Just one exam left later this week and my first year at college, studying for a BA in English and History, will be complete. The exam is a question on four political thinkers; Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, Mill and Beauvoir, and for the last week I have been studying hard. I am pleased to report that I got through my first academic exam in 37 years last week without Parkinson's disease (PD) interfering significantly. The exam was 2 hours long and I had been very concerned that fatigue might kick in before I had finished, but I just managed to finish before it arrived. I was exhausted at the end but equally elated I had won this battle. I have micrographia, which is a common PD symptom, but the college had assessed my disability and agreed that I could use a laptop in the exam if I wished. Micrographia results in small, scribbly handwriting that even I find hard to read, despite being the writer. As pleased as I was that the college had approved my use of a laptop, using a laptop isn't always easy either. I sometimes suddenly suffer from an unpleasant sensation in my head, like travel sickness, when using a computer screen. This is only eased by coming away from the screen completely and resting on the bed for about an hour, which is not a practical way of conducting an exam. Two days prior to the exam I had one of these episodes whilst studying on my laptop at home. I therefore decided not to use a laptop in this exam and just hope that whoever marks my paper can decipher what I write. Thankfully, the question we had to write an essay about fitted in with what I had studied leading up to the exam and I found plenty to write about. Whether I wrote the right stuff or not is another matter! My survival through the 2 hour exam was not just down to luck, I planned to survive. I had a very relaxing day before the exam, went to bed early, arrived at college early to ensure I could park, managed the timing of my PD medication very carefully and made sure that I was well hydrated. The hydration has its own downsides, however, but I had been given advance authorisation for frequent comfort breaks during the exam, if necessary. As it turned out only one was required.
This week’s history exam is slightly shorter at one and half hours, but I will prepare for it just as carefully. PD can never be underestimated and it is definitely a case of 'fail to plan and you plan to fail!' So once this exam is done, so is my first year and it has been a quite remarkable experience. I have made new friends from a range of backgrounds and across a very wide age span (I am 40 years older than the youngest student in my class of 30). I have also surprised myself in what I have been capable of, in terms of both the quality of my work and the extent to which I have managed my Parkinson's symptoms. It has not been a journey without its problems as I have missed some lessons and had to go home early on occasions, but overall I have survived and blossomed. The vast majority of students in my class are relieved their first year is nearly over and they have a 4 month break before year two commences at the end of September. Many have young families to cope with and some have part time jobs. However, while my body definitely needs a break from study, I feel more than a little sadness that this part of my life will stop for 4 months. I am already eagerly looking at the module choices for next year and nervously awaiting the timetable to see how I can best manage my PD around it. It is going to be a long 4 months.
I cannot finish without saying that what has made the first year of my degree at college so enjoyable has been the way in which we have all bonded as a class. Six of us are meeting at college tomorrow to study together for the exam. After the exam all 30 of us are having an end of year lunch together. Most of us share a private, closed group Facebook page where we all help and support each other. My only sadness is that I cannot join them all on a trip to Berlin in June. Sadly, but realistically, PD has won that one!
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in February 2004 at the age of 51 having experienced undiagnosed symptoms for at least 4 years prior to that. My wife and I have five adult children and three grandchildren. We are fortunate in that we live in a lovely rural part of the east of England, with King’s Forest situated nearby for my much needed, therapeutic dog walks. I spent most of my working life involved in electronic, mechanical manufacturing management within the Worldwide Broadcasting industry and I am extremely lucky to have travelled extensively through my work. Since I was diagnosed I have dedicated much of my time to researching all aspects of PD and trying to both support others with this illness and raise the profile of PD. As well as writing a blog on this website, I administer an internet patient forum for people with PD which I set up in September 2008 and it currently has over 150 members. I also administer the forum’s Facebook, Friends Reunited and Twitter pages. My younger son recently ran in a half marathon race to raise funds for the Cure Parkinson’s Trust. I am currently studying for a BA (Hons) in English and History as a mature student.