Imagine if you will a very, very drunk man who has NOTHING to do with Parkinson’s,
yet has everything to do with being extremely intoxicated. Upon leaving the bar
where he has just swallowed a large portion of his paycheck from a frosty glass, he pulls his coat closed on this windy night
and stumbles towards his parked car. As he struggles to get his key in the lock,
the wind swirls crisp leaves around him like ice in a bartender’s blender. Suddenly, a wrinkled piece of paper, which
almost resembles a business card, blows past him among the leaves and lands at his feet.
Maybe it’s a lottery ticket, he thinks to himself, hoping that vast fortunes, not to mention free beer, are in
his immediate future.
Bending over to pick up the paper is not
a simple task, as the beer in his belly almost feels as if it’s rushing to his head with the tip of his body. With the paper retrieved, he rights himself and walks over to read the contents under the streetlamp. Rubbish, trash…no winnings in his immediate future or free beer for that matter. It was just some silly MEDICAL ALERT card some poor sap must have lost from his car. He never notices the barely legible name of the person who lost the card scrawled
across the back. He is about to toss it into the night air when some red letters
across the front of the card catch his eye. They spell out: “I AM NOT INTOXICATED”.
“Well, I am”,
he laughs back at the card. “Maybe I should drag that card back into
the bar and buy it a few rounds, because that poor card isn’t intoxicated,” he muses. “It has no
idea what it’s missing.” The man continues to chuckle to himself
and decides to pocket the poor sober Medical Alert Card. Then an inspiring thought
comes to his mind as he unlocks his door and slips behind the wheel. Maybe I’m
“not intoxicated” if I am carrying this card.
He knows he is in no condition to drive. He knows this nearly every night he leaves his favorite bar and heads home. He’s been lucky…so far. As usual, he feels in
control; after all, he’s a professional drinker, not like those drunks who cause fatalities by drinking and driving. Unlike them, he can handle his liquor. “Besides”,
he tries to convince himself, “home is just a short drive away and if my luck runs out and I actually get pulled
over, I’ll have my new sobering excuse with this medical alert card.”
Maybe it isn’t a lottery ticket, but he suddenly feels like a winner. As
he pulls out of the parking lot, he clips the curb on the turn, causing a large scrape across his hubcap. “Ahhhh, just another souvenir of another good night of drinking”, he thinks to himself.
He notices it seems darker than usual, but that’s because of something he failed to notice: he had neglected to turn
on his headlights.
Meanwhile, a few blocks down the road, an officer sits in his patrol car with the window
down, enjoying the cool, fresh breeze on a night more quiet than usual. So far
this evening, he has ticketed a speeder, warned another for running a yellow light and checked on a disturbance of peace only
to find a frantic cat caught in a trashcan. He’s close to the end of his
shift and pleased that this evening has been free of any mayhem, murder or mishaps. As he’s finishing up his final report
for the evening, he notices a car coming down the street without any headlights on.
As the car passes his position, he quickly pulls on to the street behind the weaving car. He radios to headquarters that he is pulling over a car, the reason for the traffic stop and the license
plate, which ironically spells out the letters “N KONTROL”. Well,
this driver certainly wasn’t “N Kontrol” tonight.
With lights flashing and siren blaring,
the officer pulls the weaving car over to the side of the road. His initial suspicion
is that he will be dealing with a DUI. So far, it fits the profile, but the driver would certainly be innocent until proven
guilty. It was always a risk to approach a car on a dark night in an empty street,
but it was all part of the job. As he walks over to the car, he shines the flashlight
into the person's eyes, prompting them to shield themselves from the pain caused by the brightness. The driver’s eyes are as a red as the siren lights. The smell of alcohol is almost as overwhelming
as the stench of stale cigarettes emanating from the car. So much for the fresh
breeze he had been enjoying.
Officer: "license &
Drunk, realizing he could
use that “get out of jail” free card he found outside the bar just a moment before, quickly reaches into his pocket
and pulls out the wrinkled Medical Alert Card. He slurs, "officer, here's
my Medical Alert Card".
Officer: "excuse me, sir,
I need your license & registration please"
Drunk: practically spitting
in the officer's face because of his inability to form words properly, “but officer, I am NOT intoxicated. See…” he spouts while shoving the wrinkled medical alert card in the
officer’s face, “I have Parkinson’s. It says so on this
card in bright red letters. SEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE”. He practically
pokes the officer in his eyes with each attempt to point out each individual word on the card, as if doing so would validate
The Officer is not amused. His own father has Parkinson’s Disease. When his father’s
medication is “off”, his father may be difficult to understand when he’s speaking, but mostly because his
voice has less volume than before he had Parkinson’s and he has a tendency to fumble his words. He speaks that way because
of his disease, not because his vocal cords have been drowning in beer! His father may not be able to walk a straight line
when asked, but only because Parkinson’s has affected his gait and his balance, not because he is too drunk to walk.
His father’s hand may constantly move as if he’s holding an invisible maraca keeping a constant steady beat, but
that’s his resting tremor, not a withdrawal from an intoxicating substance.
His father may do many things that
might be perceived by someone else as a person who was under the influence of something…someone who didn’t know
about Parkinson’s. He’s seen his father’s body dance
to a rhythm all its own as the dyskinesia kicks in each day. He’s seen
his father unable to take a step as the Parkinson’s makes him a momentary prisoner in his own body as he freezes in
place. He’s seen his father struggle to do things he often took for granted
like pulling on a coat, tying shoes or even trying to eat a bowl of soup. He’s
even seen strangers rudely stare, obviously drawing their own wrong conclusions as to why his father moves involuntarily.
He’s seen Parkinson’s. This man in the car bearing the same medical alert card his father carries does not
appear to have Parkinson’s at all. He just appears drunk. He reeks of alcohol; however, his eyes almost advertise the alcohol consumption more than his breath. It’s a good thing he hadn’t yet gone off duty and was still in the area. He shuddered at the thought of what could have transpired if this drunk continued
driving under the influence. He thought of his loved ones, his parents, his wife,
and his own son; how their safety, along with the entire community, was at stake because this guy didn’t have enough
sense to take a cab home. It was a good thing he was there to pull him over and keep him off the roads. It would be a simple arrest and a simple booking, he was certain, yet before an arrest could be made there
was a matter of this Medical Alert Card. Even if this man did indeed have Parkinson’s
it was not an excuse to drive drunk.
Officer: “Sir, I
see your Medical Alert Card. I see it says you have Parkinson’s and it
claims you are not intoxicated, but you appear to be under the influence”.
Drunk: “No Sir. I am not inthothicaaated. I have Parkinthon’s.
If my breath smells like beer it’s because I have Par-kin-thons”
Officer: “Oh really?
And why would your breath smell like Beer if you had Parkinson’s”
Drunk: “becuz it’s
a symptom of Parkinthhons, sir”
The officer takes the card to get a closer
look. The medical alert information covers the front of the card, while symptoms and warnings covered the back,
along with some fill-in the blanks for personal information that someone had neglected to fill in. Perhaps they hadn't
had a chance or perhaps they figured no one would be able to read it in any case; the signature scrawled on the
back seems impossible to decipher.
He scans the list of symptoms provided
on the card. Sure enough, it gives a pretty accurate, yet brief, description
of his father: “slow, sometimes cannot stand and sometimes cannot speak”.
It pains him to think of his father struggling so with the effects of Parkinson’s. Once upon a time, his father had been a police officer, as well.
It had always been this officer’s dream to grow up and be just like his Dad.
With that dream fulfilled, his new dream was that they would soon discover a cure for Parkinson’s. He was positive it would happen, because dreams do come true. He
was living proof of that fact as he stood there looking like a reflection of his father when he was about the same age. He
wondered how often his father had to shine the light of his flashlight into the bloodshot eyes of a drunken driver
in his days on the force. All too many, he was sure.
Officer: “So, Beer
Breath is a symptom of Parkinson’s you say? Then why don’t I see
it listed as a symptom on this card?”
Drunk: proud of
himself for thinking of an answer so quickly despite the sloshing beer in his head: “because the card was too small
to fit all of the symptoms”
This was very true, the officer thought
to himself. The card’s brief description of Parkinson’s didn’t even touch all of the things his father had
to live with in the past twenty year since he was diagnosed. This little card
didn’t mention difficulty walking, something he knew his father struggled with daily.
There was no reference to a loss of smell, yet another effect from the loss of dopamine his father experienced (although,
a loss of smell might come in handy right now, as he was breathing in the fumes from this drunk’s breath). This little
medical alert card didn’t even mention how his father’s signature was closer to squiggly lines rather than the
majestic “John Hancock” it once resembled. In fact, his father's signature was closer to the one scribbled on
the back of this medical alert card.
Officer: “Sir, Please step out of the vehicle”
officer”, he says as he opens his car door and stumbles in to the street.
Officer, in response to several
empty beers cans he spots on the floor of the car as the man exited: “could you explain the empty cans in your car,
Drunk: “Well, I uhhhhhh…I
collect cans for recycling…to uhhhhh…pay for my medical expenses because…”
Officer: “ let me
guess, because you have Parkinson’s, right?”
Drunk: “yes, sir”, practically beaming because he is being so quick on his feet, “I have
He may have thought he was being quick
on his feet, but no sooner had that thought crossed his mind the drunk was face first in the street after stumbling over his
own foot. The officer asks if he is okay, as the drunk awkwardly helps himself
back up. He said he is just fine and then the officer tells him he wants to do
a small sobriety check. The drunk tries to assure him this is not necessary,
that it was just his Parkinson’s, but the officer insists.
First he tells him to hold his arms up
and out to each side and to slowly bring the pointer finger on each hand to the tip of his nose. For the drunk, this was easy, as his nose was throbbing from a combination of his recent fall coupled with
the effects of too much beer. With steady hands, he easily brought one finger
and then the other to the tip of his nose. He was concentrating so hard on his
hands he didn’t even notice he was slightly swaying as if he were on the deck of a rocking boat.
The officer not only noticed his swagger
and sway, but the unbelievable steadiness of the drunken man’s hands.
Officer: “Sir, when was the last time you took your medication?”
Drunk: “What medication?”
Officer: “Don’t you take medication for your Parkinson’s, sir?”
Drunk: “oh, that medication. Well, I uh, I took some…”
the drunk’s brain is swimming. He doesn’t know what would be the
correct answer? Would it be recent? Would
it be too long ago? What would be more accurate in this situation? Would this cop even know? “Um, I took it a bit before
you pulled me over?”
The drunk notices the quizzical look
on the officer’s face, which makes him think this might not be the correct answer, so before the officer can say another
word he sputters: “no, I thhhink it was around Lunch time. Yep. That’s it”.
Officer: “Really? Your hands are so steady.”
Drunk: not quite recognizing
the suspicions mounting against his alibi: “yep”.
Officer: “what medication
do you take for your Parkinson’s, sir?”
Drunk: “Well, th-ir,
I take y’ur classic Parkin-thon’s medicathon.”
Officer: “Do you
recall the name, sir?”
Drunk: “I can’t
think of the name of it right now.”
Maybe the drunk couldn’t think
of any, but the officer could think of plenty, especially since his father had been prescribed so many over the years. Sometimes, as he listened to his father’s watch alarm go off yet again as a
constant reminder that more medication was due in his system, he wondered if his father wasn’t a walking, breathing
pharmacy. This drunk man before him just appeared to be a staggering, stuttering
It was past time for him to be home with
his family, it was past time for this drunk to be off the roads, so he offers the opportunity of a Breathalyzer.
Officer: “this test
would prove if you really haven’t been drinking, sir”
Drunk: realizing his luck
was just about to run out: “never mind”
With that, they were they were off to county
jail. The first thing he did the next morning was to call his father. The father was proud of his son, because he was carrying on the family tradition of keeping the town safe. The son was proud of his father, just because.
Several weeks later, that same officer
was assigned to conduct a Sobriety Checkpoint the force had set up on the edge of town.
As he worked along side several of his fellow officers, he took his turn checking for trouble in the small line of
traffic waiting to pass through the flares and cones they had set up as a barrier. A
blue family van was next to go through the checkpoint and the driver rolled down the window.
The young woman appeared to be in her thirties and he assumed she was a mother, as a small child smiled at the officer
from his car seat in the back. He tipped his hat to the little boy, who reminded him so much of his own child, and he asked
to see her license and registration.
The woman leaned down and said, “one
moment, I’ve got to reach over to the glove compartment."
He didn’t notice any smell
coming from the car, only the smell of the flares burning in the darkness behind him. In the glare of his flashlight, the
whites of her eyes practically matched the clean white socks her toddler was trying so hard to take off of his tiny little
feet. She seemed fine, but the officer noticed her right hand was shaking non-stop. It was not unusual for people to shake
with fear when they are pulled over, but it is unusual for people to shake only on one side. The tremor in her hand made opening
the glove compartment almost impossible and as she fumbled with her license she accidentally dropped it out of the window
before the officer could reach it.
As he stood back up from retrieving the
license, he not only noticed he was right about her age (she was 36 according to her birth date), but he also noticed
she was frantically looking for something. She carefully handed him the registration
with her steady hand but then she continued looking on the floorboard, between the seats, under the visor. He had the registration…he had her license. What could she be missing?
The woman apologized for being so
distracted and explained that she, “ was looking for my Medical Alert Card.
I usually have it tucked under my visor. You see, I have…”
the officer asked, finishing her sentence at the same time.
“Yes, I do”, she replied,
“I have Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. How did you know?”
“I assumed you did, because my
father has Parkinson’s Disease and your tremor reminded me of his.”
He needed to get on with the Sobriety Checkpoint and this woman was clearly not intoxicated, but before he sent her
on her way, he reached into the pocket on his uniform and retrieved the medical alert card he had taken
from the Drunk man a few weeks before. He had decided to keep that wrinkled card
near his heart, because it was a small reminder of his father’s daily struggles and that he should never, ever take
anything for granted.
He turned over the medical alert card and
tried to reread the name written across the back. Astonished, he realized that the signature on that card actually matched
the signature on her license that he was still holding in his hands. What are
the chances? He grabbed his pen and began writing something beneath her signature
on the alert card. The woman, who was wondering if she was getting a ticket for
something, was shocked when the officer handed her the very card she had obviously lost at some point over the past few weeks. She recognized her very own signature (or what was left of it, thanks to the effects
of her tremor on her handwriting) scrawled across the red line on the bottom.
“How in the world did you have
“I’ll have to have
my father explain that to you”, he laughed, “and I put his number on the bottom of your card. He doesn’t live too far away and he’s always looking for more members for his Parkinson’s
Support Group. Have a nice evening and drive safely.”
With a tip of his hat to the sock-less
toddler in the back of the van, he began to make his way to the next car, but not before the woman could say a quick “thank
you” before rolling up her window. She tucked the Medical Alert back
in her visor and made a mental note that she had a very important phone call to make in the morning. She expected to find traffic on her way home this evening, but she never imagined a Support Group in her
future would find her. ÓLauren Sue 2003
The National Parkinson's Foundation encourages
all patients to request a Parkinson's Medical Alert Card if they don't already have one. To request your card you can call
the NPF at 1-800-327-4545