Friday, October 27, 2006

Tardive Dyskinesia, Spastic Quadriplegia, and My Good Left Leg

I'm really furious about Rush Limbaugh's implying that Michael J. Fox is maybe faking it, that he somehow was playing around with his medication in order to look more profoundly affected for his tv spot for MO Democrat Claire McCaskill [YouTube video link].

Digby catches some of my anger in a post called "Melting Snowflakes," and also in "Good Morning, Creep."

First, some facts. Tardive dyskinesia, which is the sort of athetosis Fox is manifesting in the ad, is a side effect of medication, the synthetic dopamines Fox takes so that he can be limber enough to move (and speak), and also of common antipsychotic medications. (If Limbaugh had been under proper medical supervision all this time, one would think he'd know that firsthand...)

Parkinson's Disease is a progressive, terminal condition that affects approximately 1% of the population over the age of 50. There is also a variant called "young-onset Parkinson's" that affects people under age 40. It affects the neurons in the substantia nigra section of the brain, which produce the chemical dopamine. Drug and surgical therapies are available, but do not halt the progression of the condition, nor do they cure it. They also have unpleasant side effects, including nightmares, depression, constipation, and the dyskinesia you can see Fox exhibiting in the clip.

In short, this is not a nice disease, and the treatments aren't particularly wonderful, either.

What really rankles me about the right-wing reaction to the Fox ads isn't even the blatant partisanship (I've long since burnt out about that), but the rank disablism of it. (This is especially ironic coming from Limbaugh, who is deaf and impotent, thanks to years of heavy opioid [ab]use.) I see this reaction to Fox's tv appearances as an extension of the popular media portrayals of disabled people. Fox is confounding the narrative.

By being legitimately concerned about the issue, exercising political power, and, most of all, standing up for himself, Michael J. Fox is refusing to allow himself to be boxed into being a stereotype of the passive, helpless, bitter cripple, or the handicapped guy who can't get out of his own way -- if he'd only just stop feeling sorry for himself, he'd be doing a lot better. (I have been accused numerous times of being the latter. I have no self-pity, but I am pretty angry, and most people with disability issues just can't deal with that.) It's fairly obvious that much of the negative reaction is trying to slot Fox into the "pitiable cripple" mould; they're accusing him of playing for sympathy. They're also relatedly and second-handedly trying to slot him into the "evil cripple" mould, since they're also more or less claiming he's faking it. That latter is probably a harder charge to make stick with a lot of people, since almost everyone remembers him as cute little Alex P. Keaton and Marty McFly.

But Michael J. Fox isn't a stereotype, and neither am I. I feel a great amount of empathy for him. He's not in my situation and I'm not in his, but I've taken much the same sort of crap from much the same sorts of idiots in my life -- although, to be fair, the idiots I'm usually faced with don't have massive media support, but I'm not a movie star, either. My spastic quadriplegia isn't going to kill me (although everything's a terminal condition in the final analysis), and the only reason I'm sitting here unable to stop moving right now is because I'm slightly stressed out and overcaffeinated, but hey, I've had people get in my face just because their tender psyches are injured by the sight of my semi-functional carcass, and it sucks.

Michael J. Fox, like me, also refuses to be the decorous kind of cripple who considerately spares the easily-offended viewing public the humiliation of having to watch them deal with the slings and arrows of everyday life. He's not visibly embarrassed about doing tv interviews with his dyskinesia showing (although he might be privately, which I wonder if it be a combination of showbiz vanity and culture), just like I'm not embarrassed to use my hands to climb over large snowbanks in the winter or sit in the handicap seats on the bus, if I feel I need to that day. The pressure can be intense, and I think the empathy-free political robot brigade on the right is also trying to run a public shaming number on him.

How dare he be a non-stereotyped handicapped person! In public, even!

And that is why I'd like to grab my American friend with the Parkinson's precursors, use him as help balancing (because even if I'm standing on my good left foot, it might be a problem) and administer them all a swift kick where it'll do them the most good.


Blogger Aquaria said...

I'm so sorry about your condition, Interro. I had no idea you were going through this, and I thank you for your courage in speaking up about this. You have every right to be outraged!

I think you're absolutely right that part of what is driving this controversy is Fox's refusal to conform to the "crippled" narrative so many Americans follow.

I'm not disabled; however, I grew up with a disabled grandmother (crippling arthritis so painful that the only way she knew she had a broken leg was when it turned purple!). I also have a medical Mom, and she had this quirky habit of "adopting" her patients (read: bringing them home with her for a while) or dragging her kids to the hospital to hang out with people who weren't in great shape. So I spent a lot of my youth with sick and disabled people.

You learn a lot about people through experiences like that. I learned pretty early on that the best way to treat the disabled was, well, as individual people. Some of them were mighty pissed about their condition. Some were resigned. Some were fighters. Some were whiners. I don't think any of them were happy about it, but they lived with it, somehow, some better than others. But, underneath it all, they were still people, with all the quirks everyone has.

I saw a lot of Michael J. Foxes back in the day, people suffering from Parkinson's. Those were the tough ones, because they were always apologizing for hitting you by mistake or knocking something over or falling off a chair. And you kept saying, "It's okay. You can't help it." Which didn't really help them, but what else could you say? They couldn't help it!

I can remember some of them crying over thier dyskensia (sp?), because it was so frustrating to deal with it, so embarrassing at times. And that's why I'm mad about this incident, because I remember so many lovely people battling this horrible disease, already embarrassed and frustrated, then having an asswipe like Rush Limbaugh say that they're faking it!

Limbaugh deserves to die. I don't usually say such things, but he does. I hope it's a slow, withering, painful death, and he's all alone, utterly friendless, while he endures it. I really do. I know that's terrible, but I can't help it.

All the best, Interro. Let me know if there's ever anything I can do to help.

3:04 AM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

Thanks, Aquaria. I'm actually relatively ok -- my condition , which is a subset of cerebral palsy, isn't progressive and isn't very severe. I'm not trying to play the sympathy card, either. Facts is facts, however.

I actually feel worse about this because I look at Michael J. Fox and I see my friend in ten or fifteen years, and that bothers me.

3:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very heartfelt post man. More power to ya!

Nothing surprised me about the right wingers anymore.
Compassion and empathy are words they are devoid of.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Anne Johnson said...

First of all, my dad died of complications from Parkinson's Disease in 2005. When I see Michael J. Fox, and know that he is my age and showing the same symptoms my dad did at 72, I reel with anger that we aren't turning every stone to find a cure for these illnesses!

Second, as a practicing Druid, I'd like to say that we have a tenet called (for lack of a better word) "karma." Mr. Limbaugh is F***** with his big-time. Does he think he's immortal? And (I've researched this for a reference book), opiate addicts EVEN IF "CURED," are not given adequate pain medication when they get sick. So Rush is courting an unwelcome visit from the bored gods.

Last week I wrote on my blog about a man who claimed to be my grandfather. He thought all "cripples" ought to be taken out and shot. (He had a similar attitude about people with African origins.) Lo and behold, he suffered a terrible stroke and spent the last 18 months of his life bedridden, tended by African American nurses.

Rush Limbaugh should apologize to Michael J. Fox and go spend some time with Parkinson's patients. Will he do it? Of course not. His note will come due at a later date.

6:39 PM  
Blogger spocko said...

Great post. I get your anger. My favorite part of your post
empathy-free political robot brigade on the right is also trying to run a public shaming number on him

Lack of empathy. Rush works very hard to help them be okay with their lack of empathy. It is also what Ann Coulter does.

I remember when I used to listen to the Al Franken show and he had on a guy who was a friend who was a ditto head. Each and every day Al would have him on, point out a lie that Rush made and wait for the guy to defend Rush.
Now this was just the lies. Not the disgusting things he said.

The question is to them. Do you stand by Rush Limbaugh as he mocks Michael J. Fox? No? Then why do you still listen to him? Do you support this disgusting man? Yes? Then what does that say about you?

But of course I can't do that with in my own family because unlike Rush, I do have empathy and I have no desire to challenge them to divorce themsleves from Rush and Hannity.

The sick part is that this division is exactly what Rove wants. Family against family works for them.

I was reading something about Rush said I almost physically vomited.

5:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Rush loses his eyesight from repeated *voluntary* Viagra abuse, will he foot the bill for his "disability" or will his (own)corporation's insurance cover everything up to his $10 copay?

10:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rush is a hypocritical blowhards. I guess his suggestion is to have Fox take a bunch of pain pills.

10:48 AM  

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