Start. Stop. Eyes Glaze Over. (How a Parkinson’s Patient Talks)
A meaningful conversation with my father, the Parkinson’s patient, can take hours or days. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)
A meaningful conversation with my father, the Parkinson’s patient, can take hours or days. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)

Start. Stop. Eyes Glaze Over. (How a Parkinson’s Patient Talks)

My conversations with my father have changed. Changed in content and context. Changed in tone and tenor. Mostly, ebbing away with no warning.

Our conversations have been impacted by the degradation of Anna's physical and mental abilities. His speech mimics his shuffle-walk of fits and starts, leading to conversations in short bursts. A meaningful conversation can take hours or days.

I call these "staccato conversations".

Here is a conversation I had on Monday.

I get to Anna's place after spending a day Ubering from one end of Gurgaon to the other in 37°C temperature.

I find Anna sitting on a single-seat sofa sipping tea from a cup held to his mouth by his attendant (nowadays Anna is finding it hard to pick up a mug). On a plate in front of him is a half eaten kodubale (lovingly made by my first cousin and sent specially for him).
On a plate in front of him is a half eaten kodubale (lovingly made by my first cousin and sent specially for him). (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)
On a plate in front of him is a half eaten kodubale (lovingly made by my first cousin and sent specially for him). (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)
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I ask him how he is and get a one-word response, "Fine". I try starting conversations by asking if he had a good nap, or dreamed anything interesting, or what he had for breakfast. Nothing really works. At best, I get a one-word answer and at worst, none. This is not a conversation!

In an attempt to start a conversation, I decide to tell him about my saree. But first, let me give you a little context. For many years, I haven't bought new clothes unless I have given away / retired something similar. I am proud that I have often not replaced old clothes, shrinking my wardrobe. Earlier this year when I went to Jaipur, I had just given away four sarees and so did not feel guilty buying a couple more. Printed cotton sarees. One of which I was wearing on Monday.

The Staccato Saree Conversation

In an attempt to get Anna to talk with me a little, I get up and stand in his line-of-sight and model my saree.

Me: Anna, do you like my saree?

No answer, so I wait for a bit and repeat the question.

I continue to wait and twirl around.

Me: Anna, do you like my saree?

Anna: Yes.

Me: Anna, do you know how much I paid for this saree?

No answer, so I wait for a bit.

Me (feeling proud): Anna, I paid less than Rs. 500 for this saree.

No reaction.

Me (holding the pallu out so that he can see the design and colours): Anna, isn't this saree pretty? Red and ocher on beige?

Anna (smiling a little): It's nice.

Me: Anna, I bought this saree when I went to Jaipur earlier this year.

He does not recollect my trip to Jaipur and hence there is no response.

Me: Anna, you remember I went to Jaipur in January this year?

There is no memory, no reaction.

Me: Anna, do you know – this is the first saree I have bought in three years.

No response.

Me (exaggerating my frugality to see if I can get a response): Anna, I haven't bought anything new in 7 years!

Long pause.

I hold the pallu out so that he can see the design and colours and ask, “Anna, isn’t this saree pretty? Red and ocher on beige?” (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)
I hold the pallu out so that he can see the design and colours and ask, “Anna, isn’t this saree pretty? Red and ocher on beige?” (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)

Anna (face changing from bored to incredulous): You really think I would believe that?

Bam! A bullet shoots out of Anna's brain! Straight and sure.

Me: Of course, Anna! It's true!

Anna (looking at me as if I just told him that unicorns are real!): I haven't seen you repeat a saree in the two years I have been here.

Not true. I don't have that many sarees and do repeat them often. And he has been in Delhi with me for nearly three years, but I am not going to correct him. I want to have a conversation.

Me: Anna, the second saree is like this one.

No reaction.

Me: It is prettier, and green and ocher in colour.

Still no reaction.

I see his eyes glaze over and know his brain is fogging up. His eyes close slowly and he falls asleep sitting up on his sofa chair.

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(After working in corporate India for over 29 years, Sangeeta had taken time off to look after her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008 and passed away in 2017. Sangeeta hopes that these authentic stories will help patients and caregivers understand and appreciate the impact of Parkinson’s Disease. You can follow Sangeeta’s blog here.)

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