I’ve already described those early symptoms that caused me to seek medical advice, but there were one or two things that, with hindsight, were also symptomatic of my nascent Parkinson’s.
The most obvious one was my watch.
I have a self-winding watch (also known as an automatic watch). I’ve owned it and worn it daily, on my left wrist (I’m right-handed), since, ooh, around 1996. It behaved itself very well until about 2005, when it ceased to self-wind properly. I took it to be serviced. The following year, annoyed that it was still stopping overnight, and losing time during the day, I took it to be serviced again. I might have taken it to the jeweller’s a third time. At one stage, I gave in and wore an old quartz watch for a while. I even used to deliberately shake my left arm – vigorously – in order to wind the watch up.
It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s that I realised what had been happening. The Parkinsonian symptoms have been affecting my left hand side: it was my left thumb that stuck out; it was my left arm that had lost its swing; it was my left hand that had lost its dexterity, and, when the tremors started, they appeared in my left arm and leg.
So it seems evident to me that I had, without realising it, been moving my left arm significantly less than usual. My watch – an analogue device – had detected the problem some 2 or 3 years before I realised that there was anything wrong (3 or 4 before diagnosis).
I now wear my watch on my right wrist. It behaves itself impeccably.
[The apparent malfunction of a self-winding watch as an early indicator of Parkinson’s is not unheard of; in 1990, Cecil Todes published his story (Shadow Over My Brain: A Batle Against Parkinson’s Disease) in which he recounted a similar incident.]
There was another incident that may or may not have been a very early indication of Parkinson’s. This occurred before either of my children were born, while I was still cycling to work. That’s 2003 or earlier – 6 or more years before diagnosis.
It was little more than a casual observation. One night, I realised that my leg felt a bit wrong, as if it needed to be stretched out more. Both legs felt like this, but the left leg more so. It occurred to me then that, between cycling (rather than walking) and sitting at a desk for most of the day, my legs were rarely extended to their full length, and that maybe that was what was wrong. The next morning, I raised my saddle an infinitesimal amount (it was already close to being as high as was sensible; I was fully aware of the lever advantage of a long leg). I’m not sure if the change in saddle height made a difference; it was a minor niggle that was only noticeable when I was trying to sleep.
It was around this time, too, that I observed that my left foot was always colder than my right (my feet have always been cool, but now there was an imbalance,which I hadn’t noticed before).
I actually asked my consultant about this imbalance (I didn’t say when I’d noticed it); he said that it was a result of my using my left leg less than my right. Which I may be naturally inclined to do, being right-handed (and right-footed).
My husband made an observation about my handedness some time ago. He thought I was exceptionally biased towards my right hand. Now, it could be that he is more ambidextrous than many, or it could be that I was, even then, losing full control over my left hand. Or it could just be that I had concentrated on activities that only required one hand (drawing, writing, even playing badminton). Who knows?
I’m convinced about the watch thing being related. I’m not so sure about the others.