Friday, May 11, 2018

Living the Dream

This morning I woke up, groaned because of the back ache and cramped leg, and gave thanks. One more day. It gets like that, at least it does for me. A couple of months into seventy years and sometimes it's too easy to dwell on age, health or lack of, and vanished memories and forgotten ambitions.

Recently, I've dealt with a partial torn rotator cuff and intense back spasms.  Neither of those experiences was much fun, but I learned a few things about myself.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. I had symptoms for years, but my suspicions weren’t confirmed until August 2016. Two years earlier I’d retired from my job as a legal aid lawyer, and I was just getting into the swing of things as a retired person: an idle man with time on my hands and a wife who goes a hundred miles an hour, every day, and who sees it as her duty to keep me occupied.  It was all good.

What the disease has meant for me is that I am in some type of organized physical activity five days a week. I burn calories in a spin class designed for PD, three times a week. It’s hard and sweaty. I’m in other classes that focus on balance, flexibility, coordination, and fighting back against the myriad of symptoms that can occur. I twist, turn and try to keep upright in PD yoga classes. I’ve met new people, and heard strange, sad, and even funny stories from these people about how PD has affected them.

One observation: where is mi gente? There are 17,000 people in Denver diagnosed with PD. I know it’s in the Latino community (two of my uncles had it.) And yet, when I attend my exercise classes or show up at a support group, guess who is the only person of color in the room? Doctors are notorious for not relaying information to patients that may be outside their usual practice. I had to find the PD organizations and advocacy groups on my own. Is that why there’s a lack of participation in the exercise classes by Latinos? Exercise is almost universally recognized as one method of slowing down the disease’s progress. So why isn’t everyone with a PD diagnosis in an exercise class? I’m troubled by what I see, and am thinking of what I can do about it, if anything.

I’m in pretty good shape, and I should be, given the level of my ongoing physical therapy and exertion. But I know I’m awkward, walk with a funny gait, and at times my tremors are a distraction. My muscles are permanently sore, and they are often stiff or numb.

However, I’m not on any special meds and I’ve tried to maintain a life of balance and creativity. I’m writing and recently turned in my latest novel to Arte Público Press for a planned September release. The title I’ve given it is The Golden Havana Night: A Sherlock Homie Adventure. In the past few months, I’ve published two short stories and have another one coming out this summer. I speak and make presentations to college classes and book clubs, and at literary events and book festivals. I’ve traveled to other countries and have trips planned for later this year. 

Overhead View of My Current Project
I recently returned to a hobby from my youth (building scale model hot rods and lowriders), partly because making these kits requires patience and focus, two things that can be lost to PD, but mostly because I’m a child of the 1950s, which means, in my view, that I see the world through sunglasses from the back seat of a customized cruiser with rock and roll or Chicano soul blasting my ears, and all I needed back then was to be cool and hip.

So my days of cool and hip may be over. Can’t say what’s in store for me; don’t think I want to know. One day at a time.


Parkinson's organizations for more info, news, and an opportunity to support research and clinical trials:


Manuel Ramos has three noir short stories in the literary pipeline: Night in Tunisia (Blood Business, Mario Acevedo and Joshua Viola, eds., Hex Publishing, 2017), Snake Farm (Culprits: The Heist Was Only the Beginning, Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips, eds., Polis Books, 2018), and Sitting Ducks (Blood and Gasoline, Mario Acevedo, ed., Hex Publishing, 2018). His next novel is scheduled for publication in September, 2018.


David Bowles said...

Sigues siendo cool y hip, no matter what befalls you, carnal!

Manuel Ramos said...

Gracias, David -- hope to see you soon in Denver.

Daniel Cano said...

Manuel, thanks for sharing your story. We, Chicanos(as), need to read more about ourselves, and not just the fiction we love writing, but about important issues that help inform others, like PD. I learned a lot just from your short piece. I suspect Raza doesn't like admitting that we suffer any maladies. We deal with it in private. Damn, my dad could be dying before asking for help or letting any one know he had a physical problem. Even when I go to the V.A., where you'd think there would be many Raza taking advantage of the services, no so. That's means we need to reach out and start our own teams, clubs, organizations, and groups. Congrats on your new novel.