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Wobbly, But not Drunk

DECEMBER 11 1999 British Medical Association News Report

Wobbly, but not drunk: Living with Parkinson’s disease

A part from the flat feet and scoliosis I have always had, which eventually put paid to my dreams of being a ballet dancer, I was fortunate enough to dodge illness and incapacity for many years.
Now, at the age of 78, I thank my lucky stars that, until 70, I had enjoyed a life of reasonably good health.
Although I have been on medication for Parkinson’s disease for the past five years, I still enjoy reasonably good health, and my medication has not had to be increased by more than half a tablet. Of course, being somewhat incapacitated is a source of great irritation, but it has its lighter moments too. My companion and I sometimes find ourselves laughing helplessly, overcome with mirth at the bizarre occurrences that result­usually -from the medication itself Although it helps my mobility, it can have strange side-effects. I have been known to fling my dinner through the air like a toddler having a tantrum, and to carefully pour my morning tea onto the carpet instead of down my throat. Sometimes, I cannot hear my phone calls and wonder why the connection is so bad -until it is pointed out to me that I am holding the receiver upside down.
On my tentative walks beside the river near my home, I have been known to stagger to within inches ofthe rushing water, unable to stop myself, and can sense the tut-tuts from passers-by who obviously assume I must be drunk.
Another incident that springs to mind, one directly related to the Parkinson’s syndrome, was the day my legs froze as I descended some stairs in Marbella in Spain. I toppled forward hitting the side of my head against the sharp corner of a door frame with amazing accuracy. With blood spurting everywhere from a sliced vein, I was rushed to hospital where the wound was sutured by a Saudi Arabian surgeon who, I later discovered, only visited the hospital on Mondays. What luck my accident had not occurred between Tuesday and Sunday.
Wearing a pair of my husband’s oldest, baggiest trousers and a pair of slippers, I tried to shield my face from the paparazzi -alerted with astonishing speed -who anticipated
the inevitable drunken actress headline in the Spanish morning papers.
Before Parkinson’s reared its exasperating head, I travelled to London in 1991 to attend a family party for my 70th birthday. I had been feeling unwell for a number of weeks, and although I managed to get through the party without disgracing myself, I was relieved to leave London the following day.
On my flight back to Zurich, I suddenly felt very peculiar, and by the time the plane landed, Iwas too ill to stand. The airport medics were summoned and, as Iwas wheeled off the aircraft, I heard somebody ask: ‘Isn’t that Deborah Kerr, the actress?’ Oh dear, I thought. There will now be rumours circulating about my drinking habits.
On that occasion, my illness turned out to be a large gastric ulcer, and the hospital consultant remarked, after tests that included the swallowing of, in his words, ‘black spaghetti’ -a thin tube with a light and scissors on the end used to snip out a part of my innards -that my ulcer was the most beautiful he had ever seen.
Now my Swiss GP, who comes to my home to take various blood samples, greets me with the words: ‘The vampire is here.’ He says I have the heart of a 25-year-old, and that when I reach the grand old age of 200, he will have to kill me off. I look forward to outliving him.
Since making her stage debut in the 30s, Deborah Kerr ( BE has starred in numerous plays and films, receiving a BAFTA special award in 1991 and an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1993.


  • Larisa

    I don’t know if I should laugh or cry! Her sense of humour is just delicious! Faith, I could only be grateful and wear an enormous respect for you for being with/there for her! Thank you for the article!

  • petesbabe

    Like Lari, I got misty through my laughter!! She went through so much, yet she’s able to maintain such a positive attitude!! It just makes me love her all the more! I love trying to “hide” in Peter’s pants!! That was rich!!:D It kills me ,though, that celebrities have no privacy, even in their later years! Thank God she had you, Faith, “The Gatekeeper”!<3. I'm struck, yet again, by how good a writer she is, and how self -effacing! I like how she chose to discuss this in her own way, on her own terms!! Brava, dear Deborah!!

  • cuckoo4kitties

    Is it any wonder why we love Deborah so much? Even in her ill health she can make light of the situation. I’m so very glad she had you, Faith. Bless you for loving her so much.

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