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Peter Ponders... Illness and Irreverence

Featured Photo from Peter Ponders... Illness and Irreverence

Disease is nothing to laugh at. Or is it?

A guy is drinking a cup of coffee in a hospital cafeteria when he hears a voice say: “You are a very handsome man.” He looks around, but can’t tell where the voice is coming from. He takes another sip of coffee and the voice says: “You are so intelligent.” He looks again, but still can’t find the source.

Finally, he turns to a woman in the café and asks if she hears the voice, too. “Oh yes,” she says. “That’s the coffee talking. In this hospital, parents never receive a bill for their children’s treatment. It’s covered by charitable donations. Even the coffee is complimentary.”

OK, the above qualifies as a joke. But it’s nearly impossible to joke about certain serious diseases.

So, I’m not going to give you that old cliché about laughter being the best medicine. Because it isn’t. Chemo, immunotherapy, antibiotics, and sometimes Nanna’s chicken soup. Those are the best medicines.

But humor, when it works, is a wonderful tool for defying illness – that’s defying, not denying.

I have Parkinson’s disease, but rather than sit around feeling sorry for myself, I choose to crack jokes even though this guy named Parkinson likes to heckle me from the back of the room. I don’t let it get me down.

A perfect example of this attitude – the idea that you can never lose if you never quit – is the Black Knight in the movie comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He is literally cut to pieces in a battle with King Arthur, but he refuses to give up, insisting, “It’s only a flesh wound.”

I know there are thousands of people in hospice, nursing homes, and hospitals in Seminole County who are too ill or in too much pain to joke about their situations. My heart goes out to them. For the rest of us who are walking around with just flesh wounds, it’s a different story. We have an obligation to be cheerful in the face of adversity.

With that in mind, here is a monologue I hope to perform in front of Parkinson’s support groups:
Hi, my name is Pete, and I had brain surgery to treat Parkinson’s. It’s called DBS, which could stand for Don’t Break Synapses or Don’t Be Silly, but I think the doctors prefer Deep Brain Stimulation.

In DBS they put electrodes in your brain and then give you a type of pacemaker to regulate the flow of electrical impulses in your body. They don’t know exactly how it works, but it relieves symptoms, like tremors.

Things were going smoothly on the day of my surgery until they tried to put this vice on my head to keep it from moving. My size-eight skull was too big. Fortunately, they were able to jury-rig it to fit. 

As I was being wheeled into surgery, I felt as if the people in the hallway were looking at me and whispering, “That’s the guy with the huge Frankenstein head.”

Once I was in the operating room, I was placed beneath a big screen monitor that would be recording the entire process. I was awake during the surgery so that I could provide feedback to the doctors as they placed the electrodes.

I remember looking at the screen thinking, oh my God, there’s my brain completely naked. What if my neighbors see this video? They’ll call it 50 Shades of Gray Matter.

Things got even weirder after the surgery when I got home. Technically, I’m now part machine and part human, which is fine, except every time I sneeze, my garage door opens. And I’m not sure, but I think Siri is flirting with me on my phone. My pacemaker comes with a remote control that I sometimes confuse with the TV remote. That probably explains why the only shows I can get are Robocop and The Six Million Dollar Man – though, let the record show, I paid less for my DBS surgery. 

By the end of the year, I’m going to have my DBS system fine-tuned so I can take my comedy routine on the road. Hopefully, my audiences will be complimentary.

Peter Reilly lives in Lake Mary with his wife and son. He can be reached at

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