Rex Moore: Richard—a short story about a man living with Parkinson's disease

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      Recently, I was referred to a speech pathologist at Lions Gate Hospital. We met over the course of two months and had four meetings in order to try and strengthen my voice. Most days at various times it becomes weak and barely audible, making it hard for anyone to understand me as I struggle with Parkinson's disease.

      These meetings included rigorous home exercises every day between sessions.

      At home when the house was empty of other humans, I would begin while our dog, Henry, stared at me with a bemused expression from his perch on the couch.

      I slogged through these repetitive exercises of which the primary one was finding a comfortable range and saying Ahh for as long and as loudly as possible. I had to time and record each Ahh and my best ones would last for 15 to 20 seconds, while at times my voice would crack after only five to 10 seconds.

      At the end of my sessions the pathologist asked me to attend a regularly scheduled meeting of a group of People with Parkinson's [PWP] who gather each week to practise their exercises in a group setting.

      I asked about the group's make-up and was told it varied in age and severity of the members' conditions.

      When I entered the windowless room the first PWP I encountered was a 74-year-old man named Richard. He was a writhing mass of flailing arms and claws. Bobbing and weaving and wacked out from too much dopamine, he mumbled a few inaudible sounds in my direction.

      Next to him was a woman propped up in her chair by her head, which was resting in the corner of the armrest. Next to her was another older man who was kind of a combination of the first two.

      Obviously, this was a little distressing as I looked and listened to the other attendees and determined that I was head and shoulders above this group. I didn’t want to be a witness to the struggles of these brave souls, especially when it could be my turn sometime down the road. I started to look for a way out.

      In the meantime the group started to work on their Aahs and I joined in half-heartedly.

      On the first go round after 10 to 15 seconds most of us petered out, but then a strong AAH emerged from the group and to my surprise, it was Richard. He was thrashing away in his chair, mouth wide open for all to see, a twinkle in his eyes, a smile of pride evident in his bobbing head and twisting face. He just kept on Aahing away and as the seconds ticked by the rest of us went from a respectful silence and nodding encouragement to a grin-suppressing, hand-over-mouth cover-up, as Richard droned on. At 40 seconds the pathologist turned away in her chair to suppress her laughter as Richard rotated again and again to make sure everyone had a look into his pie hole. At 55 seconds the old man of steel finally gasped for air, at which point the rest of us were in silent convulsions.

      We tried a few more group Aahs but Richard couldn’t match his opening salvo as he hacked away each time with explosions of coughing, spittle, and bluster.

      Needless to say I didn’t go back to that class and the next day I retold the story to my barber, who was cracking up when she asked me “was his name Richard?” She had a part-time job as a receptionist at Richard’s seniors residence.

      She informed me that Richard was a remarkable man who, between his thrashing bouts, often recounted some of his life experiences to her.

      She also informed me that he was a dedicated member of a troika [he and two women] who met every evening at 5 p.m. for a glass of red wine and a discussion of that day's events.

      About two weeks later at the Rugby Sevens tournament, between games, I was retelling this story to a old friend whose mother I knew lived in the same complex.

      When I finished recounting the story my friend he looked at me and said “I was going to interrupt you to tell you that my mum is one of those two women who meet up with Richard, but I just didn’t think it could be possible.”

      Richard, it is a small world, and your life looks to the outsider like it must be a living hell, but your attitude and strength of character will make the footprint you leave a great deal larger.