Time for a Coffee Brake


When I first noticed the twitching, it didn’t alarm me much.  I was sitting in church and glanced down at my left hand, resting on my leg. My left thumb was moving side to side slightly, without me telling it to do so. Weird, I thought, but we all sometimes get unexplainable twitches, twinges or pains that end up never happening again and not amounting to anything, right? I moved my hand and the twitching stopped. But when the twitching happened again the next day, I took more notice.  I remembered Michael J. Fox talking about his early signs of Parkinson’s disease—didn’t he say it began with hand twitching? I consulted the Internet, which is where we all go to get a good scare whenever we need more medical information, and it confirmed my suspicions. Though Fox’s first twitches were in his pinkie finger, when I Googled “thumb twitching” and “symptoms of Parkinson’s”, it all seemed to fit together. “Twitching stops when you apply pressure to the hand”.  Yep, that’s me.  I started visualizing me breaking the news to my family after the diagnosis…I would have never imagined this particular affliction happening to me…I could see my kids being sad at first, then angry and embarrassed at their twitching mom in public…


I told Andy what was going on.  He was concerned, but lifted my spirits a bit by saying, “Oh, I’ve had that happen before—haven’t you? Sometimes that happens to me for two or three days– my thumb will twitch, and then it goes away.”  He figured it was just stress, or nerves…no big deal…guess he hadn’t consulted the great Google. But I moved on, hoping it would truly be no big deal.


The twitching didn’t stop after 2-3 days. It kept going, and got more frequent. What was once only something I’d notice a couple times a day became constant. Whenever my left hand was at rest, that thumb would start moving, wider and more pronounced, like some alien somewhere was pulling a string and moving it side to side. I’d be at a stoplight, or sitting at my desk, or lying in bed, and I could have been playing a thumb drum at the same time.  Even when I would press my thumb into the steering wheel or press it hard into my mattress so that the twitching would stop, I could still feel a pulsating sensation.  It was SO ANNOYING…not to mention making me more and more worried, and Andy, too.  I’d catch it happening and show him, like some freakish party trick.  “Whoa, there it goes—check it out,” I’d say.  But after a week, just when I was about to make a doctor’s appointment, it stopped.   And boy did it feel good.  My whole arm and hand felt liberated.  A couple days later, it started up again. Why???? I vaguely remembered one of the “other things” mentioned online as a possible cause of thumb twitching—“caffeine”.  Is it possible I didn’t have any coffee on those “twitch-free” days? I went back over what I could remember about the previous weekend…it was possible, but…I’ve been drinking coffee for so long, why wouldn’t I have been twitching all along? I dismissed that notion, and went right on drinking coffee and twitching and worrying for another week, too busy and too scared to make a doctor appointment. 

Just when I had had enough and even Allison was asking me to make the call, I imagined going to the doctor and paying for a visit only to have him ask me, “Have you tried cutting out caffeine?” I thought I better make a concerted effort to do that before tapping into our limited health insurance dollars.  Besides, I hadn’t really stuck to giving up anything for Lent yet, and coffee sounded like a good candidate for self-denial.  Something I really enjoyed but didn’t need…


And so, the next morning I didn’t have any of the pot of Starbucks Ground Breakfast Blend that Andy had brewed.  And the twitching stopped.  And the following day, I denied myself my favorite pastime once again, and still, no twitching.  And I mean none. No half-hearted twitches, no pulsating feeling, not even a slight tingle. Nothing. I haven’t had real coffee since mid-March, and I’ve had zero thumb twitching since then as well.  Even after Easter when I started drinking…wince…DECAF (which still includes a tiny amount of caffeine), no twitching!  So, even though Internet info caused me to worry unnecessarily, it also gave me the information I needed to figure out what was really going on. (I read further, and apparently too much caffeine can be the cause of “twitchy eye” as well!)  It’s hard to be a Decaf Drinker now, and hard for Andy, too, because he’s drinking it right along with me.  Did you know at most coffee shops, there’s only ONE flavor choice for decaf? The indignation! And, it’s harder now to “wake up” in the morning, but I’m just going to have to find another way, like GETTING MORE SLEEP…what a concept…


Meanwhile, around the same time I gave up real coffee, my oldest teen started getting “into” it.  (Well, if you consider “frappes” to be “real” coffee…)  Around here, going to Starbucks before or after school, or after a movie, is “the place to see and be seen” for teens, it’s like the “Peach Pit” or “Arnold’s” of the millennial generation… so naturally I guess many teens are developing an affinity for anything served by the java giant…coffee, tea, cake balls, indie music…Recently Allison was so motivated to try to stay more focused and awake in classes, she made me a grocery list of breakfast items that included more high-protein choices, like “spicy chicken biscuits”, and, bottled Starbucks Mocha Frappucino, “a lowfat, creamy blend of Starbucks coffee and milk”.  Hmmm…I read the Nutrition Facts before placing it in my shopping cart…20% RDA for calcium? I went for it, and soon every morning I’d hear the sound of the  blender as I walked into the kitchen, as she made her own frothy “frappe” with crushed ice and half of the bottled coffee mixture, and poured it into a tall glass.  I was so amazed and thrilled this was motivating her to get up earlier in the morning, I didn’t care that it was also starting her down Espresso Road, just like I did as a teen, first starting with the sweet-yet-wimpy General Foods’ International “Café Vienna” and ending up years later with a twitching left thumb and so loving coffee I even re-heat it after it has sat in Andy’s “Dad Can Fix Anything” mug for several days,  just so I can drink it as soon as possible in the morning and won’t have to take time to make a new batch…


But when Emmie grabbed one of the Frappuccinos the other day and happily downed it, I wondered if I, and our society, have truly hit a new low.  “You actually like it?” I asked my 13-year-old.  I mean, underneath all that sugar and milk, there really is coffee, and your tongue definitely notices it, bitter after-taste and all…she nodded yes as she slurped away, then reminded me of the “Reach” auctions that used to take place when she was in elementary school, where, at the end of the year, they got to use their “workles”, or points they’d earned for good behavior/good ideas throughout the year, and bid on items the kids would bring.  Each kid got to bring three items.   It originally was supposed to be items from home that the kids didn’t want any more, you know, kind of a “one person’s trash is another’s treasure” kind of thing, but over the years, the kids started bringing “new” stuff, like candy and soda, which would earn the seller lots more workles than, say, a used Nerf football.  The kids took note of what items brought in the most workles each year, and those items became, for many, the standard thing to bring to the auction.  Some of the highest bids always went to four-packs of…you guessed it…Starbucks Frappucinos.  “I saw lots of kids use their entire year’s worth of workles, like 2,000, to get Starbucks Frappucinos,” Emmie recalled. 


“How young were the kids who’d win them?” I asked.


“Sometimes, fourth grade,” she said.

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