Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kilimanjaro Opens a Door November 2010

Monique and I talked about Kilimanjaro to a few of our patients who always asked about our climbing. We had just climbed Mt. Rainier and some of our patients wondered about the next mountain. A few expressed worry that we were taking on a risky hobby, but overall, the topic of climbing another mountain brought an unexpected uplift to our patient visits. Climbing for us was a way to stay in shape and find balance between our dedication to the Parkinson's community and our personal lives.

Looking back, talking about Kilimanjaro had opened a door. Medical appointments are usually focused on symptoms, medications or the many worries that come with living with PD, but now for some, we focus on activities that they refused to give up or the dreams that remained. I enjoyed learning more about our patient's interests and travels before the PD.  Many of our patients had climbed Mt Rainier and other peaks around Washington. It was a nice way to connect with our patients and I learned that many continue to hike and backpack despite living many years with PD. Some patients talked about running marathons, cycling and swimming. I'm not sure if it was our openness to talk about our physical activities that led to our patients sharing more, but we noticed a big change. And it was a nice change in focus from disability to ability. 

One of my patients liked to talk mountaineering during his appointments while I fine-tuned his deep brain stimulator. These visits take up to an hour so there is a lot of time to talk about things other than PD. He loved to talk about and I enjoyed listening as he reminisced about his years climbing with a few famous mountaineers from the Northwest including Himalayan legendary climber Pete Schoening. One day he brought his personal copy of Schoening's self-published book about his expedition in the Himalayan mountains. I was honored to read the book written from a viewpoint of the man that made history on K2. At his next appointment, he tells me about his return to one of the mountains he once trekked. These are the stories that bring significant enjoyment to our work.   

We noticed we were seeing an energy we had not seen before from our patients. Medical appointments do generally focus on the negatives out of necessity but patients were now sharing more about their own lives or past dreams about world travel. Several commented that given the chance, they too would like to climb Kilimanjaro. This left us wondering what could we do for the many people with PD that can't go to Kilimanjaro but have an interest in working toward a lofty goal. We start to ask patients to also train with the same intensity as if they too were going to climb a mountain. This led to the formation of the Virtual Team PD Kilimanjaro.   

The Virtual Team turned out to be a great idea but we needed structure to keep track of things. We would like to have monthly meetings to discuss how to track progress, advance training programs safely, and provide nutritional information and most importantly, motivation. The Virtual Team evolved from a clinic idea to a community wide program. We asked Lori if she would give her motivational presentation as a kick off for the Virtual Team. Her message to people living with MS was perfect for people living with PD. Once again, we start working on another grant proposal.

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