Functional neurological disorders, long-distance relationships, and bright-&-shiny, sunburned low-hangers — why, it must be July!
My son woke up one recent morning unable to walk. “Uh, gurl,” you say, “come again?” I’ll pause a moment here while y’all mop up your espresso martinis that just squirted out your noses. Yes, you heard me correctly: Even Howard has progeny; albeit, not of my own loins, of course. My son is an underprivileged kid from Mexico whom I put through medical school.
Upon our initial introduction, my future son possessed exactly one pair of worn-out sneakers, some frazzled jeans and a few faded tee shirts. He owned no vehicle nor had any access to modern electronics and was forced to Xerox his next day’s lessons via textbooks borrowed from the school library. He was the smartest kid in university, struggling to survive on the occasional few pesos for lunch money tossed at him by the “rich kids” for letting them cheat off his tests.
Our paths crossed by happenstance just as he was about to drop out of medical school to accept a job teaching seventh-grade biology for $300 a month! This young man had yearned for nothing but to, somehow, someday become a doctor.
Immediately, I called my younger brother in Alabama. Each of us had just inherited half of a totally surprising estate from our late mother, whom we’d both assumed died insolvent.
Time to earn my ticket to Heaven: “Wiley,” I asked, “what would Mom think of my spending her inheritance putting a poor Mexican kid through medical school?” Little bro didn’t skip a beat: “You know, she’d love it.”
Flash forward four years, and Dr. Ronaldo Mariano Rodriguez graduated at the top of his medical class — making the third time in my life when I’d cried tears of joy.
The first was when I opened TIME magazine one morning to discover my debut novel chosen as one of “The Top Ten Must-Reads of the Summer!”
The second was when my husband, while cutting the wedding cake, toasted to our guests, “You don’t marry the man you can live with; you marry the man you can’t live without.”
My newly-minted “son” had never known his birth father. In Ron’s eyes, I was as real a father as it got. Being a decent parent, as I discovered, doesn’t require any getting used to; one takes to it immediately. “Son,” I said, “you are now, and forevermore, a bona fide doctor. But it’s time to move to the States. I’m sending you a one-way ticket to Dallas. You ain’t having to swim the Rio Grande. Just leap, Dr. Rodriguez, and the net will appear.”
And, against all odds, so it did.
Mexico is the only country on earth for which the United States provides no path to citizenship. Not even for doctors. Not even during a pandemic.
Marriage to a born American is the only legal loophole open, but immigration knows quite well by now every attempted trickery used; hence, only a “real” marriage for all the “right” reasons of love and happiness stands a prayer of escaping deportation.
Ron’s travel visa granted him a maximum of six whole months to fall in love; miraculously, Cupid’s angels smiled on him in less than two. He and my now son-in-law, Scott, loving one another to the depths of their souls, got married in a whirlwind last December.
Then one day our fit and young Dr. Rodriguez abruptly fainted at the gym. In short succession followed spells of serial hiccupping, hand tremors, balance issues, blackouts, migraines, drooping eyelids, slurred speech and vertigo, until he couldn’t even lift his legs out of bed one morning.
Two hospitals and teams of physicians later, betwixt a nightmare of multiple spinal taps, MRIs, CT scans, and quarts upon quarts of bloodwork drawn, every conceivable test came back negative: No strokes, no MS, no Parkinson’s, no heart disease, no brain tumors, no Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. No nothing. Ron’s poor husband, delirious from lack of sleep, roared in the hospital corridors: “Fuck me, it’s 2023! How hard the hell is it to find out why a perfectly healthy man suddenly cannot walk?”
One doctor even had the temerity to question whether Ron might be faking it. In Freud’s day, they would have called it hysteria. Yet my son’s symptoms were quite real. In fact, most doctors even to this day misdiagnose Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) for, most commonly, Multiple Sclerosis, instead. Worse, a startlingly disproportionate number of the LGBTQ community is affected by FND, which particularly tends to lurk within those growing up suffocating in households of chronic stress and trauma, who have no other options available to them but to internalize everything, until one day — usually around age 35 — just as with a pressure cooker, the lid finally blows, and you wake up one morning unable to walk.
Fortunately, if recognized early enough by a qualified neurologist for what it is, FND can be quite treatable minus any medication, using only a psychological/physical therapy combo pack. The results are quite swift and amazing. Within a week my son was out of his wheelchair and his walker mothballed a month after that. Scott feels like they’ve won the lottery.
Meanwhile, next month my own husband and I shall celebrate our 30th anniversary. Make that two lotteries won!
Let’s get happily ever after right to it, shall we?
Dear Howard: Word through the grapevine has it that you and your spouse have been together for decades now, although he lives half-way around the world? If true, how on earth does that even work? Is there a secret I somehow missed along the way for successfully maintaining a long-distance/long-term relationship? — Brittney Paradise
Dear Ambrosial Britania: Of course, my sweet, there’s always a secret. And it couldn’t be any easier: You simply must speak to one another . . . every . . . single . . . day. It’s the only trick to any successful long-distance relationship. No texting. No face-timing. No social-media horseshit. Just a plain old voice-to-voice phone call, set up at a specific time, daily. No skip-days allowed. No excuses. If you skip one day, you’ll skip two, and then before you know it everything’s gone to shit.
—Howard Lewis Russell
You have a hotter-than-July question for August, kidz, when it’ll be even hotter, still? Then by all means, do please fire off your sweaty, sultrily blazing goods to AskHoward@dallasvoice.com, and Howard may even be able to arise from his torpid lethargy long enough to answer them.