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You will enjoy this psychological suspense



Chapter 7 - The Hand Tremors


Information: Three dots (...) indicate that a part of the text has been omitted.

shyness

Shaky Hands

 

On a Thursday afternoon, in early February 1965, Joman is attempting to quickly fix and saw a half-karat diamond, which is the beginning of the cut and polish procedure, when the stone falls from his hand.

“You got a loose, shaky hand today?” Aristides kids him, interrupting his own work.

“It sure looks that way.”

Joman is embarrassed. He picks up the stone, makes sure it is undamaged, and goes back to work. He muses that this has not happened more than five times in the twelve years he has worked in this profession. Thus, what happened just now is a simple accident, period. He has always had a steady hand, but he now decides to be more careful and continues his work.

...

Yet, early on Monday morning, another diamond drops from his hand.

“What’s the matter, Joman?” Aristides asks incredulously. “Is there some problem?”

“It’s odd.”

Before bending over to pick up the stone, he raises his right hand and observes it. He thinks that he sees some slight shaking. He then lifts his left hand and looks at both hands; his initial impression seems to be confirmed. Aghast, he widens his eyes. His companion has interrupted what he was doing and now looks at him and asks, “Any problem?”

“Woe! Woe! Woe! I am afraid my hands are trembling...or is it just an impression? Take a look here.”

...

The Physicians’ Opinion

At the Clinic Hospital, a teaching hospital, he is already well known to the staff. They send him to a G.P., who looks at his historical data and asks him about the tremors. The G.P. asks about his personal and family background and does a physical exam, especially of the hands. Then he says, looking again at his papers, “As far as I can see, a colleague of mine wrote here that you are a hypochondriac. This shaking could be a manifestation of that.”

“I didn’t know that, doctor. What kind, I mean, of illness is that?”

“It’s a psychic disturbance, which makes people feel physical things. Are you facing some kind of trouble now? Any problem at work, at home, any major concern of any kind at all?”

“No, doctor. I guess, I mean, I am having the normal problems of life. I mean, until this shaking of the hands appeared.”

“ Are you sure that no one in your family ever had a similar problem?”

“I reckon I couldn’t be sure because I have some kin folks in Portugal, and, I mean, I don’t know any of them.”

The doctor notices that he seems scared, his face muscles contracted, so he thinks for a while and then says, “Tell you what, I’ll prescribe a mild tranquilizer so you can sleep better, and then I’ll send you to a gland specialist and another specialist of the nervous system—neurologist is the name—for expert evaluations. I’m sure one of them will discover the causes of the hand tremors.”

That same day, he remembers his uncle Cândido, who has been dead now for ten years. He calls a cousin, Cândido ’s son, who works in a public office, and finds out that his uncle’s illness started with tremors. The news scares him out of his wits.

He saw his uncle twice in Belo Horizonte, the first time when his uncle was under the weather and the second when the disease had already reached its terminal stage. Joman recalls vividly his second visit. His blind uncle, very thin and frail, was confined to bed, wailing and shouting all the time. He associates the two cases, and fears he will meet the same fate as his uncle. On the edge of despair, he spends a practically sleepless night, even after having taken the doctor-prescribed relaxant.

...

The physician does the physical exam, tests several parts of his body, and finally tells him, “The neurological exam is practically normal.” But before Joman sighs in relief, he adds, “Except, of course, for this tremor, which has lessened the strength in your hands.”

“Do you, I mean, I mean, think that this is something serious, Doctor Claudiano?” He is really stammering and stuttering now.

“Too early to tell. I’m requesting some exams.”

...

Raising his head, the doctor takes off his glasses, rubs his hair from front to back, smiles at Joman, and says, “Congratulations! You have no gland problem.”

Joman lowers his head, raises it again, and seems disappointed. “Not even, I mean, a little bit of hypoglycemia doctor?”

“Nope. Your glucose is about as normal as it could ever be.” The doctor smiles again.

Joman feigns happiness at the news to please the doctor. It’s par for the course for him to make sure that people are pleased. But behind his pretense lurks the dark cloud of his uncle’s illness.

...

When he enters the neurologist’s office, after undergoing all the exams required, his legs feel weak and he is short of breath. He is very afraid about the results of the exams. Doctor Claudiano looks at the papers, the X-rays, and the graphics and asks him some questions. “Any change in the eyes, the vision?”

“No, I don’t think so, I mean, I think it’s the same.”

“What about the strength in your hands, arms, and legs? Any change?”

“Strength? Ah, yes...I reckon it’s about the same, I mean, maybe a little less...” he answers, no conviction in his voice.

...

Joman gathers his energy and asks, “Could it be...could it be that I have some illness, I mean, a serious illness, doctor?”

“I couldn’t say that, at least for now. By itself, a tremor doesn’t mean much. It could remain just that for the rest of one’s life, an idiopathic tremor, meaning of unknown origin. It might even disappear in time. But when we put together other signs and symptoms, such as less strength, vision problems...that makes me worried about your case.”

Nothing frightens a patient more than to hear a doctor say that he is worried. Joman crumbles inside; he cannot manage to speak and feels that he is going to faint. For perhaps a couple of minutes, he sees the doctor speaking as if in slow motion and hears scattered words rather than sentences.

“...the flu...encephalitis...your uncle...sclerosis...” They are like loose words being imprinted on his mind.

As he regains some balance, he asks, stammering, “What’s, what’s that disease again, doctor?”

“Suspicion of idiopathic tremor. Although it is a very remote possibility, it could be the initial stage of multiple sclerosis. Only time can allow for a more definite diagnosis.”

“ Are these illnesses difficult to cure?”

“Unfortunately, there is no current treatment for idiopathic tremor. There is no specific treatment for multiple sclerosis, but some medication and much care can mean a little improvement. I’ll write a prescription, and you will need to come back here regularly so that eventually I may be able to have a diagnosis.”

Joman gathers his remaining forces and asks a question, fearing the answer. “This other disease, doctor, I mean, this sclerosis?” The physician nods his head. “Can someone survive long with it?”

“A patient could survive years: twenty, thirty, fifty years...”

“ Are you able, I mean, to tell whether a patient would survive less time than that?”

“Perhaps, but let’s not think about the worst. Let’s give time a chance.”

But for someone like Joman, it is not easy to think about worse things.

“Doctor, could it be that this illness is a family thing, I mean, that it could be passed on within a family?”

“You mean, is it hereditary?”

Joman nods.

“Some tremors can be hereditary, but there is no evidence that this applies to multiple sclerosis.”

While he waits for the prescription, he does all he can to avoid tail spinning into despair. What will become of me ? Even a simple tremor will prevent me from working. If it’s the other disease... he dares not finish this thought.

Joman gathers his energy and asks, “Could it be...could it be that I have some illness, I mean, a serious illness, doctor?”

“I couldn’t say that, at least for now. By itself, a tremor doesn’t mean much. It could remain just that for the rest of one’s life, an idiopathic tremor, meaning of unknown origin. It might even disappear in time. But when we put together other signs and symptoms, such as less strength, vision problems...that makes me worried about your case.”

Nothing frightens a patient more than to hear a doctor say that he is worried. Joman crumbles inside; he cannot manage to speak and feels that he is going to faint. For perhaps a couple of minutes, he sees the doctor speaking as if in slow motion and hears scattered words rather than sentences.

“...the flu...encephalitis...your uncle...sclerosis...” They are like loose words being imprinted on his mind.

As he regains some balance, he asks, stammering, “What’s, what’s that disease again, doctor?”

“Suspicion of idiopathic tremor. Although it is a very remote possibility, it could be the initial stage of multiple sclerosis. Only time can allow for a more definite diagnosis.”

“ Are these illnesses difficult to cure?”

“Unfortunately, there is no current treatment for idiopathic tremor. There is no specific treatment for multiple sclerosis, but some medication and much care can mean a little improvement. I’ll write a prescription, and you will need to come back here regularly so that eventually I may be able to have a diagnosis.”

Joman gathers his remaining forces and asks a question, fearing the answer. “This other disease, doctor, I mean, this sclerosis?” The physician nods his head. “Can someone survive long with it?”

“A patient could survive years: twenty, thirty, fifty years...”

“ Are you able, I mean, to tell whether a patient would survive less time than that?”

“Perhaps, but let’s not think about the worst. Let’s give time a chance.”

But for someone like Joman, it is not easy to think about worse things.

“Doctor, could it be that this illness is a family thing, I mean, that it could be passed on within a family?”

“You mean, is it hereditary?”

Joman nods.

“Some tremors can be hereditary, but there is no evidence that this applies to multiple sclerosis.”

While he waits for the prescription, he does all he can to avoid tail spinning into despair. What will become of me ? Even a simple tremor will prevent me from working. If it’s the other disease... he dares not finish this thought.

His heart nearly leaping out of his chest and driven by a feeling of urgency to know more about his own case, he goes straight to the place where his cousin, his late uncle’s son, works.

“About my Uncle Cândido,” he starts, “do you, I mean, remember how long his illness lasted before he died?”

“Less than two years,” replies his cousin.

Joman nearly shakes in his boots.

“Do you know what the disease was?”

“The doctor said something called multiple sclerosis.”

Joman has the chills; his head is suddenly empty; his mouth is dry, and he is short of breath. Fear just overwhelms him.

...

He feels so weak he cannot cross the street and just sits on the sidewalk curb, staring at the asphalt, an empty, blank look on his face. He finds it hard to breathe. Astonished and aghast, he no longer feels the world around him; he does not feel anymore the warmth of the sunshine bathing his skin. People walk all around him, but it cannot be life that is driving them on. Cars do not seem to be going anywhere. Nothing inside or out, no heat, no life, no fate—all a slow blur. He remains there for a few minutes.

...

She goes to see Doctor Claudiano without telling Joman. The doctor is very helpful, answers all her questions, and describes the evolution of the two scenarios.

“Do you think it is multiple sclerosis?”

“As I said, this is the less likely hypothesis. However, in its earlier stages, it could show signs and symptoms so small and so variable as to make a diagnosis difficult. So, often the doctor treats it as if it were another disease. The opposite could also happen: indications can point to sclerosis but actually result in is some other problem. I’ll keep a keen eye on how his body reacts to the prescription.” He pauses briefly and then adds, “And I have replaced the tranquilizer with a sleeping pill so that he can sleep better.”

“Joman says that his uncle’s disease lasted less than two years and that he went crazy when he died.”

“Some cases can indeed evolve very rapidly, in a matter of only a few months. As to insanity, it might occur in a small percentage of cases, at the terminal stage.”

Cleide goes back home deeply depressed. She knows she faces a serious problem. Suddenly, the future of her family is uncertain at best. However, she says nothing at all about this to her husband.

 

A Radical Decision

Joman spends most of his time at home, just walking aimlessly around. Gradually, a silent anger at God sets in. Is this the reward the Lord gives me for having always walked the straight and narrow? Where is His justice? he thinks with greater frequency.

As time moves on, the shaking becomes more evident, especially in his arms and hands. It is hard even to pick up a pen, and this embarrasses him, the more so if there are people around.

...

Thirty days after having been to the neurologist’s office, he is back, this time taking Cleide along.

“I think, I mean, I’m getting worse,” he wails to the doctor.

“What do you feel is different?”

He reports on the difficulties of holding a coffee cup or—for that matter—of drinking water or any other liquid if the container is too full. He speaks in a confusing fashion about vision and strength. At the end, he describes his conversation with his cousin about his uncle Cândido ’s illness.

The doctor does another neurological exam and says to him, “As I see it, the situation has not gotten any worse. The only thing is that the tremor has become more constant.”

...

He continues following the prescription, but the disease does not recede. His very precarious mood alternates between anger and sadness. Only a miracle can save me, only a miracle, he constantly thinks. He walks around aimlessly in the house or in the backyard, or just stays in bed for the longest of time.

 

Desperate Attempts

Cleide never gives up searching for a solution. She finds out about a woman who, though not a physician, offers homeopathic treatment, and she tells her husband about this. “Who knows, maybe a miracle can happen with this woman?” she hopefully suggests.

They go to see the lady, who is direct and to the point. “Stop all this medication,” she says, “and take some pills I’ll prescribe.”

“Do you, I mean, think, I mean, I can be cured?”

“Cured!” she replies with conviction. “Within one week you’ll be much better.”

Joman hangs on to this hope, puts aside the medication prescribed by the neurologist, and takes the pills recommended by the lady, but nothing changes after one week. Disappointed and upset, he stops taking the pills and now takes no medication whatsoever.

...

Cleide does not give up and decides to use their religious faith.

“Dear, why don’t we ask Saint Jude Thaddeus for grace?” she suggests to him one day.

Despite his father’s devoutness, he himself has never been much involved with religion. In the last few days, his belief in God, never very deep to begin with, practically disappears.

“Ah, Cleide, that’s nonsense,” he answers in discouragement. “If even God has abandoned me, how can a simple saint cure me ?”

“ Oh there, Joman, don’t you say that about God.” She is not rebuking him but pleading with him. “St. Jude Thaddeus is a strong saint for impossible causes, didn’t you know that?”

“I’ve heard something about it,” he says, but he is still uninterested.

“Then, dear, let’s go there, let’s give it a try.”

He remains undecided. Maybe this could be it. Since I have no faith, God does not help me. After a brief pause, he thinks, It could be...I wonder...with so many things to take care of, perhaps He leaves some things up to the saints...and the saints are less demanding.

Cleide interrupts his thoughts, saying, “Let’s go, dear, let’s try it!”

“Fine, let’s go.” He seems a bit more encouraged now.

In the church, bearing the saint’s name,

...

In less than one week, noticing no improvement, he goes out to meet a customer he has not seen in a long time and who once told stories of a man who cured many people. He had given it no importance at the time, being wary of quacks. But now, neither ethics nor religious scruples can hold him back. His sinking ship will moor in any port. He wants to be healed, no matter where the cure may come from.

“He works wonders, real miracles,” the customer confirms when they meet. “He’s cured many hopeless people, and he charges nothing, absolutely nothing!”

At home, he talks this over with his wife.

“You know that I will follow you anywhere. Let’s try, sure, let’s give it a shot!” She is highly encouraging.

...

Four days later, he wakes up with a strange feeling in his arms. His wife is already up, so he runs after her.

“Cleide, Cleide, I reckon I’m going!” he says in alarm.

She is equally alarmed. “What is it, sweetheart?”

“It’s neither pain nor dormancy, just something weird inside my arms, apparently in the nerves.” He begs in desperation, “Saint Jude, save me !”

The odd sensation seems to behave like the tremor. Convinced that the illness is now more serious, he wails, “I bet I got worse because of that quack’s medication. Why did I ever have to go there?”

He angrily throws the bottle, with the remaining liquid, into the backyard, smashing it to bits. He then goes back to bed, curling into a fetal position. There is nothing else he can do.

In the following days, he alternates between total silence, when he is alone with his own thoughts, and excessive talking. In these latter times, he speaks even to himself: “There is no way I can accept this godforsaken disease!”; “There ain’t no God, it’s just some invention”; “What’s my crime ? What have I done?”; “I’ve always got the shaft in life, even to this day, so it’s about time I learn”; or “What’s the point of being good? Folks always take advantage of me.” And so it goes, on and on.

 

Turning Life Upside Down

In the disease’s third month, he is sitting in the living room one morning, thinking long and hard, when suddenly memories jump out of his past in rapid-fire sequence, a whirlwind of images and sounds, starting with the nicknames he hated so fiercely:

“Hey, Cross!”

“Hey, Cross yellow-belly ôpa ôba!”

“Cross Little ôpa!...”

“Your birth certificate is wrong.”

“He’s scared shitless and gonna hightail his ass home!”

“Don’t you tell anyone, you hear?! If you do, I’ll beat you.”

“If you’re a man, cross this line, Cross!”

“He’s hightailing it out of here!”

“Your dad sure don’t cross any darn cattle-preventing road bridge.”

“Joman, go and get your father’s opa cape from the wardrobe!”

“Belma, go and wash your father’s opa !”

“Drink this tea or you get the crap beaten out of you!”

“Lend me some money.”

“Give it to me.”

“You’re all right.”

“It’s hard to find a nice guy like you.”

Images and sounds are turmoil in his mind and his rebellion grows, reaching a level so high that, all of a sudden, his mind goes silent. Then it refocuses.

I’m really gone now, there’s no way back —here it comes again—too late for that, I’ve taken crap all my life, all sorts of shit from people, never striking back. Lots of things I did that I sure didn’t want to. Folks just pressed and cornered me from every which way, scaring me shitless. Why don’t I just send it all to hell and live now the life I never have, even if for just a few months? At long last, his mind finally made up, he screams at the top of his lungs, “Everything, and everybody to boot, can all go to hell and kiss my ass!”

Cleide hears him from the kitchen and comes charging into the room. She had never heard him shout, let alone use foul language. She now remembers what the neurologist said about sclerosis: a few patients go crazy at the end of the disease. Aghast and out of breath, she asks, “What happened, Joman?”

...

He pays no attention to what his wife is saying but continues to think. Ever so slowly, his countenance changes from anger to contentment. To do all I wanted to do and never did...to fight...curse...love...while this illness allows it. Then and only then will I shoot myself and fade happily into the everlasting sunset. He jerks himself away from his wife, leaps up in the air, stands, and shouts, “Freedom! I’m gonna be free! Freeeee!” Now he whispers, walking back and forth, in front of a puzzled and aston ished Cleide, “Freeeee, freeeee, freeeee, freeeee, great goodness gracious, free at last.”

He goes back to his musing. That’s it! That’s it! That’s what I gotta do...I can’t go out like a prisoner, no way! My whole life they’ve been after me, and I’ve been trying to escape this whole time. Ah!...the nightmare...they yanked that ladder from under me...but it will be different from now on...no more escaping, no more running away, no more hightailing. I’ll just face them head on. He decides to do a complete about face in his life.

...

He is willing to become another man altogether, the man he should have always been.

...

All of a sudden, he stops to walk, meditates, and, in a few seconds, has a plan all worked out. I’m going back to Tumiritinga and relive my life as much as I can, but in a different way. What the heck, I have nothing to lose. The worst thing that could happen is somebody might kill me, but that would only anticipate my demise by a couple of months. He looks outside through the window, as if he were seeing something far in the distance, and muses, How much have I still to do in this life. He then decides, I’ll follow an order, starting with my childhood.

...

He blames others for his economic and financial woes. He believes they were responsible for his losses, and he imagines himself and his family as victims.

...

Back to the Past

In the next few days, Joman acts as if he is saying farewell to life. He disposes his diamond-business equipment and settles his office agreement with Aristides. He also sells his car. One morning, he leaves home decisively, walking as if with springs under his feet, and meets some debtors to whom he either loaned money or for whom he paid debts as their guarantor. I have to stop being good and talking kindly to people, beating around the bush, as if I’m apologizing just for talking to them. What’s the matter with me ? He is kicking himself now. He has made up his mind to be firm with his debtors, as he was with his wife.

...

But he learns a lesson: It’s not enough to say that I’m going to be free. Making the heroic decision to be free is not sufficient to bring about liberation. It is one thing to speak freely with a loved one, like his wife, or a good friend like Aristides. But it is a very different talking and dealing with outsiders. Going back to Tumiritinga seems even more important now because, in reliving the facts that oppressed him, maybe he will be able to rid himself of fear. Perhaps he will find freedom at last. I want to taste it before I go for good.

...

After promising his wife to be in touch regularly, Joman finally boards the train to Tumiritinga. As he sees Belo Horizonte receding in the background, sharp doubts and conflicts overwhelm him. What am I doing? What will happen? Am I doing the right thing? Shouldn’t I stay with Cleide and the children? This seems so crazy. His body goes hard and he begins to rub his hands quite briskly.

...

He now lives in the expectation of what will happen to him. From time to time, images from the past haunt him. Will I be brave enough to fight the fights I didn’t fight, to say the things I never said? What if I go crazy all of a sudden, how is it going to be? All that anger spilling out... I don’t think I can stand it. I’ll go crazy rather than bear it. Now he has to bear the risks of his decision.

 

 

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The book has 11 chapters.

Chapter 1 - The End at Hand
The victim of an incurable disease, Joman prepares to die.

Chapter 2 - Prior Events
How did Jomanís father, an immigrant, meet his mother? What was the wedding like? What was Jomaní fatherís nickname?

Chapter 3 - Tormented Passion
Jomanís birth, his fatherís extra-marital affair, and the other dramas that take place within a family.

Chapter 4 - Struggle
Thus begins the struggle between active Joman and his afflictive mother. The dynamic of the nuclear family.

Chapter 5 - Life's Defeats
Joman begins to get along with other boys, attend school, and experience his first disappointments outside the home. The suffering he passes through during his early years, a secret pre-teen crush, the difficulties he had fitting in, the anxieties and humiliations, the desperate efforts to have close relations with others and be respected, as well as the hazards, are the themes of this chapter, which extends up to the age of eighteen.

Chapter 6 - The Other World
In spite of his fears, Joman moves to another town where nobody knows him..How his shyness influences his choices such as those related to work. The first victories. His first real girlfriend at the age of twenty-five. His marriage. The suffering and harm caused by his shyness.

The last four chapters Ė more than half the book Ė are pure adrenalin.

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