Diann Shaddox Foundation for Essential Tremor
I Shake. So What!
An Autobiography of the reality of living with Essential Tremor
By David Jensen
“You don't have to be afraid!” Looking down from where I was setting up an outside toilet on our yearly camping trip with the less fortunate children from the surrounding towns, the boy, who was approximately Seven said; “I'll protect you from the Bears”. It is times like these that one can only laugh at the circumstances. “No, I'm shaking because I have a sickness, that's all”. “Okay. Cool!” he says, and runs away. Children accept the simple things as they are. For the rest of the week, he would bring me coffee and help me with other things. Carrying the coffee was great and his willingness to help someone sick was honorable. He has since that time grown to adulthood. Has a father in law with MS, and to this day, still goes camping with the less fortunate every May. If only all the adults were so relaxed and open-minded about it!
My Essential Tremor started at the same time my voice changed. Between being laughed at by my middle brother, (who didn't inherit it), for shaking my milk all over the table and my voice cracking high and low, it was the start of my new (how wonderful!!) life as a shaker. My father had it also and my brother was smarter than to make a comment about it when he was around! Before I started out shaking, my older brother started to shake. Not as bad as the rest of us in the family, but he said something in the garage to my father about infecting him with the shakes, or something in that perspective. In those days, nobody knew that it really was inherited from one generation to the next, and sometimes passing one generation of family over completely. My father, in his ignorance of the fact, took it as an insult. And my brother paid a high price, for that which is nowadays, Status Quo knowledge.Guitar playing. I was good, really good. And I went with my father to all his friends when they got together to play, serious practice, or simply banging out the tunes for fun. I knew from an early age that I would master the Banjo and the Mandolin. The guitar was simple to play. Then came two things at one time. ET and Asthma. I had an inhaler for the bad summer months, and the Doctor started me on heavy doses of Inderal for the shaking. The inhaler made me shake more and the Inderal made me sleepy. I was now unable to concentrate on what and how to play on the guitar. My father, in his frustration that I was “losing it”, raised the guitar practice to at least one hour per day. After a few minutes of shaking the chords, I got more stressed and him too. It was the same thing everyday. “I shake too and I can play!” was his daily preaching. This went on for some time and one day I threw the guitar on the floor and said I can't play when I shake. Again his Sermon that he shakes and plays too! I remember I said something to the fact that he only strums the chords while Chet can pick the strings with ease. Got my ass beat for that comment! But he never said one word again about me playing the guitar, and he would never know how sad I was myself that I would never play a Banjo.
Looking back, the doctor who prescribed me the Inderal was light years ahead of his time! Beta Blockers are good against ET. But at the time, they had not enough research to discover that all Beta Blockers are harmful for Asthmatic patients. I found out the hard way, and maybe helped in the research? Who knows? I had cut the grass at the house and then I simply could not breath in. I ran and used my inhaler but to no avail. In the emergency room at the hospital, they were pumping everything into my arm to free up my lungs. I was just so tired of fighting for air, that I closed my eyes and exhaled. Next thing that happened was the nurse slapped me on the face and yelled that “nobody, but nobody dies on her shift” I had opened my eyes and took a big gulp of air, and she scared the hell out of me at the moment! In the wheelchair on my way out, the big black nurse gave me a kiss on the cheek and said; “A slap never hurt nobody honey!” The second time at the hospital was because my inhaler was empty and I was on a double dose of Inderal. But I was now hardly shaking! I remember riding in the ambulance, because that was so cool! And then I was waking up in the emergency room. The Doctor smiled and said; “We thought we had lost you for a minute!” In actuality, it was two minutes. According to my mother, I had not responded to an inhaler while in the ambulance. I had already stopped breathing in the ambulance and when we got to the hospital, apparently my heart had stopped. It explained why my chest hurt like elephants had run me over! After getting thoroughly checked out, I was to stop taking the Inderal, and see how it goes. From then on, I had very few problems with my Asthma. Only now and then when the farmers were doing Hay and such.
School was not a problem. Not to be conceited, but I have a pretty good brain. My mother forced me to attend Typing and Home Economics (Sewing and Cooking) classes. I had at that time, not reached puberty and was just as normal as a Non- Mover and Shaker. I'm thankful that she made me learn the 10 finger system, and although now my favorite key on my Laptop is the Backspace Key, I still have it in me, as one can see! But time rolls forwards and I hit puberty. But in those times, the teachers really didn't care about my handwriting, which went from good to shit, overnight. I took a Foreign Language class and choose German, just to aggravate my racist father. Mrs. Westrate was thrilled that I could learn so fast, and at the end of the school year, said that I should continue. “Why?” I asked. “I'm never going to need it! Not like I'm going to go to Germany or something!” That was a moment I will never forget! As will be revealed later on! In Chemistry I was doing just as good as the other classes, except when it came to the practical part. Shaking Acid all over the table, adding one chemical into the other too fast, the list of mistakes goes on and on. Theory = A. Practice = D. I loved being in Architect class. And I was really good at it! But at the end of the year, the teacher said that, although I was talented, I didn't need to go further into it. One of the test is to draw a straight line, six inches long, freehand! He said; “Your line would look like a heart frequency.” Sort of like: ' You could, but you can't'! In the 70's, they had no CAD/CAE with computers to draw the straight lines.
I got odd jobs at several restaurants and wanted to be a Waiter, due to the generous tips! But the first time I had the tray on my hand with empty glasses, so the manager could see if I could balance it without dropping everything, it was “Shake, Rattle and Roll!”. I got relegated to washing Pots, Pans and dish washing. A wonderful future awaited me in the world of employment! But being in the back kitchen with the cooks has its advantages and I brought unsold steaks and other goodies home every night! My father said that it was a super job for me at the Knightsbridge Inn. Of course! I was feeding the family with all the stuff I brought home. Then my friend said they needed help at the Greenhouses by J. Berends and Sons. Now, imagine trying to replant seedlings into pots while shaking, and that under time stress. It was required that you replant a certain amount in an hour. Well, over half of mine were broke off and I anyways couldn't keep pace with the rest. Damn shaking! There was no more J. Berends, he had passed away a long time ago and it was run by the three sons. Two of them wanted to fire me, but the third argued that “Dad shook like hell and he started the business! Give the boy a chance!”
So, I figured it would be as bad as washing dishes. But much to my surprise after a while I was like a foreman, driving the Forklift, making sure the orders got out on time and such. Much to the displeasure of my schoolmates which had worked lots longer there. I even got my own key to the place because I was the only kid who would show up everyday and open the greenhouses, make potting soil in the old cement mixer on Saturday evenings, and utilize the Nicotine smoke bombs in the greenhouses on Sundays. If I had not made a dumb decision with my life, by joining the Army, I found out that the three sons wanted to make me a partner. And all three had nobody for inheritance, so I would more than likely have inherited it all. Sometimes, we take a wrong turn in the road of life!
In May of 1977, I joined the Army. I spent more than twice as much time practicing how to dismantle and reassemble the rifle, and still was not fast enough for the Drill Sergeant. I think that he fell in love with me and my shaking. Shaving was mandatory everyday, and the smaller of the two Drill Sergeants just loved to pat me on the cheek every morning and make stupid comments like; “We should give you a straight razor! You could slit your throat open the first time around!” About half way through the six weeks of Basic Training, another soldier, an Indian, told me I should have used the dummy blade which comes attached to the razor! “Why couldn't you tell me that the first day here?” I asked. Running the dummy blade over his face and scraping the foam off, he answered; “You pale faces are much smarter than us!”
Well, one can only take so much harassment and towards the end of the six weeks, I got in the circle with the small Drill Sergeant. Every Sunday afternoon, we would go to a sand pit circle and get our aggressions out with whom ever we had a problem with. No matter how many times he knocked me down, I got back up and never said stop. After a while, he told me to stay down or say stop because; “I'm going to end up killing you and I have all the damn red tape on my hands boy!” Barely on my feet and bloody as hell, I said; “At least I won't shake no more and you can't bitch anymore either!” He stared for a second, laughed, and walked away from the circle. Maybe he learned a lesson that day. I know I sure did! To hell with what the others think of my shaking, and never give up!
Onward to Technical Training school. Oh what fun!! I had always loved to work on cars, so I choose the Mechanics Training. Most of the studying was easy, but then it came to hands on and, “Look out!” Adjust the timing on a running motor, and as soon as I had the long screwdriver in my hand, I shook so bad it fell out of my hand into the running motor. I reacted as fast as I could and fell backwards from the truck onto the floor, and the screwdriver kept getting caught in the fan belt. After bouncing around in the motor compartment, (luckily not flying out and hurting anyone), it went straight through the water hose. Boy, did I get to hear it! But when it came to body repair, I was the fastest sander around!
Sandpaper in hand, tighten the muscles and let the ET do the rest! The forms we needed to learn about was easy and we didn't have to fill any out as samples or, at the end of the schooling, as part of the test. Thank goodness! At the end of the Technical school, you had to fill out a form on where you would like to be stationed at. I filled in my two wishes: California or Hawaii. Either they couldn't read what I wrote, or the 'Wish List' was nothing more than a joke on us! Receiving my orders, I read Germany! Oh super! But now we fast-forward to being stationed in Germany.
New environment, new people and of course, new stress factors! Super! One of the first things they did is initiate me to the company by taking me down to the Chicken Stand! The initiation is; how many chickens can you eat? Regurgitating not allowed! I got bullied with; “Shaking the meat off the chicken isn't allowed either!” But after 3 and a half roasted chickens, my body was shaking like a leaf!
Alcohol is great at reducing the tremors, but only so long you are intoxicated. The morning after is when tremor says; “Well, you had a break from me last night, but I'm back again! Let's catch up on what you missed!” The whole paperwork which we had only theoretically learned at school, now had to be put into practice at work, and I was a professional in scribbling undecipherable things on the forms. Got a lot of flak about my handwriting at the beginning, but in time, it wore off and became the norm.
Then I got to do a really cool job which wouldn't be hampered by my shaking. My commander volunteered me to be the Colonels Chauffeur. Nice job, if you like driving for hours without a radio. Sitting in the Limousine and waiting for hours till a conference is finished is Boring!! This was though, an important connection. The Boss and me were talking while driving to the Firing Range and I said I would like to learn how to do explosives. Didn't think anything more about it, until one day I was relieved as Chauffeur with orders to attend a school for explosives training. Bound to fail from day one because of shaking, but I guess the Colonel wanted to do me a favor!
Well, I learned it all, and I thought that it is perverse that my body would go quiet when setting blasting caps in C4. So, due to my fluency in the German language, I later got to train NATO troops from different countries on how to utilize C4 and other neat explosive devices. During one course, I was teaching how you could form C4 Plastic explosives and I said; “You can form it like clay.” When the soldiers from Holland were finished mounting it on a tree, as a demonstration on which way it should fall, I said; “Okay. Hit the button!” When the tree exploded and fell over, the guys from Holland were shaking badly! They actually thought it was simple clay, and not real charges! And, sometimes it is so sweet to have the opportunity to say; “You're shaking worse than I do!”
Or the one and only time teaching NATO's how to properly throw hand grenades. All went well till one was shaking so bad, he pulled the pin and let it fall out of his hand. At our feet! With one hand, I pushed him to the ground, and with the other, scooped the grenade over the barrier. I refused to teach grenades anymore because he shook worse than me! At the Pistol Range, it was basically the same story. The Germans shoot a 9mm pistol, which turns sideways in the hand when firing. The first German Officer then played “John Wayne” and held the US Colt 45 at arms length, despite my warning him that it kicks back. He shot, the pistol slammed him in the face, and he was really quiet. But the next one was hilarious! Holding the pistol with both hands, but shaking to the point of dropping the thing on the ground. I was on the sidelines, getting stomach cramps from laughing at the shaky German. Sometimes, I get a mean attitude when I see “Normal” people shake.
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