Parkinson’s in the workplace – Sheenagh’s Story
Monday, 30th March 2020

Our Pause 4 Parkinson’s campaign this year shines a light on the impact of a Parkinson’s diagnosis on your career. Employment and career progression add to the stress of a diagnosis with people questioning their ability and what the future holds.

Sheenagh Bottrell was employed as a Registered nurse working in a busy General practice in Canberra when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at 47. Her story is one of resilience and acceptance.

She first became aware of her symptoms when walking with a friend who commented “you look like you’ve had a stroke” as she was limping and not swinging her left arm. Sheenagh had seen her GP and was told she had bursitis in her shoulder and thought she was just protecting her shoulder by not swinging her arm. However she then noticed that her hand was slow to respond when she was brushing and drying her hair.

She had also developed a sore left foot and after walking the streets of London it became very painful. An MRI later showed that she had dislocated a toe, which required orthotics and eventually an operation on her foot. It didn’t really improve until she started on levodopa which improved her walking 100%, although when her medication is wearing off she sometimes starts to limp again. She can now wear normal shoes again, which is great as she loves shoes!!

Sheenagh found her voice became quiet as her husband was often asking her to repeat what she said, and he was always telling her to smile when taking photos, when she thought she was smiling. Again these symptoms improved with the levodopa.

When Sheenagh was first diagnosed there was no real impact on her work, but as her hands slowed she did become aware that doing certain procedures in the medical practice became challenging. The first time it really impacted in the workplace was after a fall which resulted in a fractured hand and she had to wear a brace which made it difficult to perform some of her duties like giving children’s immunisations. Sometimes patients would notice her limp and ask questions.

Sheenagh’s employer was very supportive and assisted with anything she needed including time off to go to neurologist appointments in Sydney.  She continued to work 3-4 days a week until 2017 when her husband took an overseas transfer.

Since returning to Australia Sheenagh has not returned to work and wants to help raise awareness about young onset Parkinson’s.

“I was selective who I told initially especially patients at work but now I feel much more comfortable talking about it as I am very lucky my progression has been slow. My neurologist gave me a good piece of advice which I often pass on. He said to not make Parkinson’s a focus of my life, but to live life to the best of my ability,” said Sheenagh.

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month and our annual Pause 4 Parkinson’s campaign. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the current very difficult financial circumstances many people are facing we are changing the way we deliver our campaign this year.

We are asking you, our Parkinson’s community, to share your own inspirational stories to help others living with this debilitating disease.