He Ain’t Heavy


For the last, I don’t know…say, 30 years or so, we wanted little or nothing to do with him. Some blamed the Army, because he didn’t come back from Germany in the same shape he got there. But that’s too easy; he had problems before he went in. That might be the reason he joined anyway.

An alcoholic. A barely functioning one, going through relationships and marriages, jobs, cars (wrecked and repossessed), hospitals and rehab and halfway houses, 12- and more step plans. But there was always something crossing the path of his success: a bottle of vodka. He couldn’t resist, and eventually stopped pretending to try.

After years of making excuses for him, of putting up with phone calls at three in the morning outlining outlandish plans of all of us jumping on a plane to Vegas and cleaning up with his surefire method of beating the house, of listening to rambling sales pitches for gold coins and Amway and pyramid schemes that would make us all rich, of trying to find him places to live, we – his brothers and sisters, and to an extent (at our insistence) his mother – kicked him out of our world.  No more invitations to family functions; he was conspicuously absent at my niece’s wedding, which he probably didn’t even know occurred. I live out of town and don’t get back often. I can’t venture to guess when we had our last conversation. When I spoke to our other brothers and sisters, I never asked about him. They never ventured any information.

Today I happened to think back on younger days, back when we were close. We were only two years apart. When our parents divorced, he and I chose to go with my father, me because I thought it would be an adventure, he because he worshiped the ground our father walked on. For quite a few years it was us against the world, every time we moved to a new town, started a new school, we looked out for each other.

Something else I happened to remember today: he seemed to have problems with headaches for a long, long time. I recall that even when he was a preteen, he was getting tested for this and tested for that as various doctors tried to find the cause of these vicious, painful headaches. Who knows? Maybe that’s why he turned to vodka. Nothing else could ease the pain.

Late last night he visited a friend, and they started drinking. According to the friend, he started getting one of his headaches, which got worse and worse, until he was literally in tears. He began banging his head violently against the wall, as he’d done in the past. Eventually, he collapsed.

His friend rushed him to the hospital, where he was pronounced brain dead. The doctors, as far as I know, aren’t sure whether the blood in his brain was caused by the violence he inflicted on his head, or if a stroke was perhaps the cause for this particular head pain.

It doesn’t matter now.

Family members in the area were notified and all rushed to the hospital. He was on a ventilator. The doctors told them that there was nothing they could do. At approximately 3:30 this afternoon, according to wishes in his Living Will, the plug was pulled.

At 6:05 this evening, March 28, 2011, just two hours ago as I write this, my brother died. He was 57 years old.

Rest In Peace, Bro.

Here We Go Again!

The past few weeks have certainly been interesting. I almost thought I’d traveled through time to revisit January of last year (see several posts I made then about my kidney stones, lymphedema, herniated disc, arthritis, et al), but no, this is a new set of travails.

Since my current medications cause me to occasionally lose focus, I won’t try to relate the whole story again, but instead refer to a recent email exchange between an old high school friend and myself. He felt compelled to write after seeing a few stutus updates on my Facebook page that made him wonder just exactly what was going on.

My friend wrote:

“How are you doing? I catch the occasional status of MRIs hospitials, issues… Have some broccoli and chicken sausage. Are having a world tour for your 60th birthday – Virgos on the road?”

My reply:

“Yes, the past few weeks have been particularly interesting. At the end of January, I was doing warm-up exercises in my karate class. During an innocent “Turn your head to the left”, I felt a sharp pain starting in my neck that traveled down into my left arm. I didn’t feel much different during the rest of the class, but by the end of the following day, I felt (or at least looked) much like Igor in the old Hammer Frankenstein movies: head cocked awkwardly to the left, left arm held in an unnatural position. Couldn’t sleep at night, of course. Any movement at all would make my shoulder protest loudly.

Had an MRI done on my neck and shoulder. The shoulder snapshots revealed an inflamed tendon running into my left bicep. The neck shots were useless. The pain in my shoulder refused to let me lie still, so there was too much movement to see anything.

The following week I was the recipient of a cervical epidural, which decreased my symptoms by about 75%. A second try MRI showed the culprit was arthritis pinching the tendon, or something. Those doctors have their own language meant to confuse you to the point that you just start nodding your head in agreement and digging your American Express Blue card out of your wallet. They figure another series of injections will get me back to normal. My next one is scheduled for next Monday.

The other current excitement started a couple of weeks ago on the Thursday night after my epidural. The steroid they’d injected had eased my shoulder pain to the point where I was finally able to look forward to a good night’s sleep. No luck. In the early hours of the morning, I awoke to a painful burning sensation in my gut that no amount of Tums or belching could sooth. During the day, when I ate, the food traveled to a certain point in my tummy, then it seemed as if it pressed against something that caused great distress. I was certain I was giving birth to a nice ulcer.

That Sunday evening, I was sitting in my recliner, contemplating the universe and watching Cameron save the world from zombies on his Xbox whilst sipping on a glass of Pinot Noir. When my glass was empty, I stood up with the intention of getting a refill. I suddenly felt extremely dizzy. Cam asked if I was OK, and I said I’d stood up ‘way too fast. I took a couple of steps into the kitchen, then went down hard. I came to sprawled out on the kitchen floor with Cam hovering over me, asking if I was all right.

I got to my knees and waited for my head to clear. When I felt OK, I told Cam that I was going to go lay down for a few minutes. Halfway to my room I blacked out again. Cam helped me to my bed. I told him that if it happened again, to call 9-1-1. His mom told him he should have called the first time I passed out, but I didn’t want to spend $600 to find out I was OK.

There were no further incidents. Every time I stand up, it’s very slowly, and I wait to make sure that I can take a step without falling over. I have a nice bruise on my chin courtesy of the kitchen table to remind me to be careful.

Finally making a long story short, I visited the doc the following day, and the diagnosis was gallstones. He had suffered with them some ten years ago, so he knew what I was talking about. (Of course, he should know what I was talking about anyway, being a doctor and all). He ordered an ultrasound and some blood work, which confirmed his suspicions. He told me that I should have the surgery as soon as possible, and he was going to call a few surgeons and see who was available to do it now.

That was a week ago. I’m certain he hasn’t forgotten about me. Maybe all of his surgeon friends went on a golf outing together.

Other that already telling everyone I’m a sexagenarian, I haven’t given the sixtieth much thought, as if ignoring it will keep it from coming. I’m hoping the Medical Center will name an exam room after me, since there have been weeks I’ve spent more time waiting to see one of the doctors than I’ve spent at home sipping a martini. If I don’t get at least a card from the staff, I’ll be disappointed; I’ve had to recite my D.O.B. to almost every doctor, nurse, PA, internist and receptionist so many times that there can be no way they don’t know when my birthday is.

Anyway, I have plenty of time to plan for celebrations. Of course, it seems like only yesterday that I was thinking I had plenty of time to deal with having a teenage son. “Time passes by and leaves you with nothin’, mister, but boring stories of glory days. ” – Bruce Springsteen. “Anybody can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.” – Groucho


And that’s the scoop. Still waiting for word of my pending cholecystectomy. Every meal is an adventure in discomfort.


More to follow, I’m sure.