“I was having dinner at Nick’s house,” Thompson recounts. “His dad’s girlfriend is an emergency-room physician who’s an ace diagnostician. She asked me a string of questions and had me do some fairly simple things and said, ‘That’s neurological — probably Parkinson’s.’
“I am ever in her debt.”
That June, the diagnosis was confirmed.
“Getting diagnosed with this disease is to have your world struck by a meteor, transformed to ash in an instant of unexpected impact,” says Peter Dunlap-Shohl, a former Anchorage Daily News political cartoonist who received a Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2002, at 43.
Thompson, though, found a certain silver lining. “Strangely enough, I was kinda relieved,” he says. “Just knowing what it is gave me some focus.”
His wife was blind-sided. “He has never taken care of himself, so I thought it was exhaustion,” Amy Thompson says of her reed-thin husband. “He had started to look like a zombie.” It hadn’t occurred to her that it could be something as serious as Parkinson’s.
He shared the news with his fans a year later on his “Cul de Sac” blog:
“For the last year or so, I’ve noticed a few odd symptoms: shakiness, hoarseness, silly walks, random clumsiness and the like. So the other day, I went to see a neurologist and, after having me jump through hoops, stand on my head and juggle chain saws, he said I’ve got Parkinson’s. It’s a pain in the fundament and it slows me down, but it hasn’t really affected my drawing hand at all and it’s treatable.
“And it could be a useful ploy in my ever-losing battle against deadlines.”
The first floor of Thompson’s house brims with a spirit as irrepressible as Alice — this is the eclectic stuff of life that collects in a creative home. “Our house is full of costumes, props and art supplies,” Thompson says, “some of it hard to explain or justify.”
Some is his wife’s work. She teaches theater at schools and in educational programs, including at the Folger Shakespeare Library. That explains the papier-mache donkey head on the dining room table, “ ‘ A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ ” Amy says. (Richard’s mother set them up after meeting Amy in a Gaithersburg bookstore. “Clearly we were meant for each other,” Amy says.)
The couple’s daughter Charlotte, 12, breezes in from school and starts telling her dad about her day as he pops his yellow pills for Parkinson’s. Emma, 15, isn’t home yet. Both daughters have asked whether they are the inspiration for Alice.