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Articles    H4'ed 9/13/10

"Life in the Balance, A Physician's Memoir of Life, Love and Loss with Parkinson's Disease and Dementia"

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Dr. Thomas Graboys was, for many years, one of Boston's leading cardiologists. In 1985, he and colleagues in the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War won the Nobel Peace Prize. On the faculty of Harvard Medical School, Graboys was also president emeritus of the Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation in Brookline and senior physician at the Brigham and Women's Hospital until 2006, when Parkinson's and dementia changed his life and forced his early retirement.

Life in the Balance [co-authored with Peter Zheutlin] is Graboys' brutally honest account of his new life. I contacted him as soon as I finished reading it. (I usually segue from appreciation into an invitation for an interview.) This time, Graboys himself offered to do an interview and, with some trepidation, I agreed.

Our extended conversation took place last May. Why the delay in posting? Over the last several years, I have gradually mastered the skills for conducting an interview via email. Recorded interviews, however, are something else entirely. My usual MO is to fade into the background and let my interviewee shine. But my wooden delivery made me a distraction. And there were special challenges working with someone with two serious medical conditions, which affected not only the volume and the quality of our exchange. These days, it's a full-time job for Tom to just hang onto his thoughts until they're verbalized.

Here, Graboys describes his thought process [Life in the Balance, p.11] :

"My interactions with people are marked by a slowness of thought (called bradykinesia) that is as embarrassing as it is frustrating. It's more than losing my train of thought, though that happens a hundred times a day or more; it's having the words in my head, but being unable to move them from the part of the brain where thoughts are formed to the part that controls speech. The neural pathways are disorganized, like some fantastically complex highway system with overpasses and intersections, on-ramps and exit ramps, all leading nowhere. A thought forms, it gets sent down the pike, only to get lost in some cul-de-sac where it spins like a whirling dervish... Sometimes the thoughts will finally spin out of the cul-de-sac and find expression; often, however, they simply spin themselves out like a spent whirlwind, never escaping. The halcyon days when I spoke eloquently and with great confidence are gone. As I said, nothing, not even speech, is second nature any more."

So, for a variety of reasons, I let the podcast go. This is the next best thing. I highly recommend Life in the Balance, the extraordinary inside story of living with Parkinson's and dementia.


My guest today is Dr. Thomas Graboys, author of Life in the Balance, A Physician's Memoir of Life, Love and Loss with Parkinson's Disease and Dementia. Welcome to OpEdNews, Tom. You're a very private person. Yet you decided to open your life to the public by writing this book. Why did you do that? And what was the cause for the urgency that you felt?

Having lost my wife [Caroline] to cancer, I went through a period of extreme depression. And, at about the same time, there was also a sense working [on] me that wasn't simply depression but a more profound issue affecting myself and my children and my colleagues.

Your book is an unflinching look at Parkinson's, dementia, and the effect they've had on you. No one had written a book like this before. Did you ever worry that you might be giving too much information?

A lot of information; I acknowledge that. But science writers I'd been in contact with, and other writers, urged me to forge ahead with the objective. The concern that I had, that's reflected in the urgency, was because of trying to adjust or predict whether there was ongoing progression of the disease.

Writing the book was an undeniably challenging but it was also therapeutic for you. Can you talk about that?

Very therapeutic... My concern would be that yes, there was a lot of material for me to have to digest...

Your book struck a chord with many readers and your public appearances have often seemed more like support groups. Why do you think that is?

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Joan has been the Election Integrity Editor for OpEdNews since December 2005. She writes on a large range of subjects and does many interviews and reviews.
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