In life we all face challenges. Sometimes these challenges are mundane ones that are done every day such as going to a job, or going on a trip to buy groceries. Nothing really inspiring about these tasks when compared to some of the things that others are called upon to do in the performance of their given professions.
Of course we’re all aware of the heroics of local law enforcement and volunteer firefighters. Without these people performing the jobs that they do, many lives would be lost and many times we really take what they do for granted, until one of them falls in the line of duty…and then we take notice.
The work that they do is very inspiring, but theirs are not the act I want to talk about. I want to talk about my father and how he faced down a disease with courage, and on his own terms.
My father was always a very tough man; some would even say just a little crazy at times, and as his son I can’t fault anyone for saying that about the man. Honestly there were moments where I would have said the same thing depending on the circumstances.
In 2001 my father’s health started to slowly decline. He had been a longtime smoker and he always had problems with his breathing due to the onset of Emphysema. That’s what happens when you’ve smoked several packs of cigarettes a day for years.
He was hospitalized in 2003 for the first time due to complications with his lungs. This would be the first of several stays at the local hospital where we live, and to complicate things that same year he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. When I found out about this, honestly I was devastated.
Mind you, I’m not a child and back at that time in 2003-2004, I was 47 years old, so the things that were discussed in front of me were very candid. When the details of the treatments were explained to me, I just couldn’t help but think to myself that had this been me having to take these treatments, I doubt that I could have done so in the same stoic manner as he was exhibiting.
In my view, my father’s approach to facing both of these health issues were just as heroic as any police officer or firefighter, and they would become my template for my own personal ordeal with a disease that many people including myself knew almost nothing about a few years ago.
In 2008 I was having a lot of my own health problems. They began to occur shortly after the passing of my mother — another ordeal I was forced to face on my own, since my father was no longer around to help me make the important decisions in regard to the care of my mother after she was admitted to a hospital for an intestinal blockage.
Her loss had taken such a toll on me mentally, physically and spiritually that I still have not recovered from losing her five years later. In November of 2007, I started having problems with my nasal passages. I had little polyps starting to appear there and they were causing me to have difficulties breathing through my nose, and I was prescribed a drug to counteract the problem.
The drug only provided temporary relief at best, and in February of 2008 I was scheduled to have a surgical procedure to have the polyps removed, but there was no guarantee that they would not return. Unfortunately due to a complication, the operation could not be performed, and afterwards my health problems seemed to multiply exponentially.
I was diagnosed a few years earlier with a condition called COPD, and this caused me to have issues with my lungs and became a serious health issue for me. The problem was compounded by the work I performed at a fragrance factory where I was employed
In May of 2008 I found myself hospitalized for the second time in as many weeks, after spending a full week there already. But this second time was different. This time I ran a high fever, I had kidney stones and this wasn’t the main cause of my problem.
My white blood cell count was off the charts, and I had 12 different physicians looking over my case, including two specialists at the time who were looking at a condition that I’d never heard of before, and wouldn’t know of until a kidney biopsy was performed.
In the meantime, two things happened to me that would affect my overall outlook on life and how I was going to live it. I was so distraught over my condition and my prolonged hospital stay, that I became suicidal. At one point during my stay, I woke up one evening and found a stranger sitting in my room.
I asked who this person was, and I was told that he was there to just monitor me. Needless to say I found this quite disturbing, but not as disturbing as the next revelation that would present itself to me. This hospital was the same hospital where my father passed away three years prior.
That wasn’t the revelation of course, no that was realizing that I was in the same room that my father had been in four years before. This wasn’t immediately apparent to me until I took a look outside the room’s window and recognized one of the same landmarks that I remember my father and I pointing to back then. It happened to be our favorite Italian restaurant.
After I left the hospital, I wasn’t the same again. I had to face life living with a condition that affected every organ in my body, and over time either could or would get progressively worse. But rather than just give into the despair that I felt those first few days in the hospital, I felt as if something different was happening to me.
Memories of my father began to become a part of my psyche. When I was afraid when something changed about my condition those first few weeks after leaving the hospital, little vestiges of my father, along with my mother sometimes came to mind immediately. It was almost soothing to see short vignettes of my mother and father assuring me that things would get better and that I needed to have faith.
Faith is something I’ve never had much of. I was not a very spiritual person, and I was not one to just start selfishly praying to a god to whom I hadn’t spoken to for more years than I care to admit to, so I did the next best thing. I visited the place where both my parents were laid to rest.
I would speak with them, and while the conversation was of course one- sided…the whole process of getting ready to drive to where they are was and still is almost akin to a religious experience for me, and it’s something that I still do to this day, when my physical and mental being are at their lowest points and nothing else seems to help me.
There’s just something about visiting them and speaking with them, the way I had done so many times while they were still physically here with me, that seems to fill a missing void in me, and I don’t do it often enough. But maybe for my own sense of well being I should reconsider.
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