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Apology to Dr Rowley; Shah offers concern for PM’s health and opens up on life with Parkinson’s Disease

I had no idea that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley might have been 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 might have an ailment which requires him to have a series of medical tests conducted in the USA, I felt I owed him a sincere apology, which I tender here.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. (Copyright Andrea De Silva)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright Andrea De Silva)

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 understand he may have health challenges, I think that, if so, 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.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and his wife Sharon Rowley during 2015 Emancipation Day celebrations.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and his wife Sharon Rowley during 2015 Emancipation Day celebrations.

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.

Photo: Columnist Raffique Shah. (Copyright TT Guardian)
Photo: Columnist Raffique Shah.
(Copyright TT Guardian)

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.

Photo: Late former global boxing icon Muhammad Ali (left) and United States actor Michael J Fox both suffered from Parkinson's Disease. (Copyright Rolling Stone)
Photo: Late former global boxing icon Muhammad Ali (left) and United States actor Michael J Fox both suffered from Parkinson’s Disease.
(Copyright Rolling Stone)

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.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley gestures to supporters at Balisier House after the election results on September 7. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley gestures to supporters at Balisier House after the election results on September 7.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Raffique Shah’s last column when he called on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to lift his game as Prime Minister.

About Raffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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56 comments

  1. But your mind remains as sharp as ever good job Mr. Shah.

  2. He too decent should not have said anything.

  3. My sympathies for your illness Mr. Shah. However my view on the lack of leadership in this country is that it is very closely related to our tendency to criticize without knowledge. So I hope that you take this to heart.

  4. Nuff respect Soldier,you continue to prove that you are a True Trinbagonian

  5. Mr Shah,I am glad that you can open up on your illness,it is not everyone will like others to know what they are suffering from,because some of us is very private ad we like to say it but sickness is for everyone wr do not go to the market and buy it,and some times we talk about it some will tell you I know of some who had that or this and they try a certain doctor or some thing that might help,but sometimes some say is better they do not know about it,If is for myself I like to know so if it could be treated early I take my treatment It is not sometimes the sickness that we die from is our pride,Ihave thyriod problems,Ihave glaucoma in my Left eye for the past ten years I am on drops and sometimes tablets,I am suffering from high Blood pressure I attend eye right for the past months I am not getting my drops at the Hospital Pharmacy and I have TO buy it,when Ido not my Tyroid medication I have to buy it and also my Pressure People in general diagnosis you before they know what is really wrong with you,when they saw I was getting small they said all sort I did not bother I went and got my Doctor opion and I was sent to do my test and I was told it was tyriod I am still being treated for it,It have learn to live with that,So whatever The Prime Minister have is not my concern every one wants their Privacy so let him have

  6. Respect to you RAF all the best ahead

  7. It s not right to be mean spirited.it s not good to wish ills on any one…the world is round..some ppl forget that.

  8. I just really fail to see why this is such a big issue. All heads of state, do at least annual checkups. They, also usually get the best health care available, regardless of the country they choose to go to, or have the medical professionals come from. All this speculation, is only encouraging the wheels of the rumor mill to keep turning, as well as bringing out that ugly side in us, we should always keep hidden. Yes, there needs to be transparency, but, wouldn’t it be wise to wait till he returns, and then address the problem???

  9. A serious case of “Foot in mouth disease” ???…Too late to say sorry because you cannot undo the “damage” done by your attack

  10. This is more like you Mr.Shah, I read your column which I thought was disrespectful and was unlike you. I have followed your writings for so long and never before I came to a conclusion of bias when addressing a Prime Minister, You came across like Ralph Maraj,which is unfair to you. Nice job in the Apology you made.

  11. Almighty Father – Bless our Prime Minister Dr. Keith Christopher Rowley to come back to Trinidad & Tobago with excellent bill of health so he could continue to guide this blessed country to the best of his ability – Blessings to the family

  12. Gosh! I wish Mr. Shah all the best as he battles this illness. Hoping his mind would stay as sharp as a tack for some time. We need his wit and perspective. As for Dr. Rowley..really hoping he’s not ill but rumours of this nature usually have some truth. Hopefully it’s not a serious or life threatening issue. Although plenty haters literally wishing de man dying?

  13. Mervyn Skeete, you gave me the opening I was looking for! Lol

  14. BTW, I understood some years ago…, may I add…..on many occasions, that the King of Calypso had died…as far as I know…HE IS STILL AROUND, probably not kicking, but he is around…life goes on.

  15. I salute you Raf for publicly facing your situation. No one in their sane minds would choose to be ill so there is no shame to be attached. With PD or any other debilitating ailment it is useful to simply accept and move on. With your attitude you are halfway there. I wish you strength to deal with this.

  16. Where this idea that Dr Rowley seriously ill come from? Keith make one statement about going on vacation and doing medical exams and we done buy candle for he funeral?
    This place!

  17. Let’s hope that Raf is with us in health for a long time. So many of the good ones are gone.
    Keith, all the best.

  18. excellent article, informative and can help those suffering from PD. it reminds me of our mortality, All the exercises we can do, but we don’t have a choice in which disease may inflict our bodies. blessings to you Sir

  19. And daiz why I would always like Raf

  20. Ahhh… That cruel paradox of living as healthfully as you can and still having to fight and live through serious disease.
    Here’s hoping he keeps churning out these columns for many more years to come.

  21. Earl Best

    Raf, Do you see the irony in this column appearing on the day when the front page of the Express is announcing the death of Makandal Geddes Granger Daaga? I hear that you were on the airwaves this morning talking about his death but I heard none of it.

    Can’t help wondering who will be on the radio to talk about you when your time comes, much later, we all hope, rather than sooner?

  22. This article illustrates why there are some of us who have deep respect for Raffique Shah. Integrity and a generous spirit.

  23. Wishing him a good, long, fight