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Wrestling with Care
By David Gillaspie

(Page 3 of 4)

What is the difference between me and the rest of the world?  The first is that Ken and I talked about what worked best with him before he went silent.  No one else knows his likes better than me, and no one ever will.  Second, I have an acute sense of balance and anticipating movement.  Itís the sort of training you can only find in one place, a wrestling practice room.  As Iíve said, I am a former Army medic, but Iím also a former high school wrestling All-American.  
As a one-time Greco-Roman champion, I studied balance and footwork to avoid being tossed on my head.  Literally.  Footwork is something you donít forget, like riding a bike.  Applying the same skill set to caregiving makes for an ideal caregiver move.

A formally-trained wrestler has better caregiving transfer instincts than any other athlete.  In no other sport do participants regularly hook their arms under their opponentís arms and lift them up.  In what sport do they recognize the steps that lead to tripping, or not tripping?  On a wrestling mat, you look to trip, watching the other guyís feet shifting weight, then sweeping their lightened foot with yours.  Getting a guy with Parkinsonís to back up is impossible unless you shift their weight and move their light foot back with yours.  Only a wrestler knows how to do it safely.  A soccer player might give it a try, but only if Grandpa Ken wears shin guards.

The characteristics former wrestlers bring to caregiving are determination, compassion, and competitiveness.  The statistics on Parkinsonís guys say they will die from either pneumonia or falling.  Grandpa Ken had pneumonia after eating an ill-prepared meal at one facility.  Heís fallen at others.  My goal is to provide him, and my mother-in-law who shares in his care, the best environment possible, one absent the fears of growing old and vulnerable.  Keeping him on his feet is the best way to accomplish that.  I share my goals with Grandpa Ken, treating him more like a training partner than a geriatric patient.

When he came home from the hospital, I wanted to reach him where all othersí had failed.  When a manís time comes up, so it seemed, they turn off the senses.  I knew Ken had been in the Marines, and I knew how Army Drill Sergeants spoke, so I had first-hand experience when I pulled a chair up and gave him his first Parkinsonís Boot Camp pep talk.  It went like this:

ďYou and I will work together.  We can do everything we need to do if we cooperate with each other.  The only thing that will try and ruin our work is Parkinsonís.  Parkinsonís wants you to curl up in a ball.  It wants you to sit, leaned over in your wheelchair with your chest on your thighs.  It wants you to fall.  Parkinsonís wants to choke you.  But weíre going to fight Parkinsonís every day, every minute.  Weíre going to bring our A-game and weíre going to compete.  Parkinsonís is tough.  Itís challenging you.  I can help you give it a fair fight.  Itís taken its share of opponents, won itís share of matches, but we will fight it together.  If itís only you fighting, Parkinsonís wins easily.  If itís just me, and you donít help, Parkinsonís has already won.  But if we hit it together, if we surprise it and hit it where it doesnít expect, then we have a chance.  That will give us a chance every day and the first thing in the fight is getting out of bed.  Letís go.Ē


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