“Time” for Parkinson’s

“Time” for Parkinson’s

The online Time magazine has a great article on Margaret Bourke-White, the famous Life magazine photographer who developed Parkinson’s disease in 1953 and fought it tooth and nail so she could continue taking pictures.  But the 1950s were not a good time to come down with Parkinson’s; she didn’t have the drugs we take today (including Sinemet – carbidopa/levodopa), and while she did undergo some brain surgeries, they didn’t help as much as DBS does now.

The Time article is useful because it allows us to compare what people with Parkinson’s did just before today’s drugs came along, and before DBS was an option.  Dr. Rachel Dolhun of the Michael J. Fox Foundation explains both the differences and the similarities in a video included in the Time article.  Here it is:

The Time article also has a link to a Life magazine article that Bourke-White wrote herself in 1959, which describes in depth her day-to-day life and what she has learned about PD.  It includes this heading:

“To know Parkinson’s, you must know awkwardness, anxiety, and near-panic.”

To my mind, awkwardness and anxiety still hold for most of us Parkies today.  But I think near-panic does not affect us as much as it did for Parkies in the mid-20th Century.

Here’s another quote from the Life article that seems apropos today:

You must live with the tight anxiety whenever you walk into a room full of people, and the near-panic of questions you ask yourself:

Do I just imagine it that I can’t seem to turn over in bed anymore?  Why does everyone ask me to repeat on the telephone?  If I stand or walk near other people how will I keep from knocking them down?  How will I cut my meat?  Do people notice anything wrong?

Margaret Bourke-White was a strong-willed person, and she threw herself into the only thing available to counteract PD’s effects:  She exercised like a maniac.  She crumpled up newspaper pages into balls; she walked lots; she learned to tango, she forced her fingers to relearn how to type.  As a result of all this focused exercise, she was able to continue working as a photographer, holding the camera steady, turning the lenses to bring the subject into focus, changing film.

She is/was famous for taking many iconic photographs during her career, including the first cover photograph for Life magazine (see below).  According to Wikipedia, she died 18 years after her diagnosis.

Here are some of her famous photos:

Life magazine’s first cover photo, taken by Margaret Bourke-White.

About The Author: Bruce


  1. Sharon Young

    Thanks for posting this fascinating story of what courage and determination can overcome! It inspires me to redouble my efforts to learn the intricate dance with Parkinson’s and thrill once again to the music! I so enjoyed reading Margaret Bourke-White’s article–such an amazing woman! Thanks so much for your blog.

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