This Comedian Nails What It's Like When Your Family Doesn't Quite Understand Parkinson's

Erin Migdol
erik rivera
erik rivera

When you have a somewhat complicated disease like Parkinson’s, with dozens of possible symptoms and a cause that isn’t easy to explain, you and your loved ones might come up with shorthand ways to describe it. And sometimes that “shorthand” leads to some head-scratching. Comedian Erik Rivera shared how his family talks about Parkinson’s, which might make you laugh if you’ve ever struggled to explain exactly what it is.

In June, Rivera posted a clip of his performance in the HBO comedy special “Entre Nos: Spot On” on Instagram. “Entre Nos: Spot On” originally aired in April and is part of a series of comedy specials featuring Latino comedians.

Rivera titled the clip he posted on Instagram “My Family Learning About Parkinson’s,” and explained in the caption that he decided to “take a risk” and talk about his father’s passing after a “long fight” with Parkinson’s disease.

“Comedy helped me deal with his fight and passing. Losing a parent is tough and talking about it on stage has not only helped me but also helped others who have lost family members,” Rivera said. “The outpouring of messages I received from people who saw my episode was overwhelming.”

Related:New Documentary Reveals Robin Williams's Struggle With Parkinson's Disease

In the clip, Rivera says his father died a little over a year ago and had Parkinson’s disease, the disease Michael J. Fox has, which is how the “older Latinos” in his family who couldn’t pronounce it would describe it — using Michael J. Fox movies.

“‘Oh, mira, he’s not doing so good, he has the ‘Back to the Future’ 1 and 2,'” Rivera quoted his relatives.

He said his mom is scared because she doesn’t know if Parkinson’s is genetic or not, so her solution is to tell him to stay away from “stuff that shakes.”

“She actually told me one time, ‘Mi hijo, don’t put your phone on vibrate and put it in your pocket, because then your ass…'” he said, miming shaking movement in his back pocket.

Watch the entire clip below:

Related:My Life Hacks for Living With Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition in which your body does not produce enough dopamine, a chemical that signals nerve cells in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra. This area of the brain is related to movement and reward. The lack of dopamine causes a loss of control over voluntary movement — intentional movement like walking and reaching for things. Symptoms include a tremor (shaking) in body parts like the hand or foot, not being able to move quickly and stiffness in the body. There are also a number of non-movement-related symptoms like apathy, depression, difficulty sleeping, cognitive difficulties, constipation, chronic pain, and a soft or slurred voice.

Scientists have identified a few genes that can increase your likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease, but this only makes up an estimated 15% of cases. Despite Rivera’s mom’s warnings, there is little a person can do to prevent themself from developing Parkinson’s — the specific cause is largely unknown though scientists have identified a few factors that can contribute, including genetics, age (your risk increases with each decade, with most cases presenting after age 50) exposure to pesticides and head injuries.

Related:My 3 Keys to Living With Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s is not typically considered a terminal illness. People with Parkinson’s are usually said to die “with” the disease rather than “from” it. However, there are some complications that can lead to death, such as pneumonia, falling, and dementia.

You can stream “Entre Nos: Spot On” on HBO Now.

For more insight into Parkinson’s disease, check out these stories by our Parkinson’s community:

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