Scott Vehill’s left hand claws, depending on how his Parkinson’s disease (PD) acts up on any given day. His clawed hand is named Parky, who plays a major role in Scott’s life and play. While Parky is witty and humorous, he was born out of a dark time in Scott’s life.
Scott has always loved the theater and is the co-artistic director of Prop, a theater company he helped create that manages two theaters in the Chicago area. While at work he began to notice that his left foot would sometimes drag and his left hand was slowly developing a tremor.
"It was three years of struggle, going down blind alleys" - Scott Vehill
It took years for Scott to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s. “It was three years of struggle, going down blind alleys,” Scott said. He went through many false diagnoses, from a rotator cuff injury to diabetic neuropathy, before he was told it was PD. “I get nervous just talking about it,” Scott said.
After the diagnosis Scott created a team, which consists of the medical professionals who help manage his PD. With a neurologist, psychologist, psychiatrist, primary care physician and regular group therapy sessions, Scott was fighting PD with all the resources he could muster. He had just started his fight when suddenly it hit him.
“It’s just that you don’t realize how strong the depression is going to hit,” Scott said. Scott believes he was suffering from three different types of depression at the same time – biological depression caused by the absence of dopamine and serotonin; depression onset by his diagnosis; and the underlying depression people can feel at any point in life.
“I went through a severe struggle,” Scott said. “I wound up in the hospital.”
While hospitalized, Scott and his team worked through his breakdown with the long-term goal of helping him cope with his diagnosis. Out of his depression came anger. Scott wanted to find a way to objectify this disease. With encouragement and help from his friends in his six-week group session, Scott had created and honed the idea of Parky. Parky would soon motivate Scott to go back to what he loves, the theater.
Prop, Scott’s theater company, was a founder for the Rhinoceros Theater Festival, the longest-running fringe festival in Chicago that features new plays performed by hundreds of artists. It was here that Scott performed his new show “Shaky Scotty Speaks and Sings.”
The play sums up Scott’s three-year PD story in less than an hour. His good friend, Aaron Freeman, interviews Scott on stage. Scott’s answers make an entire audience suddenly aware of Parkinson’s disease and its pitfalls. When Scott would get too detailed or morose Aaron and Parky would pull him out and change the subject. Parky stole the show with his mash-up of songs that include the word shake. While “Shaky Scotty Speaks and Sings” was only performed for the duration of Rhinofest, Scott is still entertaining the idea of performing the play again. However, to this day he still brings “Parky out to play,” he said.
He then transitioned into a love song dedicated to his wife, who is also his caretaker, which had the crowd singing along in tears.
“My kids and caregivers really get a kick out of Parky,” Scott said. “I continue to give joy to every one of my friends that I’ve made as a result to having Parkinson’s.”
When Scott attends Parkinson’s-related events and seminars he’ll sometimes introduce Parky to the group. In October 2015, Scott attended the National Parkinson Foundation’s yoga retreat for people with PD and their carepartners at Kripalu. “When I performed Shaky Scotty at Kripalu for the Parkinson’s group, it really hit home,” Scott said.
Scott’s brief performance at the yoga retreat received roaring laughter. His shaky-themed song mash-up was a hit. He then transitioned into a love song dedicated to his wife, who is also his caretaker, which had the crowd singing along in tears. “The hero of the story is the love of my life, my wife, Kristen. She really has been selfless in getting me through this,” Scott said.
Scott describes his PD story as a roller coaster. Scott understands that depression, side effects from his medicine and Parkinson’s symptoms are forever a part of his life, but he won’t let it consume him again. “You develop a resistance and resilience with this disease. You have to take the next step forward and find the joy that you can invoke every day,” Scott said.