Camptocormia

Kate O’Neill

The patient’s hair is thin and he has it combed across the bald patch on top.  He’s been dyeing it.  It can’t possibly be so dark.  The hunch in his back makes him much shorter than he once was- that fold in the back is called camptocormia.  It’s as if his torso was ironed to his thighs, an unfortunate situation brought on by Parkinson’s disease.  Trying to walk while bent in half is hard.  He must strain his neck backward to see forward.  Gravitational forces drive him downward but hisliving spirit doesn’t submit.  Drinking from the water fountain is easy, he’s already bent.

Maybe if he had sought medical attention at an earlier age his posture would not have changed so.   The doctor doesn’t commit to being able to stall the bend of camptocormia.  Some patients seem to develop the bend in half, whether they seek treatment or go without.  Physical therapy and attention to posture would surely have some affect; perhaps a wife who consistently urges him to stand up straight would have helped.

The patient himself has no complaints when the doctor asks about his latest concerns.  It’s hard to hear his speech.  The end of his sentences are addressed to the floor.  His voice has that whispery quality familiar to patients who’ve had the illness for some time.  Asking about his activities, and his ability to swallow the doctor mentions he’d like him to see a speech therapist.  What he has to gain is not simply louder speech.  The therapist will work on breathing and probably recommend some exercises.  It’s hard to see any reaction in his face.  Seconds later the patient tells those in the room that he has enrolled in the local gym, and has been attending three days a week.  It’s been a few months now and the gym has become one of his weekly obligations.  He’s met several older members who also find exercise helpful.

The doctor rises to perform the physical examination as the medical student asks whether he joined a YMCA.  They have specific classes, ‘Silver Sneakers’ specifically for retirees.  The patient turns his head  while the doctor checks the flexibility of his elbow joint and tells the young man standing leaning against the wall, that he’s joined an LA Fitness, the closest gym to his home.  Flushing pink the young man nods his head.  The doctor asks whether he knows the place and he nods, it’s where he met his girlfriend.  The social worker smiles, she also has a membership there.  ‘A popular place.’ the doctor remarks, then commends his commitment to physical activity.

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