I have spoken elsewhere about how I’m continually fascinated at how the brain reacts and adapts to the collection of miseries that is Parkinson’s. Of particular interest and importance in my case is the role that Music plays in my daily life. Not as mere ‘background noise’ but as ‘brainfood.’
I believe that music, something I consider (and I speak as a Visual Artist) the highest, purest artform engages in a subtle and sophisticated dynamic with the brain that we are often unaware of.
“We listen to music with our muscles” Nietzche. Sacks (2007) p. xi
Indeed as I write this, I am coming out of an ‘off’ spell.* I am coaxing this return to a state of relative fluidity by swinging my good right leg in time with the off-beat accentuation of Reggae and Dub music. As it happens today, big favourites Aswad.
Of course, you could say all that is happening here is that the drugs are finally kicking in, bringing an increased feeling of well-being, CD happens to be playing and so I’m swinging along to it: End of story.
But how does that explain many occasions I have been able to fight away, or bring myself out of a particularly deep ‘off’ spell by listening and dancing to music.? (Okay, ‘dancing’ may be stretching it a bit … Let’s call it ‘moving’) when in theory I shouldn’t have been able to walk? No, something far more profound is happening here. I have a confidence, a freedom and range of movement normally absent. Plus I am able to dance – sorry ‘move’ – for longer periods than my medication would normally allow.
I’m not the only one of course:
“Some of them could not initiate a single step, but could be drawn into dancing and could dance fluidly” Oliver Sacks in his book ‘Musicophelia’ (2007) on post-encephalitic/Parkinson’s patients encountered in 1960s.
And what about the task I am hopefully about to accomplish? Which is insert the needle of a Graseby Winged Infusion set into my leg. The needle, which is 2cm in length (doesn’t sound much does it?) is attached by a short tube to a syringe, set in a battery-powered pump which I wear round my waist and gives me a constant, measured dose of the Dopamine Agonist drug, Apomorphine. The needle has to go up to the hilt into the sub-cutaneous (Fatty layer) beneath the skin at a 45 degree angle. It’s something I have to steel myself to do every morning, and is a task which is always accompanied by music: Music of power, dignity, self-belief: hence Aswad.
* ‘Off’ (or in our house ‘offline’) describes the periods (between 4 and 6 times a day, 30 minutes to 3 hours in duration when my anti-Parkinson’s drugs are not effective for whatever reason.
© Andy Daly 2010
Quotations from Sacks, O: ‘Musicophelia’ (Picador) 2007 by kind permission of the author.