Living with Parkinson’s

By Raffique Shah
August 11, 2016

Raffique ShahI had no idea that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley was seriously ill when I slammed into him last week for failing to take full charge of his responsibilities to the country. Upon reading that Dr Rowley’s ailment required him to have a series of medical tests conducted in the USA, I felt I owed him a sincere apology, which I tender here.

You see, in the years I’ve known him, I considered Keith an exemplar of fitness that those who hold public office should emulate. Because of my training, lifestyle and experience, I’ve often advised holders of high office with whom I’ve interacted that whatever the demands on their time they should set aside at least one hour a day for some form of exercise.

Sleep and rest are also important. It makes no sense to boast of working 24-hour-days when mental stress and physical fatigue are taking a toll on your health. Also, since most such office-holders are over age fifty, and many past sixty, the risks of breakdowns are much higher.

In Keith’s case, I foolishly assumed that fitness meant good health. I, more than most people, should have known better, as I shall explain later. I could not understand why the robust-looking PM was not marshalling his forces to deal with the many problems/that plague the nation.

Now that I know he has health challenges, I think that he must attend to them, and whether he seeks medical treatment in the USA or China cannot be an issue as some of his critics are saying. I imagine if his as yet unspecified illness could be effectively treated locally, he would have done so.

The issues I raised last week regarding leadership and governance remain valid. In fact, if for health reasons Rowley cannot resume duties, try to figure out who is a suitable replacement, in the PNM or outside of it. A frightening scenario, isn’t it? There is a dearth of leadership material in this country that is unbelievable, even as we boast of achievements in education, entrepreneurship, shattering the gender glass ceiling, offering copious opportunities to young people and more.

As much as I have problems with the way the nation has been drifting in and out of political paralysis, I shudder to think it could get worse, not before it gets better, but before it gets worst.

Chew on that while I bare my body and my soul to readers.

Those who know me well can attest that for most of my life I have stayed fit-running or jogging from my teens into my 60s until a bad bicycle fall reduced me to power-walking three to four miles on a daily basis.

I have no lifestyle diseases, contracting asthma in my 40s, but keeping that well under control.

So when my walking pace of approximately fifteen minutes per mile began decreasing at age 65, I wrote it off to the ageing process. Problems with balance? Ageing. Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)? Ageing. Diminishing sense of smell? Ageing.

By age 66, I decided to check a neurologist, and although he could not confirm it, he said I showed symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). To say I was stunned is an understatement. I was disappointed. I mean, I had exercised all my life, and while I did not adhere to eating only healthy foods, even putting on extra pounds at times, I could always run a mile in an acceptable time.

Now, approaching 70, when I should enjoy the fruits of my fitness regime, I faced living with PD, a debilitating disease for which there is no cure.

These grim prospects did bother me, but I soon decided that I would fight this beast the way I did other adversities in my chequered life, and even if I lost the battle, I’d go down fighting.

I took consolation from the fact that two of my heroes, Muhammad Ali and CLR James, also had PD, and they coped with it for more than 20 years, staying mentally active if not physically robust.

Parkinson’s, which is a brain condition, has affected me: I can no longer walk far or fast enough for exercise purposes. But I have adjusted nicely to a bike that gives me a good sweat every day. I do not have tremors in my hands, but my legs act up at times. And because of balance problems, I exercise caution whenever I walk. I hardly ever leave the comfort and familiarity of my home, but I stay reasonably active and I’m coping well.

I’ve meant to write this column for some time. However, when I read of Keith’s health issues, I thought: what better time?

As my doctor says, when we age, the risks of contracting debilitating diseases increase exponentially.

We learn to live with them even as we battle against them.

5 Responses to “Living with Parkinson’s”


  • My heart reaches out to you as you cope with PD. You have fought many battles in your life but this may be the most difficult. I know you will oovercome. Keep fighting and writing.

  • Thanks for sharing as difficult as that maybe, we all come with a time clock operating in us and it seems as though that clock always win. I had good health until 50 when I fell ill after eating some bad food, since that time I have had numerous minor health issues. One is decrease hearing and a bit of tinnitus.
    Yes it is something that is kept silent because we live in culture that values strength, beauty and youthfulness. Everyone is doing something to turn back that clock.

    In some eastern cultures getting old is accepted as part of life and seniors are highly respected for their wisdom. In Japan the old man sitting at the head of the table in the board room is shown the utmost respect. In India it is expected that the children will take care of the elders. That culture values the elderly. The thinking is that when you were a child your parents took care of you, now it’s your turn to care of them.

    Just this week I was discussing the status of a dear old lady with her eldest son. She is the mother of 14 children and many grand and great grand yet the only place they could find to care for her was a home for the aged. She is slim physically fit, very mobile but shows slight mental deterioration. Her children whom she pushed to get an education, funded their education only to discover they were the first to decide on the home for the aged. That is the generous thank you she got.

    Anyways I could go on but end with this, an Indian man bought a nice beautiful house but choose to place his mom in a home for the aged. Nearing the end of her life she asked her son to come she wanted to tell him something. He came held his mother hand and she said to him “son I am about to die but I want to tell you something the food here had too much salt and the place is very hot and very uncomfortable at nights”. The son interrupted her he said “mama why are you telling me this now?”. She said “son I know my time has now come to an end but I wanted to warn you son because I love you, when your time come, do not let your children put you here”.

  • Some, possibly all of us do come to challenging medical situations in our respective lives. I remember you well Raff with colleagues such as Basdeo Panday, the late Norman Girwar, Winston Dookeran etc. who have fought and represented your respective interests at the Board level of Caroni. I need to compliment you for the openness and honesty you shared wit your article.

    I read with interests the articles you wrote about Caroni and I agree with you and as much I wanted to get involved in the dissertation I thought it was wise to watch out for my blood pressure. I really do not have much to say about Sat as you connected with in your first article. I had my battles with the parasitic management of Caroni at the time and I saw first hand what was taking place under the PNM regime of the 80s including the satellites of Distillery, Mon Jaloux etc. Would you believe a former Minister of the said government calling directly and issuing direct instructions to me for her benefit bypassing the CEO, General manager? From that moment when I referred her to the chain of command I understood what vindictiveness meant as Frank Rampersad asked me “what did I do to that woman?”.

    I read up quite a bit on this debilitating disease and I wish you God’s blessings.

  • There comes a time in everyone’s life when it becomes palpably apparent that one has more past than future. Even if in good health, one feels the mortal coil slipping away.

    To those who have led active physical lives — athletes, old soldiers eh Raff — it takes some getting used to, as the body becomes ever more disobedient. Mind over matter becomes a wry joke, as body simply is unable to follow mind where mind used to take it and with ease.

    I too am at that point, so I can feel compassion for Raff, and for Keith. May all of us so positioned find comfort in a merciful Creator, and adapt with grace to growing old, dignity intact, and ideally unbothered by physicians, needles, drips, drugs and the like.

    I must say something about the condition of our Prime Minister, Dr. The Honourable Keith Rowley. With no intention of disrespect, I call our brother simply Keith, following Raff.

    I do not know our brother Keith at all, nor his doctors, nor have I been privy to any gossip about his condition. I have been given certain information about it by Spirit, and am obliged to pass it on. I regret that it must be public.

    It is indeed a serious illness. The cure for this illness does not, repeat not, rest with his physicians. The cure must be found in the spiritual realm. But, some medical intervention by physicians may also be necessary, as was the case with Hezekiah:

    “… Let them take a lump of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover.” (Isaiah 38:21)

    However, our brother Keith was right in surmising that what he needs above all are prayers.

    What he must also now be told is that the greatest and most fervent prayers must come from him, as it was with Hezekiah:

    “In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith Yahweh, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live. Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto Yahweh, And said, Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.” (Isaiah 38:1-3)

    Our brother Keith must do as we all must at some point, namely kneel and humble oneself before the Creator, confess and repent sin, and beg humbly for forgiveness.

    In Hezekiah’s case, the forgiveness was immediate, and he was given an extra 15 years. Before Isaiah could make his way out of the palace grounds, the word of Yahweh came unto him:

    “Then came the word of Yahweh to Isaiah, saying, Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith Yahweh, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.” (Isaiah 38:4-5)

    The matter is that serious. But equally I’m given that our brother Keith’s time may be extended, as it was with Hezekiah.

    But he must make peace with the Most High. Under no circumstances should he go to “Papa Neezer”, or — as King Saul once did to no avail,– to the proverbial “witch at En-dor”. This is not a matter for a “National Day of Prayer”, or for the idol worshipers of the IRO. Let all who wish to do so, say their prayers in private by all means, for the fervent prayer of a believer availeth much. But as mentioned, in this case, our brother Keith is specifically called, himself, to repentance. Without that, the physicians will have no success.

    Our brother Keith is required to humble himself before God, –and (privately) before such men that he may have wronged,– and confess his sins. Yes, he may remind God also, as did Hezekiah, of all the good he has done, of which I’m sure there is much, but the focus must be on confession and repentance.

    God is a merciful God and will extend his time, but he must himself beg.

    Otherwise, his time for this world is no more than about a year.

    May the Most High look down upon our brother Keith in this hour of personal crisis, have mercy upon him, and restore him to health, that he may continue to serve this nation, and do so in a way of which the Most High will be well pleased.

    Shalom.

  • Raff, age or untimely death catches with us no matter who we are, where we are from or from whatever stock we belong to. Recently, our good friend Mamoo got into the predictability business by forecasting the PNM leaders die between the ages of 69 or 70. I find his action loathsome and out of taste but there are those who would stop at nothing to exhibit their hate.
    Even if I were to harbor such a thought in mu mind there is no way I will utter a word about it for public consumption. But some of us are thoughtless and careless in venting our political woes and don’t know when to to apply commonsense and tact.

    Raff, as an ex-soldier myself, each of us face the challenges of aging. I too was surprised when diagnosed with a thyroid related condition and other lifestyle disease. I quickly learned to accept my new conditions and remain committed to the cures and lifestyle changes necessary to cope. One of the myths of our invincibility as young soldiers is that as long as we keep fit we shall remain so. Just this week, I was forced to reflect on the passing of one of my “batch”. He was very popular and had many accomplishments in and out of the military. Even some of his children are successful military careerists. so, his name will still live on in “the wok”. Most of “my batch” have ailments and we communicate regularly. Doing so, allow us to feed strength and companionship to each other. This to me is a form of therapy and I encourage those who wonder whether they are alone to share with those closest to them.

    As we ponder on whats ailing Dr. Rowley, party affiliation should not be the first choice of consideration. Our country is in deep trouble. Those who got us there are pointing their fingers at others and while they are doing so, they can offer no valid solutions to the deep troubles that we are in. If this country continues on this course unabated, we might end up a lost people.
    It is my hope through this medium, we can share hope, wisdom and
    welfare to those who would accept them. Our messages might come in different forms but we should be able to identify good when it comes our way.

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