By David Gillaspie
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
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
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
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