FOR FRIENDS Bertie Hemphill and Sam Foster, perhaps the most common trait they share is that they have Parkinson’s disease.
Sitting together on a sofa in Bertie’s home of the past 25 years near Killadeas, the two spoke candidly about their ‘destabilising’ condition.
Parkinson’s symptoms can come on at any moment – and can affect individuals in different ways.
Former Stormont minister Sam, 82, has had Parkinson’s for close to 16 years, while Bertie, 74, was diagnosed a decade ago.
“It’s very inhibiting,” Sam, who was also a chairman of Fermanagh District Council, explained, “I don’t think people realise how difficult Parkinson’s can be. You can never be sure when it’s going to, as it were, attack you. As far as I’m concerned, I can be in good form now – but in ten minutes time I could suddenly realise that something has taken place in my body that’s left me very weak, and very sluggish – and I can very easily fall.”
“The hands can go claw-like, and I can hardly use a telephone.”
Bertie added: “It started off with shaking and jittering off the teeth. I couldn’t sleep at night, I’d be shaking, there’d be a tremor – that was before I underwent DBS (Deep Brain Simulation) three and a half years ago.
“You haven’t the strength to look at people but when the medication is working well, you wouldn’t know you had Parkinson’s – and you can be in good form.”
Bertie underwent the DBS several years ago which has helped his condition; Sam was not eligible for the operation.
The pair were speaking on the first day of Parkinson’s Awareness, which runs from April 7 to April 13.
Parkinsons.org.uk says that one person in every 500 has Parkinson’s, leaving around 127, 000 in the UK. The symptoms can be different for each person, however, the main symptoms are tremor, rigidity and slowness of movement.
They can be controlled using a combination of drugs, therapies and occasionally surgery.
Sam recalled the reaction of his wife, Dorothy, to the news that he had Parkinson’s.
“My family were very concerned, my wife Dorothy was concerned, although she didn’t ‘howl’ much about it, but I knew by her attitude that she wasn’t terribly happy about it.”
Sam’s everyday life has been hugely affected by the condition.
“I find it certainly most debilitating and mist unsatisfactory from the point of view that you just don’t know when you’re going to take a trauma or another turn.
“The hand goes weak and my body goes weak, and I can hardly walk at that stage. I can never be sure – I’m much involved in social life around the town and around the country. If I said to someone I can meet you at a time, I wouldn’t be certain that I could be there.
“A darn trauma would come on – and I wouldn’t be able to walk.
“You’re sitting there, I’m watching my wife, for instance, doing things, simple things, and I feel very ashamed that I can’t do it.”
The two men do attempt to work through their problems with a positive attitude, and are both members of the local Parkinson’s support group, who meet on the third Wednesday of each month at 7pm in the Tempo Road day centre.
The group holds a variety of meetings, ranging from quizzes, musical evenings to talks from health professionals.
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