David Merriman looks flattered but embarrassed when I comment that his attitude to his diagnosis of Parkinsons is both positive and inspirational: “Most days I’m positive, but it’s very hard sometimes.”
This attitude allowed him to work for more than five years after being diagnosed with the disease and has since given him the desire to help set up the Positive Café with Dartmouth Caring – which provides a place for those with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, ME, MS, Chronic Fatigue or similar, to get advice and support and offers general information and assistance for vulnerable adults and their families when people are in difficulties.
David, born in Gloucestershire in 1949, enjoyed what he calls an ‘idyllic’ childhood living on a small-holding with his family outside a small village where his father was a baker.
“We grew vegetables and made our own cider,” he smiles. “It was wonderful.”
His headmaster inspired him to follow his dreams and become a civil engineer.
“In the 1960s there was a tremendous belief that creating good infrastructure for our country would transform not only the landscape but our lives as well. I came to truly believe that – and found a huge enthusiasm for it. I went to Plymouth Polytechnic and studied Civil Engineering. I worked on a number of arge-scale projects as a young man – it was a dream come true working on them, such as the Lliw Dam in Wales. I found it tremendously exciting that we were able to transform the landscape so fundamentally for the good of all.”
David became successful, working in Europe and even in Saudi Arabia on large projects.
He met his wife Sylvia later in life and they are completely devoted to one another. Sylvia has two sons and the couple dote on their grandchildren.
In 2005 David’s life changed forever.
“I had been having great problems with fatigue and then a great pain in my arm so great I couldn’t use it,” he recalls. “I went to the doctor and was first misdiagnosed as having had a stroke. After a little while it became clear this wasn’t the case and in October 2005 I was finally diagnosed with Parkinson’s.”
Parkinson’s is a progressive disease that creates muscle tremors and other physical problems. One of the challenges of the disease is that although it causes great physical problems, the patient’s intellectual ability is not impaired.
There is no cure, though new treatments to help manage its symptoms are being developed all the time.
David’s reaction to the diagnosis was not one of devastation.
“Strangely I was relieved,” he said. “It was good to have it finally diagnosed. And with Parkinson’s you get a ‘honeymoon’ period when you start taking the drugs to manage the problem – you improve and feel better. But then the problems start to return. It’s a progressive disease so you try not to think too much of the future. I try to take each day as it comes.”
David continued to work until late 2010 with Parkinson’s – but didn’t tell his employers about the condition for most of that time.
“It’s a tremendous problem,” he said. “Those with the condition are written off by almost everyone. You are kept going by hope – that something will be created or someone will discover something new to help.
“Without my wife I couldn’t function – we have a fantastic and very close relationship. We understand each other very well.
“I wanted to help others cope. It was one of the reasons I wanted to help set up a support group.”
David and his wife had moved to Dartmouth in 2009 - when Sylvia set up her vintage merchandise shop ‘Second Love’ in Newcomen Road.
It was a clear desire of David’s to set up a support group for Parkinson’s and he suggested it to Dartmouth Caring as an idea.
The “Parkinson’s Café” started in the Community Corner in the Old Market in September 2011. It is held on the third Thursday of every month and has now been expanded in its scope to become the Positive Café.
David said the focus of the group is on support.
“The carers are the ones who have to deal with so much,” he said. “People like my wife, are incredibly supportive caring partners who have to deal with so much and there are few places they can turn to for advice and help. The Positive Café aims to support them as well as those with the condition.•
First Published October 2012 By The Dart