Jon Hassler's best-loved fictional
character provides update on his health
Star Tribune staff writer
Published Apr 28, 2002
Editors note: Agatha McGee of fictional Staggerford, Minn., is the
opinionated heroine of the novels "Staggerford," "A Green Journey," and
the forthcoming "The Staggerford Floods" by Jon Hassler of Minneapolis.
Here's her news about Hassler's health:
"Be careful what you pray for, you might get it."
My novelist friend Jon Hassler made that blasphemous and uncharacteristic
remark one day recently, out of the blue. When I asked him to explain, he said it
had to do with his disability.
He said that it had been his prayer over the past eight years to be spared from
the further effects of Parkinson's disease. Last summer, in looking into the
possibility of brain surgery, he was told that he didn't have Parkinson's disease
after all. Good news! He had something much like Parkinson's, but rarer, called
Multiple Systems Atrophy. Bad news!
"Why bad news?" I asked him. I didn't see what possible difference it would
make to call a disability by a different name.
He explained that, having gone through life considering himself lucky, he had
assumed that his Parkinson's would someday be reversed with surgery, but now
he's had to develop a different mindset. He's had to consider that help is
hopeless, because there is no medicine to relieve the symptoms of MSA, and no
surgery to reverse its effect.
His major symptoms:
• Loss of balance. He has fallen 309 times over the past three years, still
(miraculously) with no broken bones, only scratches and bruises.
• Loss of dexterity. He can no longer do things that require small motor skills,
such as handle money or drive a screw into a wall.
• Loss of voice. He has difficulty making himself heard across a room.
• Loss of stamina. He tires easily and has become very fond of naps.
• Loss of the ability to lower the eyes, known to medical science as the
downward gaze syndrome.
"Well," said I, "it seems to me that at least you've finally lost your pollyanna
attitude. You always used to find a silver lining in every cloud, and to tell you
the truth, I found it rather tiresome."
"No, I havent lost it completely," he replied. "When my next novel, 'The
Staggerford Flood,' appears in October, my symptoms will keep me home from
a book tour, and I will be able to write full time."
Published by the Minneapolis Star Tribune on April 28, 2002