By Peter Dunlap-Shohl
How does one deal with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease at the age of forty-three? My Degeneration, by former Anchorage Daily News staff cartoonist Peter Dunlap-Shohl, answers the question with humor and passion, recounting the author’s attempt to come to grips with the “malicious whimsy” of this chronic, progressive, and disabling disease. This graphic novel tracks Dunlap-Shohl’s journey through depression, the worsening symptoms of the disease, the juggling of medications and their side effects, the impact on relations with family and community, and the raft of mental and physical changes wrought by the malady.
My Degeneration examines the current state of Parkinson’s care, including doctor/patient relations and the repercussions of a disease that, among other things, impairs movement, can rob patients of their ability to speak or write, degrades sufferers’ ability to deal with complexity, and interferes with the sense of balance. Readers learn what it’s like to undergo a dramatic, demanding, and audacious bit of high-tech brain surgery that can mysteriously restore much of a patient’s control over symptoms. But My Degeneration is more than a Parkinson’s memoir. Dunlap-Shohl gives the person newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease the information necessary to cope with it on a day-to-day basis.
He chronicles the changes that life with the disease can bring to the way one sees the world and the way one is seen by the wider community. Dunlap-Shohl imparts a realistic basis for hope—hope not only to carry on, but to enjoy a decent quality of life.
“In one of the funniest segments, Dunlap-Shohl presents a series of drawings of bad doctors: ‘the gimlet-eyed skeptic’ who accuses her patient of making up his symptoms, the ‘cheery prophet’ who forecasts inevitable physical decline, ‘the blithe know-it-all,’ and several more. For patients, these irreverent archetypes validate their experiences. Clinicians, too, stand to gain a better appreciation of how they might appear to their patients.”
“My Degeneration opens up a powerful new purpose for comics—as an effective tool to educate doctors, patients, and others about both the clinical and the personal sides of living with a disease. This book should be required reading for any specialist.”
“perfectly balancing... the educational and the autobiographical, the clinical and the personal.”
“The reach of this book extends far beyond those who have, or know someone who has, Parkinson's disease. I recommend it especially to physicians and other health care providers, who by reading it might avoid the "gratuitous cruelty" that is so easily inflicted, and which Dunlap-Shohl illustrates from his own experiences.”
“A damn fine work of art, by a damn fine artist.”
“Terrific, a read-in-one-sitting book that engages, teaches, and challenges readers from the first page until its conclusion. . . . Ultimately, this is a story about resilience, and how PD helped the author develop a new perspective on the fragility of life and his ability to adapt to adversity. It is a lesson that all health care professionals should heed.”