Friday, November 14, 2014

Losing My Career to Illness

The Chronicle of Higher Education
November 14th, 2014

Will I be able to work until I’m 70?"
Those were my first words when I learned in 2012, at age 50, that I had Parkinson’s disease. I had not planned for that question to pop out of my mouth, but it did. Perhaps I was worried about money: The size of my retirement account makes early retirement seem implausible.
But mainly I think I asked that question because work, for better or worse, has become central to my identity. The idea that my career as a historian would end soon, that I would need to find another way to occupy my time, felt truly disturbing.
I was pleased and surprised when my neurologist at the Mayo Clinic confidently assured me that I could continue to work for the next couple of decades. He then gave me a good, science-based pep talk. He discussed some misconceptions about the disease and some hopeful research developments. A professor and researcher himself, he mentioned some conflicting views about Parkinson’s that have led to contentious debate at recent medical conferences.

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