Parkinson's Disease

Living with Parkinson’s Disease Part 4: the “Short” PPMI Visit


My PPMI “short” visits are held at the Cleveland Clinic’s Mellen Center for Neurological Restoration (also known as the “U” building), a building I would come to know well over the next five years. After checking in at the first floor reception area I ride the elevator to the third floor where I sit in the waiting area until the study research coordinator meets me at my appointment time. We walk down the hallway and around the corner to a bright white study room. There is a rolling  desk and a few chairs, a sink and storage cabinets and a bed. A large window overlooks a nondescript view of a roof and a tree. The single spot of color in the room is a large framed poster of a peach.

After my first visit a new coordinator, Jennifer, was hired and she has remained my primary contact for the last five years. We chat throughout my visits. Jennifer is bright and happy with masses of long, thick, curly hair. She is pretty and exudes such a youthful vibrancy that I guessed her to be much younger than she is.

Each visit proceeds the same way. I sit at the rolling desk and Jenn asks me a series of questions about my physical and mental well being.  Do I sleep through the night? Can I roll over in bed? Do I need help dressing? She scribbles scores down in a three ring binder as I give my answers.

I’m given a series of tests or “brain games.” How many fruits can I name? Jenn sets a timer and off I go–“apples, pears, oranges, tangerines, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, lemons…” In my mind I see myself walking through the produce department at the grocery store. Another test asks me to list animals. In my mind I move from the grocery store to a walk at the zoo. “Giraffe, lion, tiger, bear, flamingo, parrot, buffalo, rabbit, bigfoot…” Yes, I once even got credit for bigfoot.

She asks me to repeat a list of words. Several minutes later I’m asked to repeat them again. I draw a clock. I draw a cube. I listen to a string of letters and numbers and then put them in order, letters followed by numbers in ascending order. “B-5-A-3-J” becomes “A-B-J-3-5.” The string gets longer and longer until I miss. I’m asked to count backwards from 100 by sevens. I pause. “Who can do that?” Five years later I’m an expert at counting backwards from 100.

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