Health: David Beresford's diary

One of my earliest childhood memories was of my young mother, inexplicably on her hands and knees, crawling to open the front door. In later years she explained that she had suffered badly from arthritis, but her doctor had put her on what was then an experimental drug, cortisone. She said it had virtually cured her, but until her death in her 80s she claimed to be able to detect coming rain by a touch of the "old pain".

I suspect this story has much to do with the happy assumption I have enjoyed during my decade living with Parkinson's - a degenerative disorder of unknown origins for which there is no known cure - that before things degenerated too far, a pharmaceutical miracle would occur. Then I would live happily ever after with no signs of the dread disease apart from those occasions when I would point to distant clouds with a shaky finger and croak: "Here comes the rain."

I must admit that the brain pacemaker I will have implanted in seven weeks is not the magical remedy I had in mind. My belief in medical miracles was compounded a couple of years ago by a television documentary. It told the story of the extraordinary struggle by an Australian doctor, Barry Marshall, to prove that peptic ulcers were caused by bacteria. To overcome the disbelief of the medical profession - seemingly fed by the manufacturers of the highly lucrative drugs then used to treat ulcers - the doctor was reduced to swallowing the bacteria to bring on the ulcer and then cure it with an antibiotic.

The most exhilarating part of this documentary was an account given by an Aussie patient snatched from the surgeon's scalpel. He was about to undergo major surgery to remove an ulcer that, he confided to camera, caused him so much pain he had been considering suicide. On the day of the operation his surgeon arrived with the morning newspaper reporting Marshall's stunt. The surgeon asked his patient whether he wanted to explore it, or to go ahead with the operation. The patient opted for the miracle cure.

That was what I had anticipated would happen to me, which explains why I've spent much of the last 10 years anxiously, but confidently, scanning the horizon for the medical equivalent of the US Cavalry hurrying near. The curious thing is that from time to time I do hear their clarion call. But then it mysteriously disappears.

Take the case of the "dopamine hypothesis" and the Nobel prize winner. A couple of years ago I was watching a BBC programme on the latest Nobel laureates. I was particularly interested in the Swede who had been given the prize for medicine. Arvid Carlsson won it for his discovery, in the 1960s, of the role of dopamine in the functioning of the brain - probably the most significant breakthrough against Parkinson's to date.

In the course of the interview he was asked what were the latest developments in his line of research. Carlsson said they were working on a new line of drugs based on the dopamine hypothesis. He explained that Parkinson's and schizophrenia were believed to be two sides to one chemical coin - when the relevant brain cells produced too little dopamine the result was Parkinson's; too much and it was schizophrenia. The new line of drugs would reset the balance. The results were proving "miraculous", said Carlsson.

A new line of drugs that dealt with two of the more serious brain disorders afflicting mankind - I made some inquiries. Nobody had heard of it and all has gone quiet.

Then there was the widely publicised case of the film stuntman, Tim Lawrence, who was badly handicapped by Parkinson's and took solace in Birmingham nightclubs where his "thrashing around" (as one journalist put it) passed for dancing under the strobe lights. When he tried some ecstasy, he found he didn't need the strobes, the drug miraculously, if temporarily, curing him of his symptoms, enabling him to dance the night away. I have heard nothing more of the story since it broke early last year.

And, just a few weeks ago, there was talk of miraculous results in a trial of GDNF, a sort of fertilizer that when sprayed in a Parkinson patient's damaged brain restored it to the neuron equivalent of grade-A turf. Again, the excitement has been followed by silence.

But, I shall keep the faith as long as I can. I will take my laptop to hospital. When they come to lead me away with a shaven head I shall hurriedly log in to the Met office. I'll give a shout if there's a whiff of rain. It is important to me that these traditions be maintained.

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