DBS Diary 14 – airport security gates

As many of you know, I had a DBS operation (deep brain stimulation) a year ago which has given me a huge new lease of life. But you still have to be on the ball to avoid circumstances that will disable the apparatus.

It’s a party trick for many Parkies to switch off their DBS to demonstrate how quickly their symptoms, particularly tremor, return sometimes even to the extent of being unable to restart the device. I tend to eschew these kind of demonstrations – I’m not a performing seal despite my flappy fins. No exhibiti in a freakshow. I won’t perform for your entertainment.

A situation we DBS chappies are invited to avoid is that of the metal detectors used by airports. There have been occasions I gather when such devices have switched off cardiac pacemakers and, since the DBS system is fundamentally a brain pacemaker, one can reasonably suppose that the same might apply. With that in mind I’m quite belligerent about these portals.

Returning from Paris on the Eurostar last weekend I was faced with just such a scenario. Younger daughter waltzes through the portal without so much as a bleep or a ping. But no way am I going to do the same.

“S’il vous plait monsieur” I call out to the armed officer standing disinterested nearby. He strolls over languidly with a vague air of irritation at the Englishman who had torn him away from an interesting conversation with a very fetching female colleague.

“Monsieur?” he says

I point to the gate portal and say in what I think is pretty decent French when you consider the last lesson I had was nearly 50 years ago. “Je suis desolee mais je ne peut pas passer par ce porte la parce que j’ai un pacemaker” I gesture to my chest.

“stimulateur cardiaque”. I emphasise, leaving nothing to chance (and suddenly remembering the word).

“Pas de probleme, monsieur” he says and points to a small paragraph of text in French, English and German explaining that the portal is safe for people with pacemakers “in the majority of cases”.

Now, I don’t know about you but for me “the majority of cases” falls a little way short of the kind of reassurance I need in this situation. So I have to raise the stakes and it is at this point that I have a mental block and forget the word for doctor (which is of course ‘medecin’ as I recall a few minutes later) and substitute the halfway plausible ‘docteur’ which sounds like it could be right.

“Mon docteur m’a dit absolument pas” I say, throwing in an appropriate gesture of finality to emphasise the point.

Meanwhile, younger daughter turns round to see what the kerfuffle is all about. This confuses the customs man.

“Your docteur?” He says pausing briefly before his lightbulb moment “your daughter”. He points to my daughter. This confuses matters further.

“My daughter” I say abandoning all efforts at French “not my doctor”.

Younger daughter decides that we stand a better chance of getting through the gate if we fess up about the DBS.

“It’s not really a pacemaker “she begins, thereby immediately attracting the attention of the customs officials who now feel they have been misled. “It’s a brain pacemaker” she says and points to my head.

“zen ‘e can go through ze gate.” says the customs man.

Younger daughter shakes her head slowly for extra gravitas. “No” she says. “If he goes through this portal” she says suddenly and forcefully extending her arms widely “his head will explode “

“Pouf- just like that” she adds for emphasis.

Well-intentioned though her intervention doubtless is, it becomes immediately apparent that words like “explode” are not ones to use in the presence of security type people. Especially those who don’t speak English. And have guns.

There is a brief sound of holsters being unclipped, guns cocked. In what felt like a lifetime but was probably only a few seconds, the security guards realise that I am no threat to them (especially with an imminently exploding head). They offer to search me instead which seems a much more reasonable prospect. I immediately volunteer to be searched by the rather gorgeous blonde but in the end it is the rather rough and unshaven Neanderthal. Still, better than having an exploding head.

A small American child, behind us in the queue, is visibly disappointed. After all, an exploding head is not something you see every day. Even in America. Sorry lad, can’t help.

A message from the lettuce

“Today, as we say goodbye to Mrs Truss, we can be proud of our Tory MPs. For this, fellow vegetables, is not simply a victory for one iceberg lettuce. This is a victory for all lettuces – Lolo Rosso, friseee, endive, romaine and beyond. Indeed lettuces throughout the country can hold their heads high and be satisfied with work well done. Mrs truss has learnt the true strength of the salad lobby. No longer will lettuces be marginalised to small side dishes. Lettuces throughout the country can expect, nay demand, to be centre plate.

And it doesn’t stop at lettuces. Radishes, cherry tomatoes, sliced beans in vinaigrette can emerge from the shadows and take their rightful place on the dinnerplate. We have a right to speak under right to be heard.

The Tories have led the country for too long. It is time for salad items and vegetables in general to stand up and be counted. I believe we need a swift transition of power from Mrs Truss and her government and I will expect to appoint my cabinet within a week. This will be a cabinet without prejudice against minority groups and, yes, sprouts will be represented in this new government of vegetable unity as we move into the broad sunlit uplands of consensus politics. I thank you for your attention”.

Paxman, whining buffoon

Let me first explain to the non-British amongst you. Last night saw the broadcast of a supposed ‘documentary’ about Parkinson’s. So far so good. However this shed little light on the condition itself and rather more light on the presenter Jeremy Paxman, recently diagnosed with PD. Jeremy Paxman for those of you unaware of him, is a British news and current affairs sort of person renowned (if that is the word) for his aggressive combative interview style. Not everybody’s cup of tea then. Some of his interviews are legendary such as those in which he sought albeit unsuccessfully to bring then Home Secretary Michael Howard to account (https://youtu.be/Uwlsd8RAoqI?t=244). He has also hosted many episodes of University challenge (that’s Paxman not Howard) with a style as abrasive as Bamber Gascoigne was adulatory.

Paxman has of course, one imagines, rather cultivated this reputation and it’s probably the case that politicians generally deserve this kind of treatment more than in times of yore. Times change, politics change, our respect for them changes. In some ways we created Jeremy Paxman.

Okay enough of the preamble. Let’s get to the point. Parkinson’s is a cruel condition yet some people are somehow elevated by their Parkinson’s (Tom Isaacs springs to mind, Perry Cohen too), spurred on to great deeds, and able to somehow improve the lot of others not just themselves. Many others are, not surprisingly diminished by the condition, defeated even. Paxman is one of those, a man with little to say of the condition but an hour of prime-time television in which to do so.

Sure, complain about the condition and its many vicissitudes but to package a series of unrelated visual anecdotes into an hour ‘documentary’ about Paxman’s tribulations with Parkinson’s fell a little short of the mark. Did we really need to see him picking up faeces from his dog? And what was that entirely unprovoked outburst “Brian Blessed is a wanker” about? From what dark recess of Paxman’s mind did that emerge? More so, why was it left in by the editor? One moment we see Paxman surrounded by many books, a byword for scholarship, Renaissance man even. The next he is the pub bore, desperate for a laugh, or at least a reaction.

The program ultimately was a mishmash of separate little vignettes about Parkinson’s which ultimately did much less to illuminate the condition than one might have hoped. There were tantalising glimpses of a future both positive and negative punctuated largely by profanities from Paxman. I’m sorry Jeremy but I think you have diminished yourself in many people’s eyes. But at least the program wasn’t entirely irredeemable – we did get to hear about Joy Milne and her remarkable ability to detect Parkinson’s with her nose. Now there was real hope.

The call of the croissant

It is often enough said in the context of Parkinson’s that our past is gone, our future uncertain and therefore the only remaining reality upon which to cling is the present. We live for the moment, squeezing joy out of that toothpaste of misery.

That certainly applies to me. My friends and family often accuse me of wilful impulsivity. Accuse is perhaps too strong a word. But there is no doubt that my predilection for unusual and unexpected actions does sometimes wrongfoot them, leaving them wondering why and how. Take this morning for instance.

Actually let’s back up a bit to put everything in context. The pub in which I commonly imbibe, The Broken Arms, had a terrible week with barmaids falling like the casualties at Passchendaele. One by one they succumbed until, by Sunday, even Lady Eleanor and Amazing Grace had to concede defeat. This is not normally amongst my more successful or appropriate expressions to use with the fairer sex but it was the case that they “looked like death warmed up”. I suspect I’m no longer on either of their Christmas card lists because of this inappropriate transgression.

Eventually, more or less anyone who could pull a pint found themselves behind the bar. It was pretty much as I would imagine a World War I trench to be. Just step over the bodies. That sort of thing.

First thing Monday morning, I knew something was not right. A definite tickle at the back of the throat, my cheeks pink and my temperature rising sharply. By lunchtime, my temperature was now one of the reactor cores at Chernobyl, and my cheeks as red and inflamed as a baboon’s arse. Not pretty. I retired to bed.

Fortunately this particular bug, whatever the little blighter was but Covid it wasn’t, was one of those 48-hour types. I felt like death warmed up. My mouth and throat looked like one of the Lascaux cave paintings, only messier. Leaving aside the associated nausea and flatulence (I may have to destroy the mattress), the entire episode passed through my system like Hurricane Ian.

By this morning, the storm had passed and apart from a slight feeling of weakness and a sense that I had not really kept enough fluids down on the previous few days I felt fine. I woke early (around 4:30 AM as I recall), with an overwhelming and inexplicable hunger for croissants.

Under normal circumstances the ensuing chain of events would go something like this: awaken, yawn several times, be vaguely aware of pastry in some form, turn over and go back to sleep.

Occasionally a variant of this along the following lines might occur: awaken, a bit of yawning as before, stretch, extract myself from bedclothes and attempt to stand vertically, gingerly make my way downstairs, dazzled every few seconds by the newly installed motion sensitive lights. Find some of last night’s pasta on the side in the kitchen. Eat it, at the same time wondering why it tastes better now than it did when served six hours earlier. Continue to ponder this weighty matter as I head back upstairs and attempts to go back to sleep.

You will however notice that both of these activities involve waking up and going back to bed. None of them involve getting dressed, picking up money, car keys, a four pack of Red Bull and a McDonald’s sausage and egg muffin, and heading up to Maidstone to join the M20 to Folkestone, then the Channel Tunnel and France.

This one did.

And had it not been for my failure to pick up my passport would have ended even further from home. After a very brief flirtation with the idea of trying to see if my credit card served as a sufficient ID to get into France (it probably would have done pre-Brexit), I pulled over into a layby, switched off the engine and fell asleep. Couple of hours later and I was back at home, in bed and wondering if I had dreamt it.

The fast food wrapper and half drunk Red Bull proved otherwise. I have always been impulsive even before Parkinson’s but this was Royal impulsivity in velvet robes and ermine, encrusted with precious stones.

I spoke to Shel about it. She knows me better than practically anybody outside my family. I don’t think even she couldn’t quite believe it.

“You know” she said “you can get croissants in Britain”.