General

Hit me again, Sam

While flipping channels hoping to find something interesting or exciting, I came across Larry King talking to Michael J Fox. Fox had just published his sort of autobiography, Lucky Man: A Memoir. During the interview, Fox said convincingly that he found himself to be a happier and better man after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In his book, he told his audience that he knew he had the disease at the time he signed up to do “Spin City” which he eventually gave up in 2000 because he could not carry on with acting career any more. When he shocked the world with the revelation of his conditions in 1998, he had already been battling with the debilitating disease for seven years. There were details about how he asked his son Sam who was five years old then to squeeze or twist his thumb in a bid to control his involuntary muscle movements. And when it did not seem to work, Fox would ask his son to do it again.

Somehow, it reminds me of a bar tender in a rather famous bar in Central more than 30 years ago. He was also called Sam. As with any bar tender worth his salt, he always remembered our names and on a good day would call us by first names. I recall an evening when my friend and I were drinking Pimm’s, and in order to be thorough, we started with Pimm’s No. 1 as Sam explained to us the principal constituents of each. By the time we got to No. 7, Sam said there was no more. But we won’t take no for an answer and kept asking Sam to hit us again. The clever Sam went behind the bar, came out and assured us that he had found three more recipes, from Pimm’s No. 8 to No. 10, but no more. We thought that was fair, and so we went through all ten, by which time we could not tell the difference. Later, we found out that Sam simply re-started with No. 1 and stirred each drink with any other drink closest to his thumbs.

Fox also described his drinking problem, his early career, his height problem and so on. His book received many positive reviews. He has won praises for his candour and humour mixed with irony and a few tears. There are tributes for the parts on his disease, which would be a great help towards understanding of these patients and their conditions, so much so that a reviewer has said that the book should be called “Lucky Us” because anyone who reads it can’t help walking away feeling “richer, inspired, and more appreciative of the fact that the upsides and downsides of life sometimes coincide.”

Another celebrity hit by a rare disease similar to Parkinson’s and who had recently left us is Dudley Moore. I have always liked the actor and the characters he became famous for portraying. I had a very good friend who would call me whenever Arthur was screened on TV. Moore became very ill towards his last days, but in the words of his closest friends, he had found solace in love and laughter. Moore had what is called progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) which is a degenerative brain disorder and which had caused him problems in moving about, in speech and in playing the piano. Subsequent analyses transpired that he had early symptoms for a few years when his unsteadiness and slurred speeches sparked rumours that he had become the Arthur he had portrayed. Those not so close to him had thought that he had a drinking problem, but actually it was never as serious as people had thought.

Moore found out in 1998 he had PSP, and all of a sudden, he could explain past episodes of memory lapses which had serious embarrassments resulting from him not registering he had been to recent places and so on. The disease has no known cure. It causes damage to the part of the brain which controls balance and speech and only strikes one in 100,000. In his usual humour, he said he had taken on the disease to spare 99,999 others.

I have always known that alcohol can cause permanent damage to brain cells which are irreplaceable. The good news is that an average person can hardly use more than one-tenth of the brain cells he is born with, and one hopes that the damaged cells are those that had never been or would never be used. Wherever I am in such moods, I think of Winston Churchill and his words, “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.”

The watering hole in Central I mentioned earlier has long gone and I have not met Sam for at least 25 years. But I am positive that I can recognize him if I meet him. In my dreams, I figure myself walking into a bar saying, “Hit me again, Sam.”

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