Doc’s book aims to in­spire oth­ers pa­tients

Geelong Advertiser - - WEEKEND EXTRA -

“It did in some ways, in other ways it didn’t ... but I was able to re­cover enough to get back to some part time work in Gee­long in 2007 and I started a clinic from home treat­ing peo­ple with chronic fa­tigue syn­drome.”

But within a few years a new chal­lenge pre­sented it­self when Dr Som­mer was di­ag­nosed with Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

“The chronic fa­tigue syn­drome ap­par­ently would have been early Parkin­son's,” he ex­plains.

“I’ve met a num­ber of other peo­ple with Parkin­sons who had a num­ber of years of chronic fa­tigue-like prob­lems be­fore their Parkin­son's be­came ob­vi­ous.

“You can get early sort of ill­ness be­fore you get the move­ment dif­fi­cul­ties. It’s a new un­der­stand­ing.

“It doesn’t hap­pen to ev­ery­one but par­tic­u­larly with young peo­ple, like my­self, it’s not un­com­mon.”

Dr Som­mer re­acted to al­most ev­ery Parkin­son’s med­i­ca­tion he tried, and had to ded­i­cate him­self to yoga and ex­er­cise to keep his move­ment up.

He’s found the old say­ing to be true: doc­tors re­ally do make the worst pa­tients.

“You def­i­nitely know too much when you know all the com­pli­ca­tions and po­ten­tial out­comes,” he said.

De­spite his best ef­forts his bal­ance de­te­ri­o­rated and Dr Som­mer now gets around with the aid of a walker at home and a wheel­chair in pub­lic.

His in­tel­lect, how­ever, has been un­af­fected and the book gave him a rea­son to get out of the bed on morn­ings when fall­ing into a pit of de­pres­sion would have been the easy op­tion.

“Six years ago I started putting to­gether what my wife called ‘raves’. She’d say, ‘you’re hav­ing a rave again, why don’t you go to a com­puter and open a file called raves and start writ­ing into it?’,” Dr Som­mer re­called.

“So I did start do­ing that and they ul­ti­mately be­came the ba­sis of the book. I de­vel­oped these es­says and then I would layer them with sto­ries of peo­ple I have met, in­spir­ing pa­tients that I had and then wove my own story into it as well.”

His de­ter­mi­na­tion was fur­ther spurred on by a near-death ex­pe­ri­ence in 2012 when he was hos­pi­talised for the fourth time in a year with ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis — an in­flam­ma­tory bowel dis­ease — weigh­ing just 40kg.

At this time he re­alised that if he died, all the in­sights he’d gained over his years as a doc­tor and pa­tient would die with him.

In the 23 chap­ters of the book, Dr Som­mer ex­plores the con­nec­tion be­tween mind and body, the im­por­tance of pur­pose and mean­ing, at­ti­tudes to­wards dy­ing and his ex­pe­ri­ence find­ing hu­mour while heal­ing.

“Keep­ing my sense of hu­mour was one of the things that kept my san­ity. I al­ways try and look on the funny side of life,” he said.

His chap­ter on CFS talks of the chal­lenge of “va­lid­ity” sur­round­ing the syn­drome and need for so­cial sup­port.

It has in­spired the ba­sis of his next book, based solely on CFS, which he hopes to have fin­ished by the end of the year.

“It’s so mis­un­der­stood and that was the hard­est thing that I faced. As a doc­tor it was al­most mul­ti­plied be­cause it was the weird­est thing hav­ing peo­ple not be­lieve that I was re­ally un­well,” Dr Som­mer said.

“Peo­ple turn their backs on you like you’ve sud­denly changed who you are and you’re putting them on.”

His sup­port­ive wife Tori, a chi­ro­prac­tor by train­ing, had to stop work once her hus­band’s needs be­came too great but has re­cently un­der­taken an art de­gree at Deakin Uni­ver­sity while car­ing for him at home where the pair live with their two cats, Claude and Pip.

Now 56, Dr Som­mer is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether he is a suit­able can­di­date for deep brain stim­u­la­tion surgery, which could help re­duce or man­age his Parkin­son’s symp­toms. His un­der­stand­ing of the med­i­cal re­search in­dus­try gives him con­fi­dence a cure for both Parkin­son’s and CFS can be found.

In the mean­time he hopes his book will help oth­ers main­tain hope, health and well­be­ing, against the odds.

“Things are chang­ing all the time. New dis­cov­er­ies are be­ing made all the time,” he said.

“If you hang in there long enough, tech­nol­ogy will catch up and you will keep go­ing.”

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