky, especially in the absence of a tremor or in the early stage of the disease, when other hallmark symptoms, like my asymmetrical gait, are not obvious. A hundred years ago, the only way to make a positive diagnosis was with a post-mortem autopsy, and there’s still no blood or imaging test to confirm its presence. While there are exciting new diagnostic tools on the not-too-distant horizon, for now, the diagnosis of Parkinson’s relies on a clinician’s keen eye, considerable experience and careful listening. As I discovered, there are psychosocial hurdles —> Read More