Navigating the Seas: Parkies of the Caribbean

We are eighty or so people of the three thousand on the Navigator of the Seas bound for the Cayman Islands and Cozumel. Scheduled are two days of lectures, workshops, dinners and gatherings organized by a travel agent and small group of women from the Parkinson Research Foundation, with Doctor Sanchez- Ramos specialist in movement disorders, Mary Spremulli- speech therapist and Eman Nakshabendi- dietician.
Dressed in pirate garb with ornate boots and a tricornered hat, Larry Hoffheimer, founder of the PRF and Brian Curro the director, welcome the group and explain briefly how the conference will proceed. Shorty after, we disband to our staterooms and are soon called by the captain to participate in the safety drill. The raging pirate theme draws heads as two perspiring buccaneer vixens pass passengers waiting shoulder to shoulder in the scorching sun of Broward County and Brian Curro attends the required drill dressed in his brigand costume, appropriately sweating into his eight-inch beard which adorns his naked and quite hairy ample belly. Others less ostentatiously dressed mingle among the ship’s population, though with some knowledge of Parkinson’s disease you may notice them. Some have the Parkinson jiggle of the hand, others the forward bent posture and quick steps. Some use wheel chairs, others use walkers, most have a caregiver at their elbow, or not far away. Many blend in, their disease going unnoticed by the general population.
In the conference rooms on days at sea we are something of a family, all somehow involved in an illness that is progressive, debilitating and has no cure. After twenty minutes or so in the warm meeting room, some heads nod forwards in slumber, while family members remain attentive to the details of the physician’s lecture. Mary Spremulli gives a lecture on Methods to Improve and Strengthen Your Voice on the second day. She shows before and after video clips of several of her patients to illustrate the changes that are possible after regular work with a fifty-minute exercise class that combines voice and physical movement. Eman Nakshabendi gives a lecture on the daily requirements for optimum health and addresses other concerns like the maximum dose of vitamin D. There is a bootcamp workout and yoga for patients and at the end, a session in which all are invited to probe the panel of healthcare professionals with questions.
On the eve of the final day we gather again and under the influence of rum punch, appetizers and gold coins of milk chocolate Larry Hoffheimer thanks all for attending and reiterates the major goal of the PRF is education. He invites us to attend again, and mentions another seminar to be held in Tampa, Florida in March, 2011. Before we break apart to attend the nightly show, peruse the venues of live music or visit the casino, we vote on the most dapper pirate. Three elaborate pirate patients walk the plank strutting their swords, mustaches, patched eyes and striped trousers. The guy with blousy striped pantaloons, an ample white smock with romantically wide sleeves, eye patch and kerchief draws whistles from the crowd. He stands bent at the waist though he was tall once, he face is static as a mask and his long legs take small shuffling steps.


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